Monday, 9 February 2009


When I was at school in the late 1970s, steelpan was part of our curriculum. We had to learn how to "beat pan" in Form One. We didn't know how fortunate we were to be exposed to our indigenous music. My generation grew up on pan. It was ubiquitous at Carnival time and from January to the end of February every year it was the soundtrack of our lives. Certainly we were told of the dramatic evolution of this music form; how it was born of oppression and a struggle for cultural supremacy. But by this stage it was so much a part of our lives, that I for one, certainly had no appreciation of the extraordinary genesis of this music form. At its heart it is the drumming of a nation. Social unrest and emerging nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century provided a fertile environment for the development of the musical instrument that would come to symbolise our national identity. Most steelpan historians agree that pan was born of the strong African tradition of drumming that travelled with displaced Africans across the Atlantic. Drumming was recognised by the colonial government as a powerful force and was subsequently banned in the late 1800's. There ensued a battle for the very soul of Carnival. The French planters with their traditions of masquerade fought a cultural war with the emancipated masses who incorporated mimicry, lewd dancing, ribald revelry, and general "get-on-bad" behaviour as a way of making their mark on a new homeland and as a distinct "thumbing their noses" to the pretensions of the socially conscious upper classes. Ultimately Carnival as we know it today is the product of the rocky marriage of these social groups with influences from Indian and Portuguese indentured labour and the cocoa "panyols" from the mainland.Each wave of immigrants would bring their magpie offering to the Carnival.Today Carnival belongs to all Trinidadians - each year it expands and breathes a healing breath into the nation's pysche. Pan made it rudimentary appearance in the 1930's.
From Wikipedia.
The steel pan evolved out of earlier musical practices of Trinidad. Drumming was used as a form of communication among the enslaved Africans and was subsequently outlawed by the British colonial government in 1883.[1] African slaves also performed during Mardi Gras celebrations, joining the French that had brought the tradition to the island.[2] The two most important influences were the drumming traditions of both Africa and India. The instrument's invention was therefore a specific cultural response to the conditions present on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. The first instruments developed in the evolution of steelpan were Tamboo-Bamboos, tunable sticks made of bamboo wood. These were hit onto the ground and with other sticks in order to produce sound.[3] Tamboo-Bamboo bands also included percussion of a (gin) bottle and spoon. By the mid-1930s bits of metal percussion was being used in the tamboo bamboo bands, the first probably being either the automobile brake hub "iron" or the biscuit drum "boom". The former replaced the gin bottle-and-spoon, and the latter the "bass" bamboo that was pounded on the ground. By the late 1930s there occasional all-steel bands were seen at Carnival and by 1940 it had become the preferred Carnival accompaniment of young underprivileged men. The 55-gallon oil drum was used to make lead steelpans from around 1947. The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), formed to attend the Festival of Britain in 1951, was the first steelband whose instruments were all made from oil drums. Members of TASPO included Ellie Mannette and Winston "Spree" Simon.

The Eight (8) Finalists in the Small Bands category
Posted by Pan Times on February 9, 2009 at 4:43pm
Medium bands’ finalists will be announced on Wednesday.In addition to sweet pan music, patrons attending the Finals on Wednesday will have an opportunity to win two (2) airline tickets to any North American destination courtesy Caribbean Airlines.In other related news the Tobago leg of the National Panorama Semi Finals will now take place on Tuesday 10th February 2009 at the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Tobago, from 8:00 pm.This change was due to the premature end of last Saturday’s event.As a result, the Tobago House of Assembly Conventional Champs competition scheduled for Tuesday 10th February will be held on a date to be announced.
Steelband Association of Trinidad and Tobago
UWI Steelpan Development Centre
World Music Festival
Steelpan Research
Robert Greenidge
Ray Holman Music
Lincoln Enterprises
Pan On The Net
Pan Neubean Steel
Steelpan Pelau
Steelpan Plus
Steelpan Research
Steelpan Manufacturers
Steeltone Music Inc.
Panyard Inc.
Trincan Music
Tropical Ensemble
T & T Instruments
World of Pan
The Rhythm Project
Steelband Music Catalog
Caribbean Music
Steelpan European
More Steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Between Worlds -Bunty O'Connor

