What is the Steelpan?

By Alexica Adams | LexLex | 18 Oct 2020

Some of you, if not all, have probably never heard about the Steelpan before and if you haven't, then that is okay.


The creation of this instrument has a back story from way back to the early 1880s when colonialism was a thing because who didn't want to conquer foreign lands and territories right? Well C. Columbus embarked upon the island of Trinidad in 1498 and claimed it for Spain but in 1797 the British took over. With this came the importation of enslaved Africans to the island.

Now, pay attention.

When they came, their culture was obviously brought with them. That meant the use of African Drums for cultural expression and celebrations such as Canboulay. Then in 1838 slavery was abolished but Trinidad was still under British rule and in need of labourers. That's when indentureship happened, many of which came from East India and they too brought their culture of Hosay which also used drums. These celebrations were often loud and out of control which led to the Canboulay Riot in 1881 followed by the Hosay Riot in 1884. This was not a good scene for the instrument and it was subsequently banned in 1884.

You're probably asking yourself, WHERE DOES THE STEELPAN COME IN? Bare with me. I am getting to it.

They banned the drums, so what next? Well, what came next was bamboo and they called it Tamboo Bamboo. Sound was created by using bamboo of different sizes and lengths which they would hammer to the ground while using a stick to hit the side of the bamboo and sing. The idea was to recreate the four (4) voices (Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Bass). 

Unfortunately, this too was banned in 1935 due to violence between band members.

However, it was during this same time period that Tamboo Bamboo members started using metal objects to create a brighter sound to the bamboo. What happened next was purely by accident.

The Ping Pong Pan happened next. How?

It's said that a young man lent his kettle drum to a friend in a Tamboo Bamboo band and when he got his kettle drum back the surface was badly beaten in. He then decided to restore it by hitting it outward and in doing so, he realised that each bump created a particular pitch. Nothing to play any sort of melody just yet but still it was different and new. By this time, World War 2 was going on and so the creatives had some years to develop the instrument, which today we know as the Steelpan.

It is the instrument of the 20th Century and the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. It comes in many different types and styles.



If you would like to know more about this instrument, then leave a like and a comment.

If you would like to learn how to play this instrument, then leave a "I want to learn" comment and we will be in touch as I offer classes. The first session is always free.

My course is coming soon.

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Alexica Adams
Alexica Adams

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