Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
It was three days after the New Year had just begun. January 4th 2012, and I was going to spend 4 months and two weeks in “Sweet! Sweet! T&T!” The trip was for me to gain an educational experience that would enhance my academic interest in the diversity of Caribbean Culture and Society. The initial scope of my research was to expand on a previous research project I completed with the Ronald E. McNair Baccalaureate program entitled You and Yuh Obeah Talk. It focused on the representation of Afro-Caribbean Religious Tradition, Obeah and its effects on members in my family. My travel research grant enabled me to travel to Grenada, a small island north of Trinidad and Tobago where I completed an interview with my uncle that was an important asset to my auto-ethnography. Given the sensitivity and complexity around the topic I had to modify my research while in Trinidad, because of the lack of participation and information I would receive.
While attending different folk performances throughout the Carnival festivities, I noticed that African drumming is an integral part of the different folk dance competitions, musical competitions (Panorama) and in religious rituals and ceremonies of the Orisha (African Traditional Religion) faith. I attended and participated in events such as: 2012 Panorama Finals Competition, (Steelpan musical orchestra competition) Best Village Competition, (folk dance and drumology competitions among the Afro and Indian population), and a ritual ceremony where Orisha drumming initiated the performance. After being moved by the tantalizing sounds of the music produced at these events, I realized there was a distinct connection to the style of the African drumming rhythms and the Steelpan rhythms and I wanted to learn more.
The Steelpan instrument was named Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument in 1992 by former Prime Minister Patrick Manning. It is an emblem of pride for the country, specifically among those of the lower-class communities where the development of Steelpan has its roots. Members of those communities not only identified with the Orisha faith, but some of the members were Orisha drummers and Steelpan players as well. Therefore, the techniques of the Orisha drumming coincided with Steelpan music leaving me to question whether these influences still exist. If there was one way to describe the tantalizing sound and energy that is produced by this instrument, a Trinidadian would say “pan is ah jumbie” in other words pan is a spirit; hence my title “Dey Say: Pan is ah Jumbie.”
Music is an integral part of unfolding the narratives of the history and culture of Trinidad and Tobago. African drumming has preserved its identity throughout Trinidadian society, and it is an integral part of the African religious faith Orisha, which is worshipped in Trinidad and Tobago. My research seeks to find whether or not elements of Orisha drumming rhythms are incorporated in Steelpan music that is arranged today? Both research topics will be combined for my Senior Year project. I plan to return to Trinidad to conduct further research on my topic and hopefully learn how to play both instruments!