History of the Steeldrum

History of the Steeldrum

The Steeldrum, or "Pan" as it is colloquially termed, was invented on the Caribbean island of Trinidad some time during the 1940s.

During the 1700s, British colonists had brought slaves to the island from West Africa, from what is now Ghana and Nigeria. The slaves brought with them as much of their culture as they could manage, including the tradition of drumming.

Obviously the island did not provide the same materials with which to make and maintain drums as in Africa, and the slaves looked for substitutes. The most obvious and widely used was lengths of bamboo stamped on the ground or strugh together. These were known as Bamboo Drums or "Tambour Bamboo" which became corrupted to "Tamboo Bamboo".

The problem with Tamboo Bamboo was that after extensive use, the bamboo split or broke. This led to a further substitution some time in the 1930s. This time paraffin tins, galvanised dustbins and the like were played with sticks.

Some time during the 1940s - the exact date is not known - a guy by the name of Winston "Spree" Simon was playing a tin as a bass drum. As he beat it repeatedly with a stick the end of the tin gradually dented in, which caused the pitch of the drum to sharpen. Eventually he found himself playing a bass-drum part on a high pitched instrument. He picked up a rock and stamped the end of the drum back out from the inside, reasoning that if the dent was again made flat it would regain its bass note.

Or course, the end of the drum did not return to its flat state - instead it dented outward into three distinct bumps. Spree discovered that each bump made a different note. He went around playing "Mary had a little lamb" and the first steeldrum was born.

The idea was rapidly developed and by the early 1950s the 44-gallon oil drum was the standard starting point. Instruments had been divided into those for melody, chords, and bass, and simple tunes or even classical music could be performed entirely on the steeldrum. There was intense rivalry between bands, often leading to bloodshed. The upper classes frowned heavily on pan-man, who were seen as hoodlums at best, and attempts were made to outlaw the instrument.

The instrument (and its image) has been refined and improved, and a modern steelband can have anything up to 120 members. The instruments produce a most pleasing, clear sound, and a band has a range of nearly 5 octaves. Reportoire ranges from brilliantly executed classical music to pop to the vibrant calypso/soca music of Trinidad. Anyone who has heard a steelband in full cry will agree that it has a claim to being the 8th wonder of the world.
(Steve Lawrie 1995)

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Tel: (757) 640-1508
Email: onelovesteelband@gmail.com
Sunday May 13 2012   1-4pm
Captain Groovy’s Restaurant
8101 Shore Drive  Norfolk, VA 23518
Sandy White (757) 965-4667