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Random: Pan, Carnival, Culture and African Liberation

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Being abroad for the duration of the Budget exercise, (it is supposed to be a debate), did not help to make my absence fromSVG any more palatable but, as compensation, I tried to use the Internet to make some connection with my Caribbean reality. What better way to do it than to link with Carnival in Trinbago!

On last Saturday night, it was Panorama, the highlight of the festival in T&T, which demanded my attention. I used to have to take a transistor radio and roam to where the reception was best to hear it on the airwaves as far back as 1964, my earliest recollection. A cousin of mine, Leroy ‘Otis’ Rose, can share similar experiences.

So, 70 years after its formation as a Charlotte Street band, Renegades steel Orchestra marked the occasion with a runaway victory, also setting the record for the most Panorama victories. It is a lesson to be absorbed not only for those interested in pan, but in life itself. It took Renegades two decades to win its first Panorama, but since then it has won 10, more than any other. Can we learn anything from that?

The 2018 Panorama also signalled that “times are changing,” for Renegades arranger Duvorne Stewart announced his firm place in the ‘Big League’ by not only topping the greats like ‘Boogsie Sharpe’, Leon ‘Smooth’ Edwards, Robbie Greenidge and Carlton ‘Zanda’ Alexander. The younger brigade has arrived. It was also manifested in the second place finish of the San Fernando-based SKIFFLE. This band started out as a pan-around-the neck steelband in 1976. Not many of us would remember them as Skiffle Bunch, joining our Carnival in 1978 and, doing what most local pannists would have been reluctant to do – playing at Crow’s Nest in Villa and then taking the patrons on the street, right up Casson Hill to Kingstown! Memories indeed! Is there something here to be emulated?

These are reminiscences and thoughts shared by all too few of our people. Today, the old ‘bad john’ pan is a musical instrument of marvellous wonder. But the people responsible for its creation, we in the Caribbean, are yet to appreciate its worth and contribution to global cultural development and civilization. Countries far away from us, like New Zealand, are staging Panorama competitions, while some of our regional carnivals do not even do so. Sweden is opening a pan factory, whilst our entrepreneurs are busy trying to manufacture all kinds of foreign creations, ignoring our own. God help us!

O AFRICA!

February is usually celebrated as ‘Black History Month’ in North America and the Caribbean. Three months hence the focus shifts to African Liberation Day. Modern developments on the continent, which is motherland to the majority of the people in the Caribbean cannot help but force us to re-think of what those mean in the context of today’s world. Millions of us were mobilized and incensed over the grave injustice of slavery, colonialism and apartheid. We supported strongly the just cause for liberation and black rule on the continent.

Our report card today is far from satisfactory. Take South Africa, for instance, the bedrock of white minority rule and apartheid in Africa. Our solidarity was part of a worldwide movement, which ended that odious system, freed Mandela and put black people in power. To his eternal credit, Mandela retired after only one term; (could you imagine a Caribbean leader, jailed for all those years and then leaving gracefully after only one term?).

Since then, that country has been on a downward slide into the mire of corruption and greed. It culminated this week in the resignation of one of the anti-apartheid heroes, Jacob Zuma, as president, with his own party no longer able to cope with the fallout. Zuma is being replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa, a militant trade unionist when we used to mobilize anti-apartheid rallies for African Liberation Day. Today, he is reputed to be a multi- millionaire businessman to be president, and has succeeded Zuma as head of State and party.

Where are we going at this rate? In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the man who was the ‘enforcer’ for deposed Robert Mugabe is now president, joining the bunch of undemocratic usurpers at the helm of many African nations. The excuses about the atrocities of colonial rule cannot justify their continuance under a different skin colour. Oppression is oppression and must be roundly exposed, condemned and fought against.

Our culture has a significant role to play in this regard, hence the connection with the steelband. When will we learn?

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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