By: Tony Best
Less than six weeks before the colorful West Indian carnival is put on full display before more than a million spectators in Brooklyn, serious doubts have arisen about the much anticipated pulsating sounds of Caribbean steelbands being heard during the annual Panorama competition.
Doubts have surfaced after a corporate sponsor opted to withdraw an offer of at least $120,000 it intended to spend to finance on a new Panorama competition in Coney Island because of vociferous complaints from some sections of the Caribbean community.
“Panorama is held every year as an important part of carnival but so far this year we haven’t seen or heard anything from the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, the usual promoter of the event to stage it,” said Anthony “Ike” Hinds, head of the National Alliance of Steelbands, an umbrella group of steelbands in the City. “What has happened is that some unfortunate statements were made by people outside of the planning group and who are opposed to any Panorama being organized by anyone other than the West Indian American-Day Carnival Association, WIADCA.
“The trouble is that up to now WIADCA hasn’t informed us about its plans for Panorama, except for some vague and unsubstantiated claims of an intention to stage the competition,” Hinds added. “Given the turmoil swerling around WIADCA and the fact that our member steel-bands are owed about $40,000 in prize money for last year’s carnival, WIADCA. What’s happening is grossly unfair to the steelbands and is manifestly unsatisfactory, hence the recent plans to stage a new competition. But it has encountered strong opposition which involved the use of threats and strong language by people who are not involved in the efforts to stage a competition this year. It’s quite sad.”
Hazra Ali, chairperson of a “public interest group” called the Caribbean American Panorama Committee that was organizing the new competition scheduled for September 1 confirmed the large financial services corporation’s withdrawal from steelband initiative and complained that their “efforts have been halted as a result of WIADCA’s continued assertion to the steelband community that they are ready, willing and able to stage Panorama 2012 competition at the Brooklyn Museum. If WIADCA is unable to fund the competition this year, then it will truly be an unnecessary loss to the Caribbean community as a whole as well as to the hundreds of young pianist who look forward to competing each year.”
Members of the organizing panel confirmed that a lucrative agreement had been reached with the financial services company to provide each steelband participating in the venture with a $5,000 appearance fee; a first prize of $25,000 for the winner; $15,000 for the first runner-up; and a $10,000 third prize.
“Contracts were to be signed and for the first time in Panorama history in Brooklyn we were going to receive an appearance fee before steelbands struck the first note,” said Hinds. “It was an unbelievable financial opportunity that lost because of people’s selfishness. Never before were we to receive that kind of money for our involvement in Panorama. It certainly would have great for the steelbands and for the young people who wish to play pan. Now it’s all lost.”
We were unable to get a response from WIADCA.
Desmond Chase, Chairman of Hawks International and a member of the organizing committee, described the controversy and the corporate sponsor’s decision to pull out as “a major setback for those interested in showcasing our culture and in the further development of steelband music as an art form.”
Chase, who has been involved in carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and New York for more than half a century complained about the “negative” reaction of some “individuals” who were bent on “disrupting any concrete effort” to ensure that carnival planning involved a wide cross section of the community.
“It’s truly unfortunate. It’s a lost opportunity for the steelbands, for those interested in the music and for the community as a whole,” was the way he put it. “It has left me dumbfounded. Here was a chance to display our music in a comfortable and new setting but it has all gone to nothing.”
The decision to pull the plug on the proposed Panorama is the latest controversy to engulf WIADCA. The problems erupted earlier this year when Yolanda Lezama-Clarke, the long-serving Association President abruptly quit the post. Several members of the organization’s board followed suit and for several weeks the organization was without a leader until Thomas Baily was elected President.