Last Panorama night, while taking my ‘Millennium Gift’ who attends the St Joseph’s Convent and plays pan with New Dimensions to the Stadium, an issue came up! She voiced her frustration over repeated low attendance at Panorama and the private fetes held on the same night. I was forced to attempt an explanation that might settle her mind a little bit.
The fact is that Panorama (not pan) is no longer a valid ‘Spicemas’ product. In the circumstances, there is an urgent need to create a popular steelpan music product within the Carnival. The music is great but Panorama is dead!
Actually, the spoilage of the appetite for Panorama started before the huge, sold-out, branded fetes showed up. It was not the fault of the pan-men, as such. And the few remaining diehards could not save it. Panorama requires going to a certain place (a function of tradition or marketing) and listening intently while one is there. So it calls for personal choice, not organisation or sponsorship, as such.
So let us attempt to put the fate of Panorama in its proper perspective.
Firstly, the steel band has lost its village-based character which carried with it values of pride and belonging and the making of a national statement on behalf of villages that were not otherwise favourably looked upon by society.
Today, players actually come from all parts of Grenada (and overseas). They come mostly from the schools, not the village where the band is located. So the neighbourhood and association identities have been lost.
Secondly, forty years ago pan was played by those whom society saw as aggressive and ill-disciplined. Now, the instrument is played by many middle class youngsters who want no part of competition violence or old-fashioned ‘Bad- Johnism’. In a sense, today’s players actually mimic the profile of the modern Jab-Jab players, as against those of 1960s-70s. Look who’s playing Jab!
Very significantly, although decent young people play the pan today, young Grenadians do not attend the Panorama! Why so?
The reality is that our Carnival has become a big fete event. Young people do not fete with pan! That’s it! Notice also that ‘Spicemas’ is marketed as the Caribbean’s “Hottest Summer Party”! The new-age fete is a fashion show, trendy, hot and sexy; facilitated by online shopping and the most popular local boutiques!
Those who come to Grenada for Carnival are mostly young people, third and fourth generation Grenadians from the diaspora and hundreds from the Caribbean, principally Trinidad. They come to fete! The Panorama mood is not one which is capable of moving and exciting young people. For these folks, their senses and their bodies must be engaged for full enjoyment and pleasure.
Yet, there is a version of ‘partying’ that passes the young test. It is called “jamming”. This product is very rootsy and well-suited for jeans, shorts, tights, etc. In this mode, the youth can show off their gyrating skills/talents and are prepared to do so openly. They love the spectacle!
So what do we do now? Perhaps we can fashion a new opportunity for pan by designing a product that is Carnival-fit. Pan players deserve a respectable place in the Carnival. An end needs to be put to the suffering and insult surrounding Panorama. It is painful to see an aspect of our indigenous culture being subjected to National indifference.
However, pan players and their Association must be open to change. Several hours of sleepless nights and playing your heart out in front of a handful of patrons, cannot be compensated for by being declared Panorama Champions. Mere symbolism cannot energise anyone!
Our suggestion is that one night during the peak week of Carnival be dedicated to pan music. The bands may be located at various spots along the Port Highway/Carenage, for example, with supporting bars, food stands and branded paraphernalia. This new ‘Pan-out’ event will create an exciting ‘hangout’ for tourists and nationals alike, beginning late afternoon. The ambiance will be perfect. The bands will mostly play the Soca of the season. It won’t be a competition, just entertainment.
The Steel Band Association can arrange a competitive concert outside of the Carnival, as they see fit.
The way the market has developed, while Soca Monarch is popular, the same cannot be said for Panorama. (The Calypso Monarch is already on ‘life- support’.) Tradition is not a valid reason to persist with a struggling Panorama event, when we could do much better with and for our pan men and women.
Time has come to create a new product for pan music within the Carnival, one that both young and not so young could ‘jam’ at and enjoy. The Carnival authorities can figure out how to compensate the bands, while they themselves use the new event to make money and gain popularity among the people.
This offering is only a seed. Maybe a sower will plant it and prepare for the harvest. Maybe it will choke among the thorns!