It was a charged atmosphere at the Communication Workers Union Hall in Port-of-Spain as steelpan players, as well as the executive members of Pan Trinbago, joined in an overwhelming chant of “if Gypsy say no; then Gypsy must go!” during the meeting. Tensions have been rising between the two parties over the past few weeks as the Association has accused the minister of saying pan players may not receive a $1,000 performance fee for Panorama 2011.
In response, the Association has threatened to boycott Panorama altogether for next year’s carnival season, until the minister clears the air by coming forward and telling the public his Ministry’s plans for Panorama, and the steelpan movement.
In his address to the crowd, Pan Trinbago president Keith Diaz stressed that despite some media reports, the Association had not asked for more money, but merely a continuance of the same payments to players which had been agreed to by the previous government administration.
“Pan Trinbago has been watching the financial situation, and what has been going on in society today, and we decided to work at the same figure. We did not ask for an increase and the applications for prize money and payment for players were the same submissions that we have made for the past three years.
“Pan Trinbago has maintained from the start we were willing to work with any government for the betterment of the industry. We were silent on many issues over the past few months, but we cannot be silent any more. This is not a political meeting. This is about the culture of steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago. This is our culture,” Diaz said.
The Pan Trinbago president even hinted once again that if things did not get better for the Association, that there would be a “repeat of 1979” and there would be no Panorama 2011.
Pan Trinbago secretary Richard Forteau explained that by Government not paying the players, this act would be a detriment to the industry as a whole. He said there were 165 bands already registered for Panorama and of those, only 16 bands were sponsored. He said as such although it may seem practical on paper, it was near impossible to have the remaining 149 bands go out to the corporate world of this country and secure funding and assistance by March next year.
“At the end of the day, one steelband might have to spend around $240,000 to $300,000 for Panorama, and as such most bands don’t even have money for their players. So to take away this financial support from the men and women who sacrifice many a night for months before the actual event is wrong,” Forteau noted.
Specialist adviser in the Ministry of National Security, and former Pan Trinbago President, Roy Augustus also spoke at the meeting. However, despite the encouragement from his fellow panmen to speak out against the actions of the Minister of Arts and multiculturalism, Augustus maintained his neutrality, instead suggesting to the group that even as they plan their next course of action, that they establish a mediation committee who would be willing to speak with the ministry to reach an agreement.