Steelpan: The National Instrument of Trinidad and Tobago


Steel-Pan in The 21 St. Century

As a Patriotic 'Trinbagonian' living abroad for more than two decades now, I have to confess that the sounds of the steel orchestras performing for Pan in the 21st. Century churned raw emotions into tears of joy! The pan orchestras sounded so sweet; and the accompanying arrangements were nothing short of superb. There is certainly a difference listening to pan for our panorama competition compared to the use of the national instrument to showcase the music and instruments on the world scene - truly amazing!

These are the types of music that anyone, who listens to American Pop and R&B, can easily identify the songs and appreciate the beautifully syncopated resonance of the steel pan as played by the pan orchestra that always has the citizenry the World marveling at the ingenuity of the music arrangers and pan players. The Calypsos may be unknown making the scintillating renditions lost to the foreign listener.  So as a Trinbagonian I celebrate the beauty, the creativity of generations past to have created the only new musical instrument of the 21 Century – it’s we ting, shout it from the mountain tops- yes take dat! It is pan in ‘yuh pwefen, pan in yuh rukunkunk’ and no one in the world can do it like we do… But wait; is it really “we ting” as we boastfully chant in 'Trini' colloquialism? There are US and European Patents that say it is not “We Ting” but somebody else’s – how in heavens name did this travesty occur?

You've got to know/understand your past to mold and truly understand your future, in other words, you have to creep before you learn to walk. Let us now take a look back to see how the pan, as a musical instrument, was born.  This will help us understand the journey that so many Trinidadians took to bring the steel pan to that which it is today.  It will also put into perspective the travesty that exists today regarding the ownership of the various patents for the steel pan.

First and foremost the history and development of the steel pan is Afro centric – African slaves brought to Trinidad to work on the plantations used drums during their religious celebrations and religious practices. This was eventually banned because the slave masters believed that the slaves used the drums to communicate with each other from estate to estate. The British and the Catholic would not permit the slaves “to communicate” in this manner because the goal was to control and convert these subjects of the slave owners –as a result it was banned. The end of Slavery on July 1, 1834 led to celebrations on August 1, 1834 the celebration of Canboulay with the burning of the sugar cane before harvesting. However, the British allowed the people to participate in a restricted celebration without the drums in what we know as Carnival beginning at the dawn on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. So to fill the void the African slaves turned to bamboo cut to different lengths – tamboo bamboo. The biscuit tin replaced the tamboo bass eventually to avoid injury to the feet of the players.

Laventille and John John in particular then came into the spotlight. “Andrew Beddoe was one of the district’s finest Orisha drummer and the tamboo band’s best biscuit pan drummer in "John John" sparked the critical transition from tamboo bamboo to pan with his magical drumming fingers.”
www.steelisland.com/history.asp

This is where the story gets muddled and claims of the true inventor come into play. However, everyone believes that Winston Spree is the one person who “provided the link from biscuit tin to steel pan.” This was the "badjohn" era and rivalries between “bands” led to clashes that had people scampering away for their safety. Ping pong was born with four notes hammered out by Winston Spree Simon. By 1946 the pan had developed to 14 notes and it was beaten with sticks without rubber on the ends. Today the pan is not beaten but played with sticks with rubber on the ends.

There are many written documents that chronicle the history of the steel pan as a musical instrument. However, there is one written by Christopher D. Walborn that I found to be informative and a very pleasant read.  Indeed, there has been much controversy about who invented the pan but after reading several articles one can appreciate the multiple hands that went into the creation of the steel pan. Ellie Mannette had a very great influence on the development of the steel pan that I would choose to call him the godfather of the steel pan as we know it.

I will now quote a paragraph from Mr. Walborn’s article that should put things in perspective, it is entitled:
“Credit where Credit is due”:
“Ellie Mannette was not the only builder developing the steel drums, however. As already noted Alexander Ford was the first to bang on the garbage can and Winston "Spree" Simon was the first to get notes on his drums. Tony Williams introduced the Cycle of 5ths to the steel drum world. Bertie Marshall created the Double Tenors and was the first person to put the octaves and 2nd octaves into the notes. Rudolph Charles created the Quads. Though Ellie was not the only builder developing them, he has been one of the most influential of the early builders, and is greatly respected for cleaning up the tone quality of the drums. Where the Carnival players went for drums that were extremely bright and loud, Ellie chose a mellower tone as a foundation to build upon, a palette of tones he felt could be used with greater complexity and subtlety.”

When one looks at the impact of Ellie Mannette on the development of the 55 gallon steel pan one has to give him credit as the creator of the steel pan as a musical instrument as we know it today. Just look at some of his achievements as chronicled in Mr. Walborn's article:

Chronology
Following is a brief chronology of Ellie Mannette's drums:
Date
1937
1946
1946
1947
1948
1950
1952
1954
1956
1960
Instrument 
First drum with a concave surface
Lead (Ping-Pong)
Tuned-Boom
Single Second
Single Guitars
Triple Bass
Double Seconds
Double Guitars
Triple Cellos
Tenor Basses
Notes
**
First drum made from 55 gallon barrel
Precursor to the Cellos
Balay
Grundig/length of skirt is 15 inches
**
**
Length of skirt is 15 inches
**
Four Pans/length of skirt is 30 inches
Amazing, isn't it?  There is so much history relating to the steel-pan and it could take forever researching the development of the instrument to today’s Genesis pan that was recently unveiled to an audience in Port-