Bunty's show opened at the Art Society in Federation Park on Tuesday night. I had taken these photos before but wanted to wait until the show opened before I posted them. Her work in these pieces is very exciting. Aptly titled "Between Worlds" she explores this theme on many levels. Bunty was, literally, between worlds when she was was working on this collection. With the decision to close Ajoupa's doors came unexpected freedom to express her creativity but it was also filled with significant grief. In her artist's statement she says: "Letting go of Ajoupa Pottery has been the hardest thing to deal with- like a death." She worked steadily on the collection over a period of 16 months beginning with Between Worlds (below).
There is a sense of magical playfulness in the pieces. Many are whimsical with a nod to Trinidad and Tobago's extensive folklore traditions but there is also a sense that Bunty is pushing herself to go below the surface, crossing another boundary to allow the subconscious to bubble up. In the piece below, the back side (not shown) of Between Worlds is a contrasting study in unbridled nature, a la Garden of Eden. The message is twofold; civilisation is but skin deep, an untamed, deeply beautiful world is always accessible through hidden doorways. But it is not necessary to over-analyse Bunty's work. The work is what it is and this is what makes it so powerful. One of the three Actors The Child.

A common theme of peering into doorways, literal or otherwise,allows the work to spread out and deeply exhale. She says "I made them all as they occurred to me and so they document my feelings and experiences during the time of making. Some are tongue-in-cheek, like Tea with the Arabs.......... some funny, and some full of fear like the Gargoyles (Dengue Nightmare). I made this piece while Rory was ill with dengue fever in September - it was cathartic pouring out of all those fearful beasts."

Leaves, trees, and fantastical organic forms carry through the feeling of deep, unexplored territory. Exploring the dense, virgin landscape of Trinidad's lush northern range has obviously made an indelible mark on Bunty's psyche and this emerges in the turn of a leaf or the shape of a tree.

In Ground Provisions (above) the coiled leaf of the dasheen unfurls to reveal playful, but undoubtedly elderly, sprite and the subterranean dasheen is a fat, lovely, earthbaby.

In "Coming Out of Her Shell", the girl/snail captures the essence of the Caribbean, "kiss-me-nah?" attitude that is our home-grown version of a bad girl. But she is achingly beautiful in her vulnerability as she comes out of her shell.

Like many artists, place and landscape are integral to the work. While hiking in the forest, Bunty and Rory visited and camped overnight at the plane crash site of Mikey Cipriani. In the 1930's, the small light aircraft piloted by Cipriani and a friend crashed in the northern range while enroute to Tobago. The death of this charismatic, handsome young pilot captured the nation's attention. Bunty describes the site as a place of serene beauty. "The Place Where Mikey Cipriani Crashed His Plane" is part memorial, part tribute to this as yet un-commemorated spot.

"Homage to Hands" is a commanding piece with an almost Rodin-type feel. Bunty tells the story that she created them to be apart, open and upturned. Rory had a different idea and would entwine them every time he passed by. This little performance art ritual-of-the-hands only adds to the piece.

I have chosen to highlight just a few of the pieces but there are many others that are just as evocative and magically delightful as the ones that I've shown here.
Amerindian Doggy has just joined my pack. I had to have him.

Bunty prefaces her Artist Statement with a quote from STARBOOK by Ben Okri.

"Voice: If you enter through the magic gate, if you walk through the encampment of the tribe.......You will find them carving at wood scuptures in open workshops, hammering at bronze, singing poignant songs in groups, in lovely harmonies. You will see the children making new objects out of rejects, drawing pictures on the ground. You will see the women painting cloth in vivid colours, or creating new forms with jeweld and cowries. practising new dances in the square. You will find the old at work, directing great projects, telling stories to the young, listening to the dreams of maidens."

STARBOOK, by Ben Okri