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Declaring Tassa a National Instrument
Posted: Thursday, October 2, 2003

By Stephen Kangal

May I remind my Afro-brothers/sisters columnists of their continuing obligation to treat, with respect, inter alia, the cultural expressions of Indo-Trinbagonians whenever they attempt to make Press/Media pronouncements or to frolic unwittingly on significant and complex aspects of Indian culture. For too long I have agonised at the extent to which the failure to undertake the requisite research (per incuriam) has resulted in multicultural T&T being inundated with misleading and cosmetic Afro-Saxon viewpoints that may have the effect of trivialising and negatively portraying fundamental components of our cultural diversity.

Atillah Springer's "A Whole lot of "tassa" column (Guardian Sept. 22, p. 24) is a current example of all of the above. She revels in her public display of ignorance if not disrespect in respect of appreciating the tassa as a genuine and legitimate, mainstream indigenous, cultural expression of Indo-Trinbagonians. She is also not au fait with the benefits that can accrue to tassa on being declared a national instrument.

The declaration of the pulsating tassa ensemble (two tenor drums, one large base and cymbals) as a national instrument must now surely meet and exceed the criteria and qualify to be a T&T multicultural imperative. It has nothing to do with making Indians " feel nice" or Africans being considered as "open-minded". If you write a weekly newspaper column you must know that the meaning of mainstream music is one that reflects the preferences of a large group or majority. How in the name of reason and fairness can the tassa that transmits the innate feelings, reverberates with the psyche of the majority of people in T&T and is an example of cross-over culture not meet the criteria for mainstream cultural expressions?

Trinidad and Tobago is too small and mobile a society for a regular columnist not to know how widely the popular, indigenous tassa art form is featured and integrated into our cultural expressions e.g. at Indian weddings, political meetings, hoosay, Tassarama, Tassatal, concerts, Carnival etc.

One ought to know or if not, to find out that T&T tassa is extinct and unknown in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India from whence the indentured labourers were recruited. It is indigenous, unique to Trinbagonians as well as the country of Trinbago. It is a cultural legacy that straddles the ethnic divide (e.g. at St. James Hoosay) that must be cherished, embellished and handed down as a cultural legacy and heritage to posterity. Therefore this arrant none sense about obtaining prior Indian Gov't approval to declare tassa a national instrument in T&T is pure diversionary and patently misleading.

In my wide, globe trotting travels I have not come across a musical instrument that is as folksy, appealing, unique and rhythmic. I cannot understand why the Defence Force/ Police Band has not integrated the tassa in its street parades on our Independence and other celebrations even it is to pay cosmetic homage to our multiculturalism. It cannot be still regarded as the expression of a pagan culture in 21st Century Trinbago. These are only some of the external symbols and signals that will transform us into a real Rainbow country and not the sterile and vacuous never-ending talk syndrome.

Does Attilah Springer know that several local government authorities/Boroughs/Arts Councils of Britain, Canada, Norway, Denmark spend huge sums of state funds to support and develop pan/ T&T Carnival within their countries at the instigation and insistence of West Indian ex-patriate interests/ communities without having to consult the Government of T&T that claims ownership of pan/carnival culture? We have to break away from the suffocating chains of our parochial, nationalistic insularity and get real. We have to understand that this is multicultural, not nationalistic-prone Trinbago, where cultural equity must be institutionalised and no single thread of our cultural fabric must make attempts at cultural colonisation/domination of the other supporting strands of our cultural mosaic. Otherwise one is left open to charges of a neo-colonialistic agenda for which the European white man (massa) may not have had the monopoly.

Cultural equity demands that tassa be declared a national instrument. A similar status attributed to pan is being used as justification to access huge state/ corporate largesse, to teach pan in schools and to provide lucrative pan teaching assignments and pan-making revenues to every Tom, Dick and Harrylal.

The declaration of made- in- T&T- tassa as a national instrument will be a manifestation of cultural inclusion that can cumulatively contribute to the ethnic and cultural de-polarisation process. It will not breed a cadre of tassa "scrunters" or dependency syndrome, Atillah. There is cultural space for all in the hearts and minds of loyal, patriotic and cosmopolitan-conscious Trinbagonians.

The alternative is to continue just as we did post- 1962 where large sections of our cosmopolitanism felt marginalised and alienated and took spontaneous refuge in the destabilising, common fellow- sufferers, discrimination responsive, centre-periphery, rural-urban and we-they syndrome.

Remember how the post-1962 state policy of cultural assimilation (ethno-nationalism) failed to integrate Rainbow T&T after 41 years of independence. T&T must now experiment with new, more realistic, viable approaches/strategies that are insulated from political agendas/motives and truly underpinned and driven by the rich colourless blood that flows in veins of our cosmopolitanism.

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