Today, against the backdrop of Trinidad and Tobago’s annual steelband competition, Panorama –in which thousands of musicians in huge ensembles of 100+ players desperately compete in performing elaborate music–several characters chase their dreams. Their stories alternate with re-enacted historical scenes as they struggle to reach the top in the Panorama competition.
Jevanni, a 10-year-old ghetto boy, hopes to play for Trinidad All Stars, the band founded by his grandfather. Eva, a footloose 27-year-old Frenchwoman in Trinidad for the first time, aims to play on the big night—the Panorama finals, the dream of her recently-deceased father. But her band, birdsong, has been eliminated at the semi-finals so she must quickly learn a new tune well enough to get into another band. Raven, 19, known as a “crackshot” for illegally playing in several bands under different names, can learn in hours what takes others days. But he is on the verge of being thrown out of his first love, Phase II Pan Groove. Also knocking on the Phase II door are Yukari, Sayori, Kentaro and Chihiro, who are from Japan and can barely speak English but sacrificed job security to be here.
Will they get on the team? If they do, will their team win? This story of the adventure and passion of pan derives its momentum and drama from the intersecting lives and ambitions of these and other characters as they prepare for battle in Panorama: the Olympics of music. Their stories are interlaced with re-enactments of the rags-to-riches tale of the steelband movement, which was born into poverty and violence but climbed to the highest levels of social and artistic acceptance without losing its life-or-death urgency.
They also visit and interact with individuals and institutions, which preserve the traditions and culture of steelband. These include panmakers, pan veterans, an old-fashioned bar/gambling den and a group of ritual African drummers. In these “field trips” they are told the stories and legends of the drum, which segue into the re-enacted dramatizations of actual pivotal moments in the genesis and growth of the steelband movement.
The dramatizations also constitute a continuous narrative thread, which focuses on a pivotal moment in the history of pan, between 1947 and 1951. In this story a young man nicknamed Goldteeth and his little brother Roy, attempt to persuade the others in Goldteeth’s steelband to to make their instruments from 55-gallon oil drums, rather than the smaller paint cans.
By stealing the oil drums, however, Goldteeth has brought the police to the home of his steelband, Maltese Falcons (bands were named after movies), and now he has to flee to the countryside, where his godmother lives. There he convinces the young men to adopt his idea, and their band enters a competition with its new-fangled steelpans. They win the competition and Goldteeth returns home to his band in triumph.
Back in his home band Maltese Falcons in the city Goldteeth’s success has attracted envious eyes and member of a rival band best his little brother Roy. This sparks a violent clash between the bands with terrible consequences for both Roy and Goldteeth.