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Crocodile tears and hypocrisy

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The debacle that manifested itself in the cancellation of the national senior panorama competition on Carnival Saturday, August 12, was sad; real sad. But, the only thing that was exceedingly more sad, than this ignoble moment in Grenada’s carnival and pan history in this country, were the crocodile tears and political and cultural hypocrisy of too many Grenadians, at home and abroad.

Social media were alight with venomous comments; callers to radio and TV talkshows were spitting righteous anger; radio announcers and DJs were tripping over one another to share blows; and commentators waded in with warnings that the 2017 panorama – cancelled in part because the privately organized “Xtreme White’’ show was scheduled for the same stadium venue on the same night – was a demonstration of the “capture of public spaces by private actors to the disadvantage of the ordinary citizen’’.

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This panorama versus private show on “Pantastic Saturday’’ did not start on August 12, 2017. It began more than five years ago with the hosting of “White in the Moonlight’’ in St Andrew. Back then, the loud voices we hear today were silent and the vociferous held a different position. At the time, the newly set up Spicemas Corporation (SMC) was chaired by Colin Dowe. Then Senator Arley Gill was the Minister responsible for Culture.

The Spicemas Corporation, pursuant to its powers under Section 6 of the SMC Act, filed an application with the court for an injunction to prevent the holding of “White in the Moonlight’’ on Carnival Saturday night. Mr Dowe, the SMC and Senator Gill were not opposed, in principle, to “White in the Moonlight’’; they argued that it just ought not to compete with panorama and they simply wanted to apply the provisions of the SMC regulations, and to promote and protect the steelband artform.

But while they were fighting gallantly in public, the leadership of the then NDC government, in private,  was signaling to the “White in the Moonlight’’ organizers that they had the okay to proceed with their show.

One wonders whether Mr Gill’s firing as a minister, and his dismissal from cabinet a few months later, was punishment for trying to uphold the by-laws of the SMC and for going to bat for pan musicians who, for some inexplicable reason, demonstrated no public support for the SMC’s court action; they did not do so individually as pannists, or collectively as the Grenada Steelbands’ Association (GSA).

Many of the people who now are slamming the “Xtreme White’’ promoter, the SMC, the Minister of Culture and the Grenada government, were muted when their NDC party was in power; and, they viewed the Carnival Saturday night clash of events in a completely different light. They clothed the situation in the mythical, but often used, conspiracy by people living in the Parish of St George; they alleged that the SMC’s court action was a conspiracy by “town people’’ to deny “country people’’ an opportunity to enjoy a big show in St Andrew at carnival.

But, now that we are two weeks removed from the panorama fiasco, it’s time for a cold hard look at pan music by all those who are honest and serious about pan arts and about culture, in general. All the main parties involved have been going back and forth, attempting to explain why the panorama stage was not built and in readiness for steelbands’ biggest competition. But, to be blunt and truthful, none of the explanations makes complete sense.

Caribupdate Weekly believes the unbuilt stage was just the symptom of a breakdown in communication between the SMC and the Steelbands’ Association. It’s been an abiding desire of some current and past members of the SMC that panorama should be held at the Tanteen Netball Courts. GSA, rightfully in the view of this newspaper, has adamantly resisted using the netball facility for panorama, complaining that it’s a substandard venue for a national cultural show.

The SMC, on the other hand, envisages several benefits to using Tanteen. For one, it will lower the costs incurred in putting on panorama. Additionally, with 200 people jammed into facility, the boast could then be made that panorama was a success because the Tanteen Netball Courts were packed. But, unable to reach a compromise on a venue for 2017, it appears that the SMC shifted much of the burden for the readiness of panorama – including the building of the stage – on to the GSA.

Nonetheless, it defies comprehension that all the steelbands and their leaders will load their expensive instruments on to truck and transport them to the stadium, either not knowing there wasn’t a performing stage or hoping that by the time they arrive at Queen’s Park, a stage would be ready. This reflects badly on our veteran pannists and on the leadership of the Steelbands’ Association.

What unfolded on August 12 also is a lesson in politics. At the end of the day, the buck stops with our ministers – Members of Parliament and Senators – whenever there is a mishap, touching and concerning the nation and the wellbeing of the people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The Minister of Communications and Works is not, and should not be, involved in the day to day running of the National Water and Sewage Authority (NAWASA), a statutory corporation. However, there ought to be some reporting mechanism that would inform the minister if something is going awry at NAWASA, like consumers turning on their taps and receiving dirty water. The same holds true for the SMC which, like NAWASA, is a statutory body.

Hence, it was appropriate that Senator Brenda Hood, the Minister of Culture, took responsibility for the absence of a senior panorama as part of Spicemas 2017. We suppose that whether she’ll face political reprimand will depend on the outcome of the investigation into the August 12 incident ordered by Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell.

Setting aside carnival, and solely examining steelpan, we have to admit that pan has some unique challenges that the GSA must confront head on. Among those challenges – which also is besetting the pan movement in other countries – is the disparity between the membership of steelbands and the followers of steelbands. The membership is overwhelmingly young; the following is primarily old, ageing and dwindling.

Pannists and pan associations must create avenues for exciting people – especially new and younger followers – and for increasing nationwide support for steelband events.

As a newspaper, we endorse the idea of combining panorama with some other event at carnival. People today are more interested in entertainment packages, rather than a stand-alone show like panorama, with hardly anything to fill the lull between one band’s performance and another’s.

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