Thanks, but no thanks Mr Prime Minister; George St is no place for Despers …

Desperadoes Steel Orchestra is in no position to refuse the generosity of the prime minister, but the population can. We can tell Dr Rowley that the reasons Despers left the ‘Hill’ are still with us and may even be more deeply entrenched as we count the daily shootings, killings and incidents of violence being perpetrated on some innocent citizens.

The population can tell the prime minister that the property at the corner of Tragarete Road and Victoria Avenue is an ideal location for the theatre concept he is espousing. We can tell the prime minister that gentrification cannot occur simply by placing one icon in a prominent location. The population can tell the prime minister that based on our history, his time frame of a Christmas present is unrealistic.

Photo: Panorama 2020 winners Desperadoes Steel Orchestra (via

Despers’ departure from the Hill is symbolic of the deep decay eating away at the core of our society. Crime is a problem that has evolved around the poor judicial infrastructure that has developed over decades and has influenced society’s mindset to accept it, further escalating the spiral.

We accept that there is no single root cause, so an array of solutions will be needed. But crime will not be solved until the population perceives that there is equity and justice.

On one hand, we refer to the ‘criminal elements’ and are comfortable referring to human beings as ‘elements’. Meanwhile, our white-collar criminals use their office, access and money to buy their way into the good graces of politicians, and it is perceived that they can even manipulate the justice system.

I am personally still smarting from the First Citizens’ IPO issue. Recall that a settlement agreement was arrived at without any ‘admission of wrongdoing, guilt or liability, whether civil, criminal or otherwise, on the part of BBL and/or its managing director.

The players were able to pay a fine, hold on to most of the profit they derived from this deal and continue their lives of luxury. Do you not think that the ‘elements’ can read and understand the extent of this inequity?

Dr Keith Rowley

If the prime minister had made an ‘incognito’ visit to Despers at the corner of Tragarete Road and Victoria Avenue, he would have felt the love that existed in the panyard this year. From the day of the judging of Youth Panorama right up to the night before the Panorama Finals, there was peace, friendly banter and a communal spirit.

I saw persons in that panyard whom I used to see regularly ‘up de hill’ and some commented that they felt safe enough to return. It is hardly likely that they will visit Despers on George Street because it’s too far from main transit access, locked in by buildings on all sides, and in an area where some might consider their personal security at risk, justified or not.

The plan to redevelop the city of Port of Spain by providing entertainment and exposure of the country’s culture to citizens and tourists alike is a great one. But building a Pan Theatre for Despers in the heart of a decayed part of the city will not stimulate that redevelopment.

You cannot hope to change the character of a neighbourhood by placing one icon there and hoping that everything else around will magically improve. For one icon to make a difference, there has to be a plan that includes access, foot traffic, other activities and security. Gentrification from the bottom is destined to fail.

I understand the graciousness of Despers to say thanks, but as a citizen I am calling on the prime minister to reconsider his decision. The 12th Panorama victory of this band deserves giving them a fighting chance to become sustainable. And, right now, George Street is not the place.

What if Tribe ran the country? T&T needs leaders with grit and imagination.

Another Carnival is here again, and we are seeing examples of excellence in performance, delivery and customer service. If these things work in one area of society, why is the performance in other areas so dismal? The answer lies in the proliferation of square pegs in round holes.

Visit Rosalino Street and you will feel the presence of Tribe (the carnival band) and their commitment to the delivery of an excellent product. Contrast that with a visit to the Immigration Office and it is almost like a visit to the twilight zone.

Photo: Tribe Carnival CEO Dean Ackin (via

There are pockets of excellence throughout this country and all that is needed is the political will to engage differently to achieve fantastic results.

If Carnival entrepreneurs can deliver quality products on-time, within budget and according to specifications, why can’t we engage them in national service to re-imagine how key products and services are delivered?

If I had the opportunity to dream differently, there are several persons who deliver carnival products whom I would engage to impact our systems.

Imagine Yuma creator Danielle Jones-Hunte as the Chief Imagination Officer responsible for Carnival Transformation!

