Today’s Doodle honours the Steelpan, a percussion instrument constructed of metal that Trinbagonians invented and influenced, as portrayed by Trinidad and Tobago-based artist Nicholas Huggins. Although it was the sole acoustic instrument created in the 20th century, its roots go all the way back to the 1700s. It is still employed in modern music and was a mainstay during Trinidad’s annual harvest festivals, Canboulay and Carnival. The Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) gave a performance at the Festival of Britain on this date in 1951, popularising the steelpan and a brand-new musical style.
In the 1700s, colonialists transported enslaved Africans to Trinidad, bringing with them their African culture and traditions of rhythmic drumming. Between 1834 and 1838, when slavery was abolished, Trinidadians played their drums at the Carnival celebrations. However, in 1877, the authorities forbade their drumming out of concern that it would be used to spread messages that might incite uprising. As a substitute for their drums, musicians began to beat tuned bamboo tubes on the ground in defiance of this restriction. Tamboo Bamboo bands were the name given to these groups.
Another prohibition was implemented in 1930 as a result of disturbances caused by rival Tamboo Bamboo bands during Carnival and other street events. The pan was conceived as a result of these bands’ search for a fresh alternative to convey their rhythm: metal objects like automobile parts, paint pots, trash cans, and biscuit tins.
Due to security concerns, Carnival was forbidden during World War II, and artists started experimenting with the unusual instrument to enhance the sound. These items eventually developed surface dents, which played various notes based on their size, location, and shape.
The musicians shifted to using the 55 gallon oil barrels that the oil refineries discarded in 1948, after the war was over. They discovered that altering the length of the drum allowed for whole scales from bass to soprano in addition to altering the form of the drum surface. The current pan was built on the foundation of this. Through the efforts of pioneers and inventors like Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams, and Bertie Marshall, the steelpan flourished and became a respectable instrument. Numerous of their discoveries and methods are still in use today.
The steelpan is currently recognised as Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument, and its people take tremendous pleasure in it and are incredibly resilient. Steelpans are now played at concerts at venues like the Kennedy Center, Royal Albert Hall, and Carnegie Hall, among others. The steelpan is a well-known instrument that reminds listeners of its island origins, whether in the UK or Japan, Senegal or the United States.