Archive for the ‘Mar 21’ Category

March 21 – The role of the Steel pan

Posted: March 23, 2012 by innocentk in Mar 21

This week’s readings looked at the role of the steel pan in shaping a distinct Trinidadian identity. Shannon Dudley’s introduction to Music from Behind the Bride: Steelband Aesthetics and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago, explores the conditions which led to the development of the steel pan, and in particular how it has been rooted in “conditions of marginalization and strife” (Dudley, 2007). In addition to this, Dudley highlights the complex interaction between the steel pan, politics, and spirituality when he states that “narratives of the steelband portray the panmen’s defiant persistence as an analogue to Trinidad and Tobago’s struggle for independence, and Gibbons suggests that this persistence has taken spiritual sustenance from the Orisha religion” (Dudley, 2007). Through past readings we’ve been able to establish that objects do in fact have agency as we interact with them, and the steel pan is very much in line with this understanding.

The article goes on to discuss how the modernist reform movement influenced the way in which the steel pan was performed. Dudley explains that “performances that were once part of participatory community celebrations and rituals, in which the line between participants and observers might be quite indistinct, are reconfigured as staged spectacles presented to a relatively passive audience” (Dudley, 2007). This chapter introduces readers to the evolving nature of the steel pan and the changes that have taken shape in its performance. Changes that have taken the steelband out of its original context within communal gatherings and onto the stage with performances that have grown to be about the competition instead of a collective celebration around this national symbol. Therefore, the steel pans interaction with the audiences has changed as the performative spaces have changed, and as it grows further away from the pulse of the audience within the Trinidad Carnival scene.      

Ray Allen’s article entitled J’ouvert in Brooklyn Carnival: Revitalizing Steel Pan and Ole Mas Traditions looked at the steelbands use within the New York Carnival scene. Taken out of its original context, in this particular case, the steel pan has been used to reconstruct a Trinidadian cultural identity within a Carnival atmosphere that has slowly transformed into a pan-Caribbean cultural festival. Allen states that the “Parkway J’Ouvert provides pan players and their followers the opportunity to return to the streets and perform in a traditional Carnival atmosphere where the interaction of players, masqueraders, dancers, and spectators creates a sense of communal ecstasy, something akin to Victor Turner’s ‘spontaneous communitas’ ” (Allen, 1999). This is an attempt to place the steel pan back into its original context, and have it be a reflection of the Trinidad’s distinct cultural identity.                                                                               


1)      Can a steel pan in a museum case provoke the same feelings of identification as a steel pan that is played in a communal gathering?

2)      Are national symbols determined by politics or by cultural identification?


March 21

Posted: March 21, 2012 by caponeam in Mar 21

This week the object that was the main focus within the readings was the symbolic meaning of the Steal Pan. Gage Averills article entitled “Pan is we Ting” outlines how the diasporic peoples of the West Indian Community maintain there culture within Brooklyn New York. The Steal Pan was a sought after activity that served to engage the youth of these communities. It provided a positive environment all the while promoting there diasporic identities and was highly symbolic of there home land. The steal pan is highly emblematic of the struggles of these displaced peoples and therefore is reproduced and recreated in a host nation to give thanks and remember there history and ethnic and cultural identities. The instrument represents the struggles that were felt within Trinidad and emphasizes some of the main views within the traditional Carnival that is reproduced annually within Trinidad, and around the world. To those who are unaware of this instrument is, there agency with it is almost unquestionative, they don’t know the history of it nor are they aware of the highly contentious symbolism that it represents. To those who are more inquisitive, once they choose to dig into the past of this object do they come out with a large understanding of a communities struggle for identity and unification. This is further emphasized in the next article by Shannon Dudly’s “Music from behind the Bridge: Steel band Aesthetics and politics in Trinidad and Tobago”. Within shannons chapters it is unveiled the deeper meaning behind the cultural context of the steal pan in relation to the lower class Afro-Caribbean diaspora and throughout the multiple readings the political side to this instrument is unveiled. The Author does a fantastic job at recapping the history of this object and outlining the benefits this tool has for the nations identity for particular oppressed bodies within there land. The controversy surrounding the nationhood of this object is still felt but one must look at the past in order to understand the context of its symbolism which Dudley does provide. I’m almost positive that Trinidad is not the only country with such a contested symbol of nationalism. There are many displaced peoples in multiple countries and for them, that is there home land. My question is: how would you define which people within a country have more right to declare what a national symbol should be? Within Trinidad the history would suspect that it is the displaced and oppressed people of Afro- Caribbean decent, but is that always the case?

