Pan as icon: preserving, claiming, marketing (Part II)

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(An address to the CARIFESTA V SYMPOSIUM, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago/August 1992)

By Dorbrene O’Marde

And then this final word, ‘marketing.’ It is a word that I am scared of, especially when loosely bandied around culture and the arts. It is one of those words that can shroud all sorts of deviousness. What are we marketing? The art product – music made by musicians on the instrument, pan or the physical instrument itself? Or all of the above? If this is the case, then in normal circumstances I have very few problems with the word and the suggested activities for promoting both pan and pan music.

I have other fears because my interpretation of pan as icon, as image of heritage, does not stop here. For unlike many other cultural and art forms of the region, this one is entirely ours… the instruments, the music, the organisation, the arrangement and production of the music – all ours, and therefore demands certain respect and safeguarding. Its marketing cannot be without reference to the culture out of which it comes and the position it holds as an icon in our cultural and spiritual development. It must not be separated from the history or society out of which it comes, for unlike most other modern musical instruments, it is not a one-man, a single creator’s or inventor’s product. It is a social product and must be marketed as such, primarily to continue reinforcing our ownership of the invention and to protect it from degenerating into a musical debacle portraying us as ‘tourists’ see us – dancing, wining natives in big straw hats and clothes pretty like our postage stamps.

If the ancestral links remain as I have claimed, and the cultural continuum is not breached, then our history as a people is much older than five hundred years and should be in no way bound up too tightly with the varies of Columbus and other European manifestations of that ilk. This is one of the lessons I want marketed – the one that uses pan and pan movement to demonstrate in tangible ways that we are from a long line of civilisation, with history, with culture, and that as a people, our history did not begin in the indignity of slavery. Pan proves that point to me, and I want to market that proof, make it well known to all and sundry and politicians too, for ‘they do not yet know it.’

It is important that through ‘pan,’ we explore the endurance and creativity of the ‘lower social classes,’ which – without money, without training in the European sense, creates the only acoustic musical instrument for this century. What else lies dormant among us? What other immense possibilities and potential lie somewhere – hemmed in by dubious political leadership and the retarding technical and bureaucratic systems that dominate our lives? How come our leaders cannot find a common currency for the region and the lady outside the Jamaica airport can negotiate with George Lamming in the currency of his choice? The point is clear. The developments in culture and ‘people economics’ and many other fields indicate to me that we do have the potential and ability to solve many of the socio-economic problems facing the Caribbean if we only search for solutions in the right places, utilising fully the resourcefulness of our Caribbean masses.

Are there no lessons for us from the pan movement in the way tunes are transmitted from one person to another in the panyard? – the teaching/learning interface. No lessons to inform the way we teach art; the way we teach drama or dance or piano or guitar? I doubt that – there must be. Is there nothing to learn from social organisation of the steelband with its arranger and sponsor and captains and trainers and part-time musicians who could be doctor-lawyers-beggarman-thief, dockworker, clerk, male or female, young or old? No lessons for our social workers, our social workers, our organisation and management specialists, our psychiatrists, our politicians? Panwomen suggest that they are afforded unqualified respect and equality in the panyard, something that certainty does not occur in the wider society. We should know why. Or find out.

I say yes to ‘claiming.’ There are so many other lessons to be drawn from the movement. What human character traits make this movement possible? What is the source of spirituality and confidence which inspire people who are not ‘musically trained’ to approach Kitchener and Bach, on the same day, in the same clothes, on the same instruments, with the same facility and creativity as they do Marley or Coltrane or Hancock?

I say ‘marketing,’ yes – but for ourselves, for our regional and total human development – not to satisfy the mundane needs of individuals bored with their own countries and life styles, who came here calling themselves tourists; certainly not for the fickle industry which supports and encourages the movement of these bored vagrants, tourism; certainly not for the satisfaction of the world’s ethnomusicologists who refer to our music as primitive or lump it into a weird category called ‘world music,’ a music different and therefore inferior to ‘theirs.’ I have seen what ‘marketing’ has done to calypso – how it has turned a most valued and valid artform into one that has ‘gone international’ – whatever that means, and how this ‘internationalising’ of the artform has reduced the lyrical content of the music to the lowest and perhaps most base common denominator of all – ‘jam and wine and party and wave.’ Perhaps we do have some time, although not much to protect pan from similar marketing ravages.

The role of the artist and I quote Laz Ekweme from his pamphlet ‘African Sources in New World Black Music’ – “… is to continue to preserve the heritage and perpetuate those lasting bands that take him back to the original homeland…must seek out and capture that power that lies in the knowledge of his art and culture, his religion, his history and above all, the three dimensional soul of his music, so that the extraordinary strength of his cultural genius will – in spite of the demeaning influences of external forces, triumphantly continue to endure.”

Pan as icon, as image and reality of heritage has an important role to play in the unification of these Caribbean lands. Yes, it must continue to make music, but that music must encourage common movements of a common dance and united future.

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