Historic ‘Pan in Times Square’ commemorates inaugural World Steelpan Day

Photo: Nelson A. King

Thousands of Caribbean nationals were among steelpan aficionados on hand on Friday for the historic “Pan in Times Square” ceremony commemorating the historic, inaugural World Steelpan Day.

Earlier this month, the United Nations had declared Aug. 11 as World Steelpan Day.

A sea of red, representing one of the major colors of the Trinidad and Tobago national flag – the others are black and white – enveloped the theatrical district in midtown Manhattan, as Trinidadians and non-Trinidadians adored primarily in red and jubilantly waved the twin-island republic’s national flag to the pulsating rhythm of the steel pan. 

The Trinidad and Tobago Consulate General in New York, with the support of the Brooklyn-based mas band, Sesame Flyers International, Inc., organied the spectular event. 

“Happy Steelpan Day!” declared Dennis Francis, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, and Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations. 

“Congrats to Pan Trinbago and all who have labored to make this a reality,” Ambassador Francis, who also has been elected to serve as president of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (September 2023 to September 2024), told the jubilant ceremony. “Pan has risen!”

Trinidad and Tobago Consul General to New York Andre Laveau said the event would not be possible without the “blessings of Dr. Keith Rowley”, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister. 

“He sends his greetings,” Laveau said. “This is a great day. 

“NI this spot, 350,000 people past by every day,” he added. “So, we want to pass this to the passersby. This is a time to be thankful.”

The consul general also thanked past presidents and the current president of Pan Trinbago, steel band players and all those involved in the making of the steelpan, among others, in helping to make “Steelpan Day a reality.”

Among other guests were the Consul General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Rondy “Luta” McIntosh, a soca artiste himself, as well as Eloise Gonsalves, the wife of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, and Mrs. Gonsalves’ mother. 

The near two-hour-long ceremony featured one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading pannists, Dane Gulston, who led a combined band of pannists in jamming soca vibes to the effervescent crowd. 

The band played almost non-stop in banging out, among others, David Rudder’s “Trini to De Bone” and “High Mas”; Kitchener’s “Sugar Bum Bum”; Arrow’s “Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot”; Olatunji’s “The Engine Room”; Shadow’s “Blackman Feeling to Party”; and Nailah Blackman’s “Come Home”. 

“I’m here with some of the best, best coming from Trinidad and Tobago,” Gulston told the buoyant crowd. “We’re here for people to understand what Trinidad and Tobago has to offer, and we’re here for the struggle of this instrument [steelpan].

“And it’s an honor to be here on this sacred ground, Times Square,” he added. “Keep celebrating Caribbean culture; keep celebrating Trinidad and Tobago culture.”

The Trinidad and Tobago Consulate General said in a statement on Thursday that “Times Square is the most visited spot on earth and perfect for letting the world know what steelpan means to Trinidad and Tobago and the world community of pannists.” 

The Consulate General said the World Steelpan Day declaration came after “years of strenuous diplomatic efforts by Trinidad and Tobago.

“This official confirmation of the global embrace of the steelpan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, is a colossal victory for our country,” it said, stating that the twin-island republic is “the birthplace and cradle of the steelpan, an instrument birthed in struggle and determination for self-expression.”

The Office of Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said in a statement that Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, Sen. Randall Mitchell, delivered a statement at the 77th General Assembly sitting in introducing the resolution, declaring Aug. 11 World Steelpan Day.  

The resolution received co-sponsorship from 84 member-states of the UN General Assembly, the statement said.

“World Steelpan Day will celebrate the musical instrument, which originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1930s and is the only new instrument invented in the 20th century,” the statement said. 

Alton Aimable, the St. Lucian-born founder and president of the Brooklyn-based Tropicalfete, Inc., a major cultural group, noted five historical facts about the steelpan: “Tambo Bamboo gave birth to the steelpan instrument; the first steelpan only had two notes and was called a du-dup; the first steelpans were developed from discarded oil drums  the US Navy left in Trinidad and Tobago in the second World War;  Rudy King was the first to bring steelpan to the USA in 1945; [and] steelpan is the only new instrument invented in the 20th century.”

“Happy World Steelpan Day from Tropicalfete, Inc.,” Aimable told Caribbean Life. “For World Steelpan Day, we would like to pay respect to everyone in the steelpan industry. Special shout-out to the unsung heroes in the business – the manufacturers and the tuners, such as Andy A. Neils, the Harrigan brothers and Khuent Rose we have had the pleasure of working with.”