Pan as Culture; Pan as Business


by Caribupdate Weekly

The combined history of Grenada’s three leading Steelbands — FLOW Commancheros, Coyaba New Dimension, and Republic Bank Angel Harps — is more than 120 years. It’s an impressive history of not just steelpan in Grenada, but it’s also an important part of our cultural tapestry. It’s a symbol of Grenadians — men, in the beginning, later women and today, lots of children — finding an outlet to express themselves in a musical, cultural way.

Pan has allowed many of our musicians to travel to diverse places around the world to perform; some have made music their career choice, including Harps’ Carl Croney, who once was featured on the popular children’s television show, Sesame Street. He’s now a Canada-based music producer.

In Antigua, steel bands developed with the overt backing and encouragement of the British colonial rulers. However, the general pattern of development, as in Grenada and Trinidad, was the struggle of early pioneers pressing relentlessly to gain the backing, endorsement and respect of government and corporate officials.

No doubt, steelpan has come a long; testimony of that is Commancheros, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. Congratulations, Cheros! And, Caribupdate Weekly would like to give a special salute to Denis Philip, who was at the beginning in 1967 at the startup of Commancheros and still is with the band today. At 81, Phillip is the oldest active steel band member in Grenada.

Now, while Steelbands — the quality of pans, the skillfulness of players and their range and repertoire of songs — have improved, it is clear that much more could, and needs to be done, with pan and to lift the standard even further.

Cecil Noel is part of the management of Commancheros, and a former musical arranger of the band. He also has served on the executive of the Grenada Steelbands’ Association (GSA). Noel, at a news conference to launch the anniversary celebrations of Cheros, commented on the state of the local Steelband movement and on the GSA, saying the association needs to be ‘revamped.’

GSA, Noel added, ought to be “a lot of more directional in terms of planning and execution of its activities.” Noel’s wishes to see the emergence of more Steelbands in villages across the nation, and emphasises the importance of a ‘strong’ GSA, which should be working in collaboration with the ministry of culture of the Grenada government.

Noel’s suggestions are worthy enough for consideration. But we believe even more radicalised steps must be taken. There is no way the GSA or any of our other cultural or sporting organisations could propel themselves forward by utilising the old model of volunteers, who meet now and again for discussions and the planning of events. All the groups need to be professionalised and to find people with various skill sets to run them.

In a 12 January commentary in Caribupdate, journalist and former Angel Harps member, Lincoln DePradine, noted that “there is only so much that an association of volunteers, who meet intermittently, can implement in any significant manner to advance their cause.” According to DePradine, “GSA leaders have a major marketing and sales job to do. They must convince the public on the fact that pan is a viable musical career.” He recommended that the association’s leaders should “develop a strategy for selling pan as a good for society, rather than GSA simply organising pan events or competing at panorama.” So, 100-plus years of pan history are an amazing feat. But the Steelband movement must leverage that history and take steelpan to another level.

What a wonderful thing it would be if Commancheros is so economically self-sufficient that it now is able to invest in stocks of its former sponsor, Coca-Cola; or Angel Harps investing in Shell, one its sponsors of old.

In moving forward, one of the aims of the GSA, and its affiliate Steelbands should be going about the business of business. After these many years in the cultural arena, our Steelband movement should have been so strong and viable that some bands ought to, by now, be investors in corporations like Grenlec; even investors on the Regional Stock Exchange, the Toronto Stock Exchange or the New York Stock Exchange.

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