Promoters of culture or manufacturers? What is the real role of the NCF?
My understanding of the concept of culture is that it is the way of a people, the way they relate and express themselves. It reflects their world view as well as the perspective that they offer the world. In every day life it determines the approach that they take to resolve issues, to create products and services. Essentially then, Culture defines a people and as such makes them unique.
It is my further understanding that the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) has established the post of business development officer (BDO) for the express purpose of helping cultural practitioners to develop business opportunities based of their area of activity and expertise.
Why then is the NCF so hell bent on destroying what is ours. It seems to me that they see their mandate as creating a cultural product that is not based on our reality. Models for our cultural development seem to be transplanted wholesale from other societies because 'the powers that be' deem them to be the way things should be.
This approach then leads to clashes with the cultural stake holders in the country. They have no input in policy but are told by the NCF to play by our rules or don't play at all. While I could go on for a while about the various problems this creates I choose to focus on the impact that it has on the Steel Band industry in Barbados, (To the extent that such a thing exists).
Examination of the developments in steel bands in Barbados in comparison to the rest of the Caribbean will point to one critical difference. The vast majority of people involved in Pan in Barbados from the late seventies to the late nineties earned their living from playing pan, i.e., they did what was necessary in the circumstances to achieve just what the BDO of the NCF is supposed to do. They created business opportunities from the art form and this was largely achieved by downsizing, improving efficiency and responding to the demands of the market.
Bands became smaller. To improve efficiency and also portability of the band, the bass guitar was introduced. In an environment where they were few opportunities for gigs in the 'Local market' the steel bands embraced the developing tourist industry and became an integral part of the local tourist product, earning valuable foreign exchange for the country, and jobs doing what they loved.
The Barbados All Stars, Exotic Steel Band, Casa Blanca, Tripani, Pan Inc. Sound Tech are all examples. While this was taking place here, in the other islands bands were growing and depended more and more on sponsorship and government handouts for survival. Pan outside of Barbados is largely a social activity. Our Pannists have become business men.
As a result of the paths of development taken it is possible to argue that the steel pan industry in Barbados during that period was larger than what existed in Trinidad or any of the other islands in terms of revenue and jobs created.