It would be worthwhile to filter out all the political chatter for a moment and reconsider more objectively Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s comments about the development of the steelpan industry.
Beyond the “if elected” aspect of her Emancipation Day address at a function in Marabella on Monday, there is much value to be gained from continuing a conversation about the development of the sector.
The truth is that the national instrument is not enough of a focus of discussions outside of the confines of Carnival and culture, which is unfortunate since this is the nation where it was invented back in the 1930s and, therefore, the right place for its continued evolution.
Since August is Steelpan Month, front and centre of discussions and activities should be taking the instrument and the sector to the next level. For example, where is the steelpan positioned in the thrust toward economic diversification? Are sufficient incentives being offered and is the steelpan fraternity properly sensitised to opportunities for innovations, such as the development of advanced technology in the pan manufacturing process?
There is no need to reinvent the steelpan. However, efforts to refine and upgrade this world-acclaimed instrument should be ongoing and this country, which proudly proclaims its importance as the steelpan’s birthplace, cannot shirk its responsibility to encourage and guide that development.
Luckily, there is no need to start from scratch. For pan manufacturing, all that is necessary is to tap into the expertise and experience of people already involved in the process, such as officials of Panland, formerly TT Instruments Limited. They have been involved in the manufacturing of steelpans since 1993 and currently run a factory on the Eastern Main Road, Laventille, opposite Angostura.
There is Akua Leith, artistic director and conductor of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra of T&T (NSSO), who is one of the driving forces behind the soon-to-be-opened Musical Instruments of Trinidad and Tobago (MITTCO) manufacturing facility at the e-Teck Diamond Vale Industrial Park in Diego Martin.
Expert guidance for development of the steelpan industry can also be provided by the recently retired principal of the St Augustine Campus of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Brian Copeland, who played a critical role in the development and patenting of the G-Pan, a re-engineered form of the traditional steelpan, and the Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI), the electronic steelpan.
There are many others—musicians, academics, business professionals—whose skills and knowledge should be harnessed. However, before delving into any new projects, a proper review should be done of existing programmes.
The T&T Bureau of Standards has created a standard for steelpan production which can be the basis for further advancing the technology that goes manufacturing the instrument.
A $5 million Steelpan Manufacturing Grant Fund Facility (SMGFF), aimed at improving productivity and competitiveness in the industry and administered through the MIC Institute of Technology (MIC-IT), is available to steelpan manufacturers and tuners.
What is needed is a proper assessment of these and other existing projects, before deciding what more needs to be done to advance the steelpan.
This month, when the national instrument is in the spotlight, is the perfect time to start that conversation.