World Steelpan Day
Recognizing the steelpan's ability to foster inclusive societies
The legendary Edward 'Eddie' Andre, skilful Wilfred 'Pancho' Jno Baptiste, and talented Alan Jno Baptiste are just some of the giants in Dominica's steelpan culture who have left their legacy behind through teaching scores of Dominicans to play this versatile instrument.
Atherton' Athie' Martin, who is still with us, has also had a generous hand in moulding youth and adults into embracing this culture. He appeared on the streets of Roseau on Friday, August 11, along with his brother Julie Martin and pannist par excellence Dan Pious John Baptiste to recognize World Steelpan Day.
And one can't forget the late great cultural icon, Dr. Alwin Bully, a true advocate for the development of pan music in Dominica.
Looking around today, some may say the steelpan culture is dying out in Dominica as adults fondly remember the 70s and 80's when steel bands were a common feature throughout the year, particularly during the carnival season.
For this reason, a group of Dominicans based overseas has formed the Steelpan Initiative, collaborating with Pan In Harmony in Dominica to help revitalize this intrinsic cultural art form around the island.
In July this year, the United Nations – during the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York – declared August 11 World Steelpan Day as a platform to promote the steelpan further.
The government of Trinidad and Tobago, where the pan is considered the national instrument, petitioned the global body and won their bid for international recognition of the day.
The Steelpan Initiative and Pan In Harmony have added their voice to the chorus of commendations to the United Nations for this declaration.
According to the Manager of Pan In Harmony and daughter of the late Eddie Andre, Jacqueline Andre, this move by the UN is timely and significant.
"By designating August 11 as World Steelpan Day, the United Nations has taken a significant step towards fostering cross-cultural understanding and celebrating the artistic and cultural contributions of the steel pan," she said.
Andre says the global impact of the steelpan cannot be ignored since it is used to bring people together, network, and form relationships.
"We believe that the steelpan is not only a musical instrument but also a symbol of unity, creativity, and cultural diversity," Andre said.
The Steelpan Initiative, formed in 2021, is on a continuous drive to raise funds to purchase steelpans for schools and communities in Dominica.
To this end, the Steelpan Initiative, through Pan In Harmony, has already visited and performed at the Castle Bruce Secondary School, Bense and Savanne Paille Primary Schools, and the St. Martin Secondary School.
Andre says it is of utmost importance to get children on board from a young age and implores parents and adults to support children who want to learn this Caribbean-grown instrument.
"I have noticed that parents are quick to remove their children from steelpan, music, and sports practices if they want them to focus more on school work," she said. "But being involved in these activities can help children develop discipline and time management skills."
Andre is disappointed that the pan culture seems to have died out in Dominica and highlighted that many things are competing for children's attention in present times.
"When I started pan with my siblings and the children in the neighbourhood, we would spend hours on end in the panyard.," she said. "However, I realize that nowadays there are so many distractions for the young people, or they are involved in so many other things that their time at pan practice is minimal."
However, the future for Steelpan in Dominica looks promising, with the United Nations declaring August 11 as World Steelpan Day.
"World Steelpan Day will provide an annual platform to celebrate the vibrant history, craftsmanship, and innovation behind the steelpan," Andre said. "It will also serve as an opportunity to acknowledge the skilled artisans, musicians, and educators dedicated to advancing the art form."