Steel Pan History


The steelpan or steel drum originated in the Caribbean Island of Trinidad. The stories begin in the 1930's when the African descendants, to express the music ringing in their heads started beating out rhythms and harmonies on pieces of metal. From the forbidden skin drums and the outlawed tamboo bamboo bands, they were searching for innovative ways of making music to accompany the people's songs and dances at carnival time. 

The steel drum or steelpan is the only acoustic musical instrument invented this century. The steel orchestra is composed of instruments covering the full range of the conventional orchestra. Six categories of drums make up the orchestra: the tenors, the double second, the guitars, the cellos, the quadro and six pan, the bass, plus the rhythm section. These instruments are made from used oil drums and are extremely versatile. Steelpan music includes not only Afro-Caribbean music but extends to jazz, pop and classical with all distinctive rhythms and tonality of the steelpan instrument. 

In the Beginning: 

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact date or event when steelpan emerged and there are several versions of the history of how it evolved. There is, however, some general agreement that the instrument emerged in an organized form for the first time during the second half of the 1930's. Essentially, the steelband can be said to be a development of the tamboo bamboo band; tamboo being derived from the French "tambour" a drum. The steelpan was found to be more effective; it permitted much more subtle and complex harmonies more accessible as technological progress produced cleaner and sharper tones from oil drums aplenty. 

The Early Years - The 1940's: 

The early years were not that easy. The effect that steelpan music had upon revellers and the noise involved resulted in the music being associated with criminal prosecutions. It seems as though this 'hot' music was producing an effect on the young not unlike the...