It gives me great pleasure to publish this message, marking the achievements of the New World Steel Orchestra (NWSO) in Chapeltown Leeds in 2012.
Among those achievements were the massive contribution they made to the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Leeds West Indian Carnival and the memorial for the late Dr Geraldine Connor, musicologist and choreographer for NWSO, who for many years inspired the growth of the Carnival and the development of the steel orchestra. In her last publication before her untimely death, Pan! The Steelband Movement in Britain, Geraldine Connor (2011) wrote:
The steelband is not only the greatest acoustic musical invention of the 20th Century, it is also an exceptional reflection of the resourcefulness, inventiveness and sheer survivalist mentality that we as a Caribbean people possess. Within Caribbean communities abroad, the intersection between history, identity and cultural expression significantly informs our interpretation of our heritage. Arthur France MBE and New World Symphony Orchestra are a living embodiment of this phenomenon’.
Each year, December seems to come along more speedily than ever, calling on us to reflect upon successes and defeats and renew our hope for success in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.
In 2011, we had a summer marred by civil unrest and mayhem on our streets which said as much about Britain and the state we are in, as the Olympics did one year later. In summer 2011, we had leaders of state describing our young people in the most pejorative and racist of terms. This year, we saw the country owning its black and global majority Olympians (who were responsible for one-third of all of the medals won by the host nation) with pride.
The lesson from all this is that we remain One People in One Nation, and we own those struggling against the racist institutions of the state and against poverty and dispossession, no less than we own those who shroud themselves in the British flag and win medals for the country of their birth or adoption.
New World Steel Orchestra represents confidence in our identity as black and white young people, united in a common purpose to build a future in this society that bears the hallmark of racial equality and social justice; a society that does not require any of us to turn our back upon our roots or submerge our cultural traditions in order to be accepted and acceptable. We are carriers of our culture and we extend that culture and adapt it even as we shape a common future for all in tomorrow’s Britain.
Let us go forward and continue to raise the profile of Pan! as a musical genre with a proud provenance in Britain.
Watch the orchestra perform in Leeds (2008):