JOURNAL   15th December 1997

Tojo dem see what dem say:

Othello the Steel Drummer

[Written in retrospect: 'For the record'. 4th February 1998]

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   My notes show that I had been developing this satellite Steelband web site, off and on, for the past two months. The last two weeks had been more intense as my pre-set Christmas deadline was now fast approaching. Nothing was posted yet. I had a long front page of essays; full of pan-things, and some other information pages.

   Today was the first time I was to meet Othello Molineaux at the Pamberi yard. His reputation as an accomplished Jazz 'steeldrum' player writ large in my mind, and oddly as it happens, only as a massed collection of glowing tributes in words. For I have not as yet [even at this retrospective time of writing] ever consciously heard, even one 'tenor' note played by this undoubtedly talented man.

   What was niggling me was Othello's reputed insistence that he was a 'steeldrumer' and not a 'panman' - as we in T&T commonly call any of our steelbands people. This was a curious stance.

   I was a bit nervous because my knowledge of 'pan' was sound but peripheral, and I was about to meet a travelled alumni of many steelbands and 'master' of the art-form.

   The meeting was cordial but tensioned.
   It was not only an electronics engineer come folk-singer/song-writer meeting a maestro of the steeldrum, where the ideas of high-tech internet presentations would impinge on the sound engines of steel understood by the other; nor was it simply about a green interviewer meeting a reluctant and perplexed interviewee, where neither party quite knew what the other was looking for nor what was on offer; no, there were a lot more subtitles going down here.
   This was in a way the beginning of the re-enactment of a parallel sociological incident that had occurred nearly 50 years ago, with a new ironic twist.

   Dr Blake reports in his writing that the participants '...bourgeois status would have classed him a virtual infiltrator of the steelband movement...' which is as close a description of myself as I understood it at that time I met this mature 'saga-boy' and now mellowed accomplished steel drummer, on his own turf, here at the Pamberi yard.
   Dr Blake finishes his statement with the success and acceptance of the participants; but with me, I have yet ' earn my right of passage...'
   The irony here being that the tables had turned full circle; the 'infiltrator' had been away for 24 years and completely out of it, and was now returning home to rediscover those roots of which he had known, but his 'bourgeois' past had blindly prevented him from exploring. Yes, and I had now chanced upon a meeting with the very man whom I hoped would point me on my way. Mr Othello Molineaux, probably without realising it, began to do just that.

   Following our polite introductions, Othello began; it went something like this.

   "I don't know why you people here call it a 'pan'.." he said. "It is a steel drum, it is documented in all the literature as a steel drum. We, the players who have gone outside of Trinidad and Tobago, and have worked so hard to spread the 'word' and gain acceptance for this instrument; have marketed it as a steel drum. I am a steel drummer. Everyone out there knows it as a steel drum. When you call it a 'pan', no one understands you. Why do you insist on calling it a 'pan'?; it undermines all our efforts!"

   I was getting his point, and was a little awed by the weight of responsibility implied in his statement. I needed to reply in temperance, but balanced with a conviction of my own, if I was to begin moving forward.

   "Mr Molineaux, do not be angry with the people of Trinidad and Tobago" I replied to begin my defence "We have always called the instrument a 'pan', it is indigenous in our language to call it a 'pan'. This is because the early instruments came from 'pans' and the name has stuck with us ever since. We live here, and really have the right to call it whatever we like." He nodded in agreement. "But I must concede to you point that the instrument is indeed a drum! And I will make you a promise. Whenever I attempt to write about the steelbands and their instruments, in the proper context I will always try refer to them as steeldrums and their players as drummers"

   And so the tensions eased somewhat as we left that subject to talk about the internet and other related things.

   When I had taken my cordial leave of the Pamberi yard, with a package containing Othello Molineauxs' profile information beside me [which I have yet to process], I went over in my mind my internet page that Othello had just rubbished. When I got home I carefully re-examined 26 instances where I had flippantly used the word 'pan', in order to keep up my end of the bargain.

   I shall ever be grateful to Othello Molineaux for starting me on the way up the long and steep learning curve about the Steelbands of Trinidad and Tobago; and only hope that I can ably take these wonderful steel drums and their players along the internet path in the light of Othello and his peers; whom I have destined these pages to follow.

© 1998

[Brother Othello - God bless. - tobagojo June 2014]

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