Pannist extraordinaire Hameed Shaqq advocates learning through arts


By Lincoln DePradine

Hameed Shaqq

For at least eight years, Toronto musician and educator Hameed Shaqq has been trying to get a prestigious global award bestowed on Trinidad steelpan innovator Anthony Williams.

“It’s something I have been working on for a long time and it’s a mountain I’m climbing,’’ Shaqq told The Caribbean Camera.

In August 2015, Trinidad hosted an “International Conference on Pan’’ in Port of Spain, the country’s capital. Trinidad-born Shaqq submitted a paper to the conference, advocating for Williams to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Prizes are awarded – to people that “have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind’’ – in the fields of Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Economics.

Awards were first presented in 1901 and there have been four Caribbean nationals that have been winners, including St Lucians Sir Derek Walcott and Sir Arthur Lewis.

Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979 and Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

Guadeloupe’s Saint-John Perse was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1960 and Trinidad-born author V.S. Naipaul, won the Prize in Literature in 2001.

Williams, who was popularly known as “Muffman’’, was a 12-year-old when he performed with Harlem Nightingale Steelband, for the first street carnival that was held after World

Hameed Shaqq

War II.

As a pannist, Williams played with bands such as Sun Valley, Pan Am North Stars and TASPO – the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra – that visited England in 1951 for the Festival of Britain.

But it’s for Williams’s pioneering the setting out of steelpan notes in a circle, or cycle, of fifths that Shaqq believes he was deserving of a Nobel Prize. The circle of fifths is commonly called the “Spider Web Pan’’.

“He deserves it,’’ said Shaqq, who began playing pan as a Trinidad schoolboy in Arima. “Every steelpan you see today is in that cycle of fifths. It may not be in the ‘Spider Web’ design, but the structure is the same cycle of fifths.’’

Shaqq, in his campaign to have Williams recognized with a Nobel Prize, submitted documentation to the United Nations, he said, and made representation to Canadian higher teaching institutions such as Brandon University, Dalhousie University and York University.

Anthony Williams

His efforts were still ongoing when Williams – a recipient of Trinidad’s Chaconia Gold Medal and also the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – died in 2021. He was 90.

“When we look at his steelpan design, Tony is the only person that put the cycle of fifths, which was presented by (Greek mathematician and music theorist) Pythagoras, into a practical instrument. That was never done in history before,’’ said Shaqq, who formerly played pan with Invaders, Silver Stars and Solo Harmonites in Trinidad.

Shaqq, as a pan musician, has travelled to countries such as China and Spain, with many in Canada becoming acquainted with him performing as a busker at Toronto subway stations.

On leaving Trinidad for Canada, Shaqq said he wanted to become a classroom teacher and began studying literature at university

“But I changed to cultural anthropology, which was very interesting to me,’’ said Shaqq. “I like to say I’m a panthropologist.’’

Shaqq now spends a fair amount of time assisting students to upgrade with the aim of having them obtain a higher education. The students’ program is the Second-chance Scholarship Award and Shaqq is a volunteer.

He explained that he engages students not just in learning to play the pan, but also in music theory.

“As an educator, I draw from the history and socio-cultural experiences and context of the pan to introduce learners to performing songs and producing original musical pieces for the steelpan,’’ said Shaqq, who has studied at York University and the University of Toronto.

“I have frequently witnessed how music engages and awakens the learner’s mind, their capabilities to invent, creativity and collaboration, and inclination to find solutions in a way that only learning through arts can offer.’’