About calling it dumb when it is

Sometimes we try too hard to convince folks where we’re coming from about this or that matter. A case in point being the recent appearance of Mitt Romney before a conservative gathering in Washington, he attempting, in pathetic fashion, to impress upon the assembled right-side believers that he is genuinely of their ilk. In a speech in which “conservative” was intoned more frequently than an observer might compute, Romney mentioned at one stage how “severely” conservative he was. But, enough of that. The Republican presidential nomination melodrama is hardly our focus here. In a world far removed from Romney et al, they’re counting down, in Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere, to the annual Carnival. On the seasonal calendar in Trinidad, a major precursory activity in heading toward the two-day revelry windup continues to be the steel band Panorama contest. Last Sunday, two contributions from regular columnists of the Trinidad Express centered on the Panorama.

One writer, Raffique Shah, jumped all over a bone-headed idea the Panorama organizers thought to add to the event, in which, for a pretty handsome fee, patrons were allowed admission to a “party” enclave within the event complex — complete with deejay music and all the trimmings — while the Panorama competition was taking place. That the masterminds of Pan Trinbago, the umbrella steel band body and Panorama organizers, evidently saw in this innovation a stroke of brilliance gives one pause. And Shah’s puzzlement was only to be expected, as he wondered whether some malady had befallen those who gave sanction to a gimmick that was so innately mindless.

Of the other columnist weighing in on the Panorama, Martin Daly, it needs be said that his bona fides as an advocate for steel band culture seem beyond reproach. He has rhapsodized often and passionately about steel band music as one of our great artistic treasures. None of which exempts him from our “trying too hard“ reference here. Inexplicably (for a diehard pan music lover), Daly’s comments about the organizers’ novelty feature in the Panorama proceedings numbered him unapologetically with the perpetrators. It’s difficult to fathom how a proclaimed rock-solid affinity with the pan culture could accommodate rationalizing stuff that so flies in the face of that culture’s better aspirations. For good measure, Daly was even defensive about another of the organizers’ perplexing programming moves, namely, scheduling 49 bands to perform on the day of the Panorama semi-finals.

Look, it became obvious not years but decades ago that the Panorama event had evolved to much more than a steel band competition. To its credit, the Panorama developed this magnetism which made it the quintessential “Be there!” activity surrounding Carnival, even as the steel bands’ role in the culminating masquerade waned to a shadow of their former prominence. Panorama came increasingly to be referred to, in colloquial Trinidadian parlance as a big “lime.” Inescapably aligned with that reality is that a hefty chunk of the throngs gathered for Panorama at Port of Spain’s Queen’s Park Savannah (no different in back of the Brooklyn Museum Labor Day Saturday) are folks for whom the least of their interests is what musical package the bands unwrap on stage. If Daly, Panorama’s organizers and anyone else aren’t by now hip to this, they’re woefully out to lunch.

But that social dynamic about the Panorama goes to the core of the wrong-headedness of Pan Trinbago’s thinking that cultivating an independent party space within its premier pan event was indicative of sound planning. Doing so was clearly feeding into the mindset of that element for whom the “pan” in Panorama is definitely not the foremost consideration. That this would not have been instantly recognized for what it was is, again, a worrisome commentary about those calling signals for Panorama and the steel band movement overall.

Word subsequently coming from the Pan Trinbago hierarchy, in the way of justification for the strange soca-party-in-Panorama promotion, was that it was in pursuit of the organization’s ambitions toward self-sufficiency. Certainly an objective there with which few could argue, especially given the dependency syndrome that has long been the organization’s Achilles heel. But in the face of the silly Panorama party idea emerging as the leadership’s collective wisdom for an assault on the fiscal challenges, we can only hope that, “What else you got?” elicits something of a pleasant surprise.

One other Trinidad Express contributor who also addressed the dicey Panorama semi-finals situation, along with other issues steel band related, seemed not to harbor expectations of greater substance. Keith Subero, on the question of Pan Trinbago possessing the management wherewithal to adequately take care of business, didn’t mince matters. And citing an earlier affiliation with the organization would conceivably have lent weight to his observations about the limits of its capabilities, once the present model of steel band people themselves running the shop remains in place.

Subero will likely be pilloried by the Pan Trinbago leadership. Raffique Shah likewise, for his well placed jabs. But this is about witnessing nonsense and forthrightly identifying it as such. This, ultimately, is constructive. By contrast, Martin Daly’s credentials as a crusader in good standing for steel band music will in no way be enhanced because he chose to pussyfoot around some action orchestrated by the lords of the pan world that was just plain dumb.

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