“The authentic Caribbean is made up of all of the world's peoples - African, Asian, European, Mid-Eastern and the native Amerindian. They form an ethnic montage that has composed a distinctive cultural personality. Their rhythms are unique as seen in their performing arts - music and dance; they stimulate your sensibilities with the writings of their writers and the paintings of their painters; and they nourish you with their cosmopolitan food.
These characteristics and an early socialization in multicultural, multiracial countries have allowed West Indian immigrants, for example, to assimilate seamlessly into Boston. They have an almost instinctual knowledge of how to live in a city such as contemporary Boston.” eCaroh 2003©
CARIBBEAN MUSIC AND COMMUNITY
The Boston community crossed important thresholds in the last two annual Carnival seasons. St Mary’s Episcopal B-Safe program conducted a Steelpan Music education pilot in Uphams Corner. During the same 2011 summer period, music exemplars - Kendrum Youth Steel Orchestra - performed at three events. Pan Xpressions hosted a jam session in its panyard with these guests from Canada. A brief introduction to computer technology for formal music theory instruction was part of that get-together, also.
In August 2012, The Trotter Institute, University of Massachusetts, Boston, sponsored a book launch at the City’s Strand Theater. It was the first time that formal education was tied to the presentation of Caribbean Carnival art forms and their history here. These activities were consistent with events at Symphony Hall and the Strand Theater over a decade earlier.
Steelpan History – August 22nd, 2012
The Illustrated Story of Pan by Kim Johnson documents the oral and pictorial history of the steelband whose development as a musical instrument began in the third decade of the 20th century. Steelpan’s birth and growth Trinidad and Tobago is widely attributed to the African heritage of its inventors in the Trinidadian underclass.
Steelpan music has been popularized throughout the USA and in Boston it has been institutionalized in the Uphams Corner and Dorchester neighborhoods for decades. Exemplary recitals of this art form have been presented by Caribbean artists at Symphony Hall in 1997 Voices of the Caribbean show and at a PanFest in 1998. Other performances were a 2000 Caribbean Christmas Concert at the Strand Theater and the Boston Caribbean Carnival events in 2011.
Illustrated Story was presented during the 2012 Carnival Week in a setting outside the celebratory norm. Berklee College of Music Associate Professor, Ron Reid made the music educator presentation of this scholarly, historical book at the Boston presentation and celebration. The book cover image, above, is of an unnamed biscuit band playing in Port of Spain, Trinidad circa 1947. Panazz Players ensemble, pictured right, is featured in Chapter 10, Tomorrow’s People. To commemorate the 20th Anniversary of their founding they released the Best of Panazz, a CD and DVD set in November, 2012.
Photographs from The Illustrated Story of Pan courtesy of the Digital Pan Archive
Welcome Remarks: Barbara Lewis, Ph.D, Trotter Institute, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Welcome to the Strand and to this celebration of Trinidadian musical culture. It is exciting to be part of this year’s event. My name is Barbara Lewis, and I am Director of the Trotter Institute at UMass Boston, one of tonight’s co-sponsors. It has been my privilege to work with Ronald Lammy, the brains and brawn behind this event. Ron is passionate about history, culture, and business, and that is an interest that we both share. In addition, I am especially pleased to see that Orville Wright, with whom I worked closely at the university closest to the Strand, is being remembered. Orville was a jaunty presence on campus, always dressed to the nines and doing everything he could to make the Department of Performing Arts, where he was Chair for several years, a better place for students, faculty, and community.
He loved music, Pan and his island home. Pan is intimately associated with the festivities of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. It used to be that in New York, where I have spent a lot of time and where the West Indian Labor Day Parade is a true institution, Pan was always being played in the streets and in the subway. And then the ping and zing of its distinctiveness began to disappear. Don’t know if there was an official ban on it, but I am delighted to see that there are those here in Boston who have not forgotten and want to celebrate its history and its future.
