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SATURDAY’S CHILD: Pan the man in the van


SATURDAY’S CHILD: Pan the man in the van

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HYPE AND MONEY go together like love and marriage which, as the old song says, go together like a horse and carriage, and we can go on indefinitely until we get to who begat what when.

The Americans, still and increasingly the most parochial people on earth, were able to disguise this brilliantly. A travelling circus owned by legendary showman P.T. Barnum and restricted for a long time to the United States, called itself The Greatest Show On Earth. The annual finals of a game, baseball, played professionally by Americans in the United States only, was called the World Series.

Trinidad, a small Caribbean island of 1 833 square miles and a population of about 1.2 million, calls its annual Carnival The Greatest Show On Earth, defying Barnum, baseball and Brazil. In 2011, the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro attracted 4.9 million people (more than four times the population of Trinidad) including 400 000 foreigners.   

Today, Saturday February 25, 2017, or Carnival Saturday, is when the national Panorama competition or steelband (pan) championship is held. Bands of musicians playing songs or calypsos compete in what we might call the Greatest Show On Earth’s own “World Series” of pan. It is interesting that the word “panorama” means “a wide or unbroken view” of the whole region surrounding an observer.

The panorama of an ant is clearly different from that of someone on Trinidad’s highest mountain El Cerro del Aripo in all its 940 metres (3 084 feet). We know our limits and have not yet termed it “The Greatest Mountain On Earth”. This year’s Panorama of pan has widened significantly and for the first time includes Barbados and celebrates the twinning of a Trinidad composer and a Barbadian singer.

The records from 1963 show that the North Stars steelband playing Sparrow’s Dan Is The Man (In The Van) won the competition. It can be argued that by inviting the crowd at one of his shows to “kiss my Grenadian” rear-end Sparrow was actually the first and so far the only non-national whose song was played by the winning band. However, it is universally acknowledged that despite his birthplace, Sparrow has qualified as a hero of the republic. This year, according to media reports in both Barbados and Trinidad, a song Good Morning by “Barbados-based, internationally renowned performing artist Peter Ram” (composed by Jovan James of Trinidad) was played by five of the top bands in the preliminaries of the competition.

Last year’s Panorama winners Desperadoes won the semi-finals playing Ram’s song. If Ram wins, it will be argued by many Trinidadians that Ram only sang the tune but a “Trini” composed it. This is inevitable and reminds me of the way some Barbadians were insistent that Brian Lara’s 375 was not as good as the 365 by Garry Sobers whose record he broke because Sobers was “not out”.

In that sense, West Indians tend to be far more parochial than Americans. We “trump” them in pettiness so to speak. But tonight, apart from Sparrow’s unrepentant rectum, is a first for Panorama and one hopes a first for Ram, James, one of many for Desperadoes and its arranger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander from my home town of Siparia, and for Trinidad which can make up for quality versus quantity, and regionalism instead of nationalism in its Greatest Show On Earth. In the full spirit of Carnival, I am ending with a few verses from an unpublished poem I wrote 17 years ago in 2000, just before the Carnival


When people ask me what is “pan”,

I don’t know what to say,

Is it the Greek God with the pipes

That haunting melodies play?

Or is “pan” the dream of one-ness,

The word that means unity,

Linking the world with music

Our bridge to eternity?

Or is “pan” the God of music,

On stage in the Savannah tonight,

In Port of Spain’s Queen’s Park,

Where the Kings come out to fight? . . . .

Pride drives the wheels of the pan-racks,

Pride beats the heavy bass pans,

Love is the lightening that surges,

In the fingers and the hands. . . .

Music is the beat of the oil drums,

Music is the Holy Grail,

Each band follows its muse tonight,

On destiny’s distant trail. . . .

Tonight Pan takes its rightful place,

With Jupiter and Mars,

With Mercury and Venus,

In the pantheon of stars. . . .

Tonight is pandit and bandit,

Sancho Panza and the Don,

Tomorrow we’ll fight the windmills,

When we find out who has won. . . .

So go my friends to glory,

Go where history waits,

Go with banners flying,

Through time’s endless gates. . . .

Let no quarter be asked or given,

Leave no prisoners on the ground,

Tonight will determine forever,

The battle of the sound.

Tony Deyal was last seen wishing that Caribbean unity will reign tonight and the Savannah will be Ram Cram.