By: Tony Best
It may have taken them almost a year to receive their performance fees and prize money but the Caribbean steelbands have finally been paid the $52,000 owed to them by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association.
The payout was received a few days ago and it has probably paved the way for an end to a long-running drama that had threatened this year’s steelband Panorama at the Brooklyn Museum on September 1st.
“Yes, I can confirm that the outstanding amounts were paid to the respective steelbands by WIADCA,” said Anthony “Ike” Hinds, President of the National Alliance of Steelbands, a major group that represents the interests of the musicians, some of whom are as young as 12 years old. “The members of the steelband community are satisfied now that they have received the money which was owed to them since September last year. It’s a pity that it has taken so much trouble and controversy in order to receive the money due to them. The steelband players competed fairly and honestly in 2011, worked hard at practice and gave performances of their lives and should have been paid long ago. Let’s hope that we can move on from here.”
Does the payout mean smooth sailing for this year’s Panorama?
“I am not sure,” said Hinds, who recently distributed an open letter to the Caribbean community that dealt with the plight of the bands in the run up to this year’s competition. “The truth is I really don’t know.”
In his letter, Hinds said that “for nearly 40 years on the Saturday before Labor Day nearly a thousand of our family, friends and neighbors, the vast number aged 12 to 21, compete in the Steel band ‘Panorama’ competition. The Competition is the culmination of weeks of work, as bands prepare for the ‘ten minutes of glory’ on stage performing an orchestral competition in front of thousands of spectators. This year, amidst all the controversy about sponsorship and control, focus on the steelband musical art form has been lost in a battle of egos and politics. So too, the focus on the extra-ordinary effort and cost required for a steelband to prepare for the competition. Many hundreds of hours of practice and many thousands of dollars are required. And this year, all of these (were) endangered amid bluster and posturing of people whose interest is clearly not the music but the control of it.”
Hinds, himself a master musician and a member of Dem Stars Steel Orchestra, explained that the money owed to the bands consisted of $2,000 in unpaid appearance fees for each of the 10 bands that competed in last year’s Panorama; and $32,000 in prize money won by the three top bands.
“While there have been differences of approach among the steelbands who participate in Panorama, one thing is certain – the music must be respected above all,” he insisted. “The bands have always sought a real stake in the planning, operation and finances of the Panorama, including and especially a sound system worthy of the effort that the bands undertake. That doesn’t seem unreasonable does it? What is unreasonable is that the battle for control over the music has endangered the music itself. That’s unreasonable, and it’s tragic.”
Calls to WIADCA for a response to the latest development were not returned by Timothy Bailey, WIADCA’s President.
Desmond Chase, Chairman of Hawks International, a prominent organization of Trinidadians in the United States and a co-founder of Panorama in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1960s spoke out against WIADCA’s management of the steelband competition in New York.
“WIADCA should respect the steelbands, and stop using them to pay bills, incurred without their consent, and with their involvement in the management of their participation,” Chase wrote in an open letter to the Caribbean community. “In other words, the steelbands are instituted to function all year-round and should be treated with due respect they deserve.”
Chase listed several problems that have affected the annual West Indian-America carnival and they ranged from WIADCA’s ineffective leadership and a lack of financial accountability to the recent turmoil within WIADCA that was triggered by the sudden resignation of the long-serving president Yolanda Lezama-Clarke and many members of the organization’s board of directors.