Let me say a few words about the Carnival tradition and how it brings people together and also the social function it serves, a role that Pan shares. Actually, the history of Pan as I understand it, says something significant about Carnival and about the re-creation and continuance of culture. Pan is a unifier and an amplifier. It is also an art of resistance, a reaction to repression. That is how it started. There was a crackdown, years ago in the last century, about 75 years ago, counting from today. It was back in the late 1930s when stick fighting, a cousin of the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, was banned in Trinidad.
When one door closes, it’s time to open a window. That’s what I learned in my childhood, and that is a mantra that the Trinidadian people, who refused to be denied what they knew and loved, decided was the way around repressive law. They would not forsake their traditions, so they decided to sublimate their energies through music. They took what they had at hand and transformed the everyday into something everlasting. That’s how Pan was born.
A few years later, the American military came to the island because of World War II and Pan drummed a wonderful new, percussive sound in their ears. It ignited their feelings and quickened their step, adding liveliness and zeal to the rhythms they knew. So soldiers and sailors from America helped to spread a desire for Pan around the world. Now, we are in the era of the social network. But Pan was a communicating system, bringing people together globally before the invention of the net. Pan is creative and innovative, a cultural resource of enormous power and reach.
We don’t often think of music as a weapon, but it has a diplomatic mission to bring people together despite differences. In Boston, we often cleave to the people and customs that remind us of home and heritage. That is fabulous and necessary but sometimes it can also stop us from coming together as a far-flung family with many branches, some reaching into the Caribbean, others into Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and into all parts of the Americas.
Carnival brings people together and unites us into a distinctive blend, making us one while it mixes chaos and order in manageable proportion. Pan, the music of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, has wide, far-reaching meaning and resonance. If we look at the roots and origins of human language, we discover that pan means all. That is a lesson to contemplate as we revisit and celebrate our togetherness and our collective force this evening. Thank You.
Barbara Lewis, Ph.D, Trotter Institute, University of Massachusetts, Boston Shirley Shillingford, President, Caribbean American Association of Boston
Carl Smith and youth members Branches Pan Groove Steelband, Boston Ronald I. Reid, Associate Professor, Berklee College of Music, Boston
Ron Reid, Al Hodge co-leader of Pan Xpressions and youth members Derica Thompson, Mariah Ramdial and Shayna Rey-Relva of Pan Xpressions
A View for the Future: Mariah Ramdial of Pan Xpressions
"My name is Mariah Ramdial, and I have been playing the steel pan for about 12 years. I started playing when I was 8 years old in Trinidad and joined Branches Steelpan Orchestra when I moved to Boston. Pan is a major part of my life and has always been a constant love of mine. I love pan, everything about it. It has the ability to stand alone, and also the ability to blend in perfectly with a large band. People are always amazed by the big sound that comes from such a simple looking instrument and that always brings a smile to my face. My hope for the future is that the instrument continues to stay like it is and as the years go by the culture and history of the instrument lives on!
The Illustrated Story of Pan by Kim Johnson
Review by Ronald H. Lammy
“It began with a single photograph” Kim Johnson states in published remarks about his book. Then he explains how the picture of an ancestor took him on a sojourn relating to identity and creativity. The image connected him to a distant land and it propelled him to learning more of the history of his Trinidad birth place. Popular commentary has it that The Illustrated Story of Pan is a four-year project that used contemporary computer technology and ended in 2011. But that story, like the scores of others in the book, has more details behind it. All of them were gathered for two decades during the author’s journalist career; this time he wanted to add pictorial facts.
“I’d spent years interviewing pan pioneers without ever considering that there must have been photographs, but now  I returned to them, this time with a portable scanner and my laptop. I also asked everyone I knew if they had photographs. I asked the same of strangers. I sent out thousands of e-mails, wrote articles in the press, spoke on television and radio. Through an association of retired US soldiers I wrote to servicemen stationed in Trinidad during and after World War II. And I asked everyone to ask people they knew.”
Best of Panazz CD - Track List:
1. Portrait of Trinidad and Tobago.
P O T L
I G H T
S T E E L B A N D
|Click for details of 7th Annual Spring Concert of Steelbands May 2009|
Boston Arts Festival
Carnival in the Pink