The Steel Pan Collective  

A Short History of Steel Pan

The steel drum or steel pan, as it is more commonly known, originated in Trinidad. There is some debate as to who invented it and when. However, we do know that it is the only acoustic musical instrument to be invented in the 20th century.  And it’s made a significant impact on the music world in a short time.  

The family of steel pan instruments range from tenor pans to twelve-bass drums. The creation of each pan starts with 55-gallon oil barrels. Each barrel is cut to different lengths depending on the instrument being created. Each barrel top is pounded and stretched to create high or low notes and pitches.

The steel pan’s history stretches back to the 1940s when it made its first appearance during World War II. It is a product of Trinidad’s poor working class neighborhoods. The inventors were teenagers influenced by the drumming traditions of their African and Indian ancestors. Drumming was and continues to be an integral part of each community’s religious and social practices.

Authorities banned drumming for fear of unrest, uprisings and rebellion for years. Pan evolved from bamboo sticks to steel in spite of those efforts. Pan players were considered social outcasts for many years. Their earlier activities centered more on fighting and violence. When pans started to appear, their “sound” shifted the groups’ focus to being the best musical groups around. Today’s steel pan players or “panists” are well-respected musicians. The instrument continues to grow in worldwide popularity.

Trinidad is still the epicenter of pan activity. Each year, the island holds the Super Bowl of steel pan competitions. “Panorama” is one of the most anticipated events on the steel pan calendar.

Check the web for more information on the history of Steel Pan.

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