A Vision for Pan in the New Millenium
Written by Kirk Ifill
Thursday, 21 July 2011 22:12


Although the music of the steelpan (called “pan”, for short) is known as far from its native home, Trinidad and Tobago, as Eastern Europe and Japan, it is still regarded by many as a kind of novelty. Very few are aware that the pan is capable of interpreting almost every kind of music and of mimicking the tonal quality of other musical instruments. Indeed, the whole range of expression of a conventional orchestra may be faithfully rendered by an orchestra composed solely of steelpans.

Our dream for pan is to make it a mainstream musical instrument worldwide. It is time for pan to be integrated with other symphonic instruments and for composers to include passages for pan in their musical compositions. We should like to see the steelpan in every major music instrument store in all major cities of the world and pan music in every music store. It is time for it to be removed from the narrow definition of “Native Music” and “Caribbean Music”.

At the moment, Trinidad and Tobago hosts a local Steelband Festival where music ranging from classics to calypso is played. The high calibre of the performances has to be heard to be believed. However, only one or two foreign bands have competed. This should be extended with vigorous advertisement to include bands from all over the world. Also, music-lovers worldwide – we are convinced, from the huge crowds, high enthusiasm and rave reviews, which greet our steelpan orchestras abroad that, with proper marketing, our Steelband Festival should attract huge crowds from all over the world, akin to the Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica.

In other words, we envision Trinidad and Tobago as the effective headquarters and knowledge centre of the worldwide industry. And why not? Pan is the only new percussion instrument invented in the twentieth century. It is the only instrument of its kind. It represents true entrepreneurship in every respect – in research and development, investment, marketing, manufacturing, training, etc. However, we have tended to concentrate on the musical aspects of pan, incessantly exploring and extending its range and expressiveness. The absence of a thorough international awareness programme has limited its exposure and success.

As part of a strategy to increase the demand for pan and pan products internationally, the pan governing body, Pan Trinbago, plans to launch a World Pan Organisation, which would be analogous to FIFA in soccer. This global body, headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago, but made up of representatives from all regions of the world, would seek the betterment of pan affairs, including marketing. In this connection, the local tourist board, TIDCO, and the national airline, BWIA, could work closely with this organisation.

We see the increased manufacture and export of steelpan instruments as providing a tremendous opportunity for the country to create employment and earn foreign exchange in the new millennium. We need, however, fiscal incentives, a sector strategy and – most important – an international awareness strategy to create the demand for this product.

Steelpan, taking the world by storm in the next millennium, just as it does on a Panorama night when locals and foreigners from all parts of the world respond as one to its exciting, irresistible music – that is our vision.

© 1999 Kirk Ifill