Carnivale: Jump’n n’ Wav’n to di pan!

Posted: March 21, 2012 by mahmerkhan in Mar 21

Averill: “Moreover, these paradoxes I have identified – amateur vs. professional, national vs. West Indian, local vs. transnational – are in constant flux precisely because pan is a living, dynamic art form in which so many diasporic West Indians invest their time, energy, and passion.”


Averill is saying that the Pan is one of the connections that make the West Indian diaspora identity attached to the larger nation back home. It is more than just a music show, it is an active connection to an identity through a steel drum. The festival that it took, the idea of labour day in the states and how the Caribbean people celebrate it with passion along with the idea of waking up in the morning and celebrating the opening of the day “jouvay” in a French name against the colonizers is a ritualized phenomenon where the concept of being initially Trinidadian and on a larger scale West Indian/Caribbean is celebrated in unity. Without the steel pan could the parade happen? I believe otherwise. It all starts with a man named Rupert Grant, celebrating it outside otherwise it was indoors and much more quaint (prior to this it was celebrated indoors amongst smaller crowds). Grant had decided to make it public to the larger audience which visually promotes Trinidadian heritage and thats important to note because what was once indoors and exclusive (accessible to those only who knew and are Trinidadian could celebrate it) and now its not only about the celebration but more so keeping the tradition of J’ouvay. As Averil is conducting his interview, he places importance on the future generations of Trinidadian peoples. The continuation of being Trinidadian through the steel pan. Whats super interesting is that kids who misbehave do not get time to participate in pan activities, in a way excluding the individual from belonging to the larger group identity…now that’s the politics of diaspora!


My question to you is “The steel pan was made from a metal bin. Something that was ordinary become extraordinary. The likelihood of the steel pan being removed from the National narrative is close to zero, however, can the steel pan turn into something else? Can the people of Trinidad start drumming on say the Hang Drum? What would be the agents of change in a hypothetical situation? Availability? Functionality? Acoustics? Having enough players?”


Ray Allen:


Allen has gone at an extensive length to differentiate the Eastern Parkway celebrations from the Brooklyn celebrations. He makes the differentiation of the two celebrations by making clear the content of the celebration. Brooklyn was the original Trinidadian place for pan and steelbands and Parkway was scene for renewal, larger multicultural among African American individuals and Caribbean (Jamaican, Grenada, Bajen, etc) people which also serves as a venue for advertisements. In Brooklyn, the pan is heard and nothing else. The Eastern Parkway celebrations are a mix of everything. They have large music speakers playing modern pop-Caribbean music in addition to the pan. However in Brooklyn, the pan and strictly pan is heard. Brooklyn represents the Trinidadian heritage whereas J’ouvert has become a site of representation, a site of voice. J’ouvert is Where the diaspora can speak to each other about what affects them, it also represents heritage and tradition by dress and costume. They parade about issues or politics; for example: the white house painted red by bill clinton, about sick men being prescribed alcohol and beer, and so forth.


Allen says the following: “The degree to which J’Ouvert represents a conscious revitalization of tradition, or rather the final step in the natural diaspora of Trinidadian Carnival to Brooklyn, is difficult to judge from our present historical position. Moreover,individual motivations for participation vary widely” (Allen 271)


It’s important to analyze what Allen means by this. I take it as that the diaspora can change their traditions, celebrations and even merge their identities together for unified celebration* (in that moment of celebration). Celebrations like these are powerful and they are crucial to understand what the diaspora is not only saying but what do they find important.


Une questione’: Can this celebration (J’ouvert) be an object?

March 21st-Reworked Objects: The Steel Pan

Posted: March 19, 2012 by jonathansantosdts403diasporiclivesofobjects in Mar 21

This week’s readings examined the steel pan and its history and journey around the world.

Pan is We Ting” by Gage Averill traced the development of the steel pan from the West Indies to Brooklyn, New York. From this article it is evident that the steel pan and the steel pan bands were used as a way to inspire African American and Caribbean American youth by getting them involved in positive activities and avoiding gangs, drugs and violence. What I found interesting was how the author argued that the steel pan and steel pan band enables one to develop the discipline and commitment necessary to do well in school and build a sense of community. Furthermore it is evident from this article that the steel pan symbolizes West Indian cultural identity and also ethnic identity. I think that Averill did a great job in proving that the steel pan is indeed an authentic symbol as even though changing locations, the steel pan has not strayed away from its original intent.

Music from Behind the Bridge: Steel band Aesthetics and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago” by Shannon Dudley examined how the steel pan is a national cultural symbol of Trinidad and Tobago. From this article it is evident that historically, national cultural symbols, in this case, the steel pan have been politically and financially determined and shaped as opposed to chosen. In this article the author successfully provided a unique history of steel pan bands from Trinidad and Tobago. I think that Dudley did a great job in proving that the steel pan is indeed an authentic symbol of Trinidad and Tobago culture.

Brooklyn Carnival: Revitalizing Steel Pan and Ole Mas Traditions” by Ray Allen examined the evolution of the Carnival Parade in Brooklyn, New York.  The reader learns of how what was once a small gathering celebrating Trinidadian culture has transformed into a massive street parade drawing millions of people to celebrate different Caribbean culture and traditions. In this article I think that Allen did a great job in demonstrating how the steel pan strayed away from its original intent. What was once a small get together celebrating Trinidadian culture is now a parade celebrating all the differenet Caribbean cultures.


(1)   Are all national symbols politically and ethnically driven?



Posted: March 19, 2012 by lynndts403 in Mar 21

In chapter 6: A Showcase for Pan, Shannon Dudley demonstrates the impact of politics and finance through Panorama on the emergence of the Steelband as a symbol of national culture in Trinidad.

I find this article particularly interesting as it reminds us how national symbols are often politically driven and molded rather than chosen as a result of its ability to depict the essence of a particular culture or people. I think Shannon was successful in narrating the political and financial aspects as it offers a comprehension political history of steelbands and also details its monetary worth overtime.

In j’ouvert in Brooklyn Carnival: Revitalizing Steel Pan and Ole Mas Traditions, Ray Allen discusses of the evolution of the East Parkway Parade in Brooklyn New York .  He illustrates the transformation of a small street gathering to celebrate Trinidadian culture to a massive street parade drawing hundred of thousands that celebrate Afro- Caribbean on the whole. The celebrations in itself have evolved from steel bands to DJs and large amplifiers that play reggae and other Afro-music.

As a result of this transformation, it has led to the emergence of a smaller, more intimate celebration; the J’ouvert with a ‘pan only’ policy to recapture the essence of Trinidadian culture.

I applaud and enjoyed Allen’s approach on this subject as I can easily see an academic debate on the ‘authhencity’ or rather the lack thereof of the current Eastern Parkway Parade since its celebrations have strayed so far away from its origin intent. I think it is important to address this evolution as it clearly portrays that culture is not static and interactions in diverse, pluralistic societies do change and influence cultures.



  1. Why has the evolution of the Eastern Parkway Parade gone in the direction of including other Caribbean countries rather than creating other parades to represent distinct cultures? Do politics and media have something to do with this? Does it reflect on western societies’ tendency to group minorities into a single homogenous category?
  1. Are all national symbols political driven?  Do they tend to homogeneous a society and leave minority groups out (as protested by the Indo-Trinidadians)? If so, should they hold as much importance as we give them?