Derrick Lewis is one of the early transformers of the on-the-road experience with carnival bands so I would appoint him Chief Transformation Officer to reimagine our transportation products.

Photo: Tribe revellers let loose on Carnival Monday in 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Carla Parris is presenting a new product showcasing the Business of Carnival so she would be appointed my Product Development Officer responsible for diversification.

This is a short wish-list but taking a helicopter view of T&T reveals that we are clearly stuck in the insanity zone. Philosopher Albert Einstein described that as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.

To transform this country, our politicians need to reimagine a future of Trinidad and Tobago that is exciting, bright and sustainable. The politicians have failed miserably so why not try with the people who have used grit and imagination to bring different realities to being on some of our traditional products.

Okay … so you think this plan is ‘outrageous’ and may not work, but think of it a little deeper and ask: what do we have to lose?

There is no denying that each of the persons identified has delivered a product to new audiences. It is evident that they understand their products and have been able to successfully align their product to the audience and even create new audiences and experiences. They have mastered the art of delivering their product on time within specifications and at a profit.

Photo: Yuma creator Danielle Jones-Hunte (via

There is no question that this country has the talent.  We have demonstrated competence in many areas.  And we are passionate about the things that excite our imagination.

Let’s use our huge reservoir of talent to make a difference in the everyday lives of our people.  Let’s use the people and lessons of Carnival to show the world what Trinis can do.

What steel bands can teach us about goals, leadership and teamwork …

I have been mulling over the lessons of the panyard experience and continue to feel that the panyards are on to some yet unexplored management concept in the way they organise themselves for Carnival.

Mind you, there are as many systems as there are bands, but what is common is that they deliver a result over and over. That result is a well-crafted piece of music executed with precision. On judging night, each band delivers something magical.

Photo: Arranger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander (left) leads the Despers Steel Orchestra.
(Copyright Steelpan Authority)

Oftentimes, two nights before the preliminary judging, the sounds emanating from both shiny and not-so-shiny oil drums are more noise than music; even when the tune is recognizable, the performance is lacklustre. Yet magically, 48 hours later, your pores raise in response to the musical genius manifested during the judging.

My annual journey of admiration leaves me asking the question: can our public service and state enterprises emulate the systems, processes and procedures that bring out the best in Panorama bands?

I think we can, but we must invest resources in understanding those systems, processes and procedures. We need to understand what makes the 5,000-plus pan players deliver the excellence we experience year after year. If anyone is aware that this is being studied, please let me know.

I see the following three concepts replicated in each panyard:

  • Being goal-oriented
  • Teamwork
  • Strong leadership

If you ask any player in any panyard what their objective is, you will get a variation of ‘we plan to win this year’, ‘we are placing in the top three’ or ‘we are placing one better than last year’.

Photo: The Marsicans Steel Orchestra beat a tune.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Those responses check all the boxes for how a goal is articulated. If you get into a deeper conversation, the goal will be explained further.

A brilliant example of how teamwork happens is seen in how the music is taught to the players. In one instance, the section leaders arrive early and are ‘given’ the music, which they learn and subsequently teach to their colleagues. Person by person, the music is shared until each person can play the piece. There is patience, love and mutual respect in the teaching.

My third observation is about leadership; the arranger and the drillmaster epitomise the qualities of exceptional leaders. They demonstrate that there is no question about what needs to be done. Once they have decided about a particular aspect of an arrangement, there is no changing their minds and, finally, their passion is infectious.

I continue to ask the question: what makes pan unique in its product delivery? What brings players back to the panyards every year voluntarily? Our pan sides continue to deliver structures, systems and processes without heavy-handed management. What is the inspiration?

Deep in my consciousness, I see an opportunity for this phenomenon to be analysed. How can we set up a laboratory to cull the lessons and make them replicable across our organisations and systems?

Photo: The Chord Masters Steelpan Orchestra let loose.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Apart from an academic application, we can begin by asking each of our politicians to spend some time in a panyard of their choice and sit quietly and observe. These players, who are often disregarded, can teach us a thing or two about how to treat each other.