By Ian Jones
While it does not kill many people, pan crosses international boundaries and pan music is highly infectious – just ask anyone who is exposed to it for the first time.
However, the past 18- months have left the world deep in the throes of the COVID 19 pandemic. The consensus of the experts is that when the world finally emerges from this pandemic, all peoples will be faced with a new normal – a new way of life re-framed by their collective experiences of dealing with restrictions and limitations not imposed since the Spanish Flu in 1918.
The world has become enslaved by a new master named Online. What does this mean for the culture of pan which is rooted in defiance of, and resistance to colonial slave masters?
Online presents many opportunities for pan to invest in itself. The global population is aging; its mobility is decreasing. Pan events tend to attract older audiences in more challenging physical environments; and they tend to be of longer duration than many other events. YouTube and Facebook have become platforms of choice for people of all age groups, especially the youth, who seem to have computerisation in their DNA.
Global audiences are more accessible from one location; production cost for shows is reduced with no need to rent expensive venues and their staff; and attracting sponsors becomes less onerous as the size of the potential viewing market grows. It has increased market size, attracting more corporate sponsorship while reducing production costs, resulting in increased profits to the pan industry.
Terrence Wilson, President of the Ontario Steelband Association (OSA) envisions a post pandemic environment in which OSA is actively working with school boards and communities to share the artform, making the panyard a focus of community involvement because wherever children are, parents/adults must be. He recognises that this may require reforming the panyard to make it more “child appropriate” but accepts this as a small price to pay for retaining our pan culture in Toronto.
Two months ago, Nevin Roach produced the second Panograma – The World Cup of Steelpan- from his base in Tobago, having auditioned 45 pan players from 13 countries of the Caribbean, North America, England and Europe.
From the auditions, 30 were selected for the preliminaries, including Gabe Chartrand, a former young Panatic from Toronto. Twenty were selected for the semi-finals and 10 for the Finals. Other pan musicians have offered webinars related to music literacy and education as well as the administration of pan organizations. The scope of opportunities is limited only by one’s willingness to think creatively.
There is a fear that Online will lead to the demise of live entertainment, but Online will not replace live entertainment any more than Radio and Television have kept fans away from the sports stadia and arenas, or any more than the synthesizer keyboard which replaced the acoustic piano.
There is nothing as embracing as being part of an exciting live performance – that will never change. Pan will have to find a way to blend “Online and Live” in ways that allow it to reach its full potential as the only family of tuned percussion instruments developed in the 20th century.