Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Odyssey is a journey

Simplicity is elegance, and the key to powerful story telling. Aesop's fables. Myths and legends of all cultures share these elements: a single thread (or hero or event) that brings to light some unalienable truth. Not that I had these or any expectations or reservations when it came to Pan! Our Music Odyssey. It is a finely finished and packaged made in Trinidad film about the steelband, produced by Jean Michel Gibert and Barthelemy Fougea; directed by Jerome Gulot and Thierry Teston (the French Connection indeed!) It was written by, and features, Kim Johnson, pan historian.

It is not burdened by the fifty years of history; the thousands of steeldrums cut from empty 55 gallon oil barrels; the thousands of players who perform every year; and hundreds of thousands of Trinbagonians who feel instinctively and impulsively that the sound of pan is the beating heart of home; the essence of rootedness and family. It tells a story lightly, as you might relate to your children; a story that will live with them for life.

Pan is personified as a young tess, Stephen aka Goldteeth. He has a lil brother who is his shadow. In the days (late forties) when the pan instrument was tambourine-sized and biscuit tin height, Goldteeth had an idea to make a bigger playing surface with more sound. Like anyone with a revolutionary thought, he got in trouble. He had to leave. When he came back with the instrument that would take the music to another level, it was stolen. His brother was beaten.

Gang warfare, knives, bitter rivalries, ostracism, risk, formed the crucible that developed the pan. Music, honour, camaraderie, skill and innovation, competitiveness, the world, are the only boundaries today. The magical pan has seeded steelbands and pan associations around the world: throughout the Caribbean, in Europe, China and Japan. Everyone is welcome in the pan family: Andy Narell and his troupe who come to play with birdsong; Chihiro Ninomiya from Japan who joins Phase II Pan Groove; Eva Goldstein from France who starts with birdsong but joins Desperadoes to fulfil her father's dream and play in a Panorama finals.

The story takes us from the end of the forties to the modern Panorama (world steelband music festival). It is visually and richly engaging. The music of the twenty-first century orchestras is powerful and riveting. It is a film that makes you glad to be from Trinidad and Tobago, these islands whose heartbeat is the wild and uplifting music of an indigenous instrument. Our Pan!

Goldteeth's story weaves through the beat of Shango drums, the pounding of tamboo bamboo, the high-pitched tinkle of the predecessor pans played by Red Army, to the resonance of Boom Town. There's mischief, almost murder and mayhem. But the odyssey - like classic quests and journeys - is easily told because we all know and welcome the end. It is told by old men who as brave youths undertook the journey, encountered and survived the dangers, men with voices enriched by life able to laugh comfortably at the homecoming.

Every Trinbagonian should see this film, should celebrate its making, should cherish the story; and appreciate the music!

Pan! Our Music Odyssey is available as a DVD/ CD (film and soundtrack) compilation.