Tin Pan Alley

Saturday Express, February 16,2002
By Vaneisa Baksh

After Starlift played at the Panorama finals, which I thought was the most interesting for years, ray Holamn was interviewed as the band’s arranger and composer of “ Dr mannette”. Pat Bishop had already outlined Ray’s qualifications: his UWI degree; his outstanding contribution to pan: his historical spot as the fisrt man to have composed a tune especially for the pan; his two-year teaching stint at the University of Washington and his current relationship with another University in the US. Now microphone in hand she was asking ray why it was that he does not do it at home.

“Nobody ever asked me,” was his simple, sad response. And as if it slipped out, he mused that maybe he was just not well connected. Ray Hol,an’s experience is like so many of the gifted musicians of this country ( and in the pan community alone we could name Len Sharpe, Clive Bradley, Jit Samaroo and Lian Teague, although to name a few always make me remember Rudder’s caveat that it make the other look small). It is an experience which Pat Bishop did not hesitate to condemn with all the indignation it rightfully deserves. The experience speaks of the neglect and contempt that continues to be demonstrated for any artistic and creative impulse. Impulses which are frustrated and denied nurturing so that they can only develop in so far as the creator can independently, or solitarily find channels for development. Then development. Then some smug critic comes along and viciously swipes at their efforts, without evaluating the conditions under which they struggle.

Holman spoke of having occasionally been invited by the University of the West Indies to give a talk to students. They could not affort to retain him for anything more elaborate or meaningful. The Creative Arts Centre has been the only site for that kind of programme, and it suffers from a lack of financial support. The university cannot get money for its Humanities, said somebody bitterly, but they can find money (meaning the Government) to host a miss Universe pageant. It is true that in a crunch, the first place that feels the squeezw is any department or institution connected with the arts and other cultural expressions. That happens across the board right through the Caribbean.

A few year ago when Rex Nettleford was appointed Vice chancellor of the UWI, there were those who opined that he was not an administrator; he was a dancer and although he was venerated withinthe artistic community as a Caribbean intellectual artist, he was not suited for the business of running the UWI.I had disagreed. I had been pleasantly surprised that the UWI had actually shown some Vision in selecting a person whose presence as part of Caribbean cultural expression was powerful enough to signal that the Uwi, for all its intellectual snobbery, understood that the way ahead for the Caribbean lay in supporting and developing the humanities as the essence of our 21 st century identity.

It seems plain to me that this is the strength and beauty of the otherwise fractured Caribbean, and its true development, in both economic and social terms,is firmly located within this space. But the few year have passed insipidly and there has been no visible manifestation that Nettleford’s leadership has steered the Uwi into any greater commitment to supporting artistic endeavour. I am not sure how this has been affected by the fact that the three campuses are run practically independent of each other and whether the Mona and Cave Hill campuses are actually thrusting ahead merrily with well- funded programmes that will be bountiful in our time.

I do know that here St Augustine there is no real support which is not to say that there are not people working hard in the humanities. It is to say that they are not being supported. The UWI leadership will argue that their hands are tied because funding is just not there. The Caricom Governments are still not fothcoming with their contributions