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No place for geniuses - world renowned steelpan innovator disrespect
by Les Slater - Journalist & Former Highlanders Member
“... this wasn’t some anonymous John Public about whose apartment the government’s Housing Development Corp. came on hardball strong, right after we had said our goodbyes. This was a trail-blazing genius who, from quite early, never accepted that the steelpan should rank as some inferior stepchild among musical instruments, who always set his sights on what lay beyond the horizon”
—Les Slater, Director of the of the Folk Arts Institute of Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago -The state chose the immediate aftermath of Bertie Marshall’s passing to place an exclamation point on its well established indifference to (phony embrace of, if you prefer) steel band culture and the extraordinary individuals who have stood above the rest in the measure of our indebtedness for their input. Bertie was among those anointed few. This obviously mattered little to the folks who were about the state’s business following his death.
Some issues surrounding Bertie’s living circumstances had become news fodder when a couple of government ministers, in what they presumably considered a mission of mercy, had visited him at his home in Harpe Place, Port of Spain a few months prior to his death. There was, first of all, a letter sent to Bertie threatening eviction for rent allegedly due for the government housing unit he occupied. This was correspondence erroneously dispatched since the man’s rent had for years been customarily paid up for each year, at the beginning of the year. That administrative sloppiness aside, there was the matter of old age pension, to which Bertie at age 76 was entitled and had applied for but wasn’t receiving. There was the matter, too, of outstanding salary earned for work done a few years earlier at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Despite the ostensibly goodwill “gallery” session by the then minister of multiculturalism and others at Bertie’s residence, and promises publicly made to effect a fix, nothing of the sort happened in ensuing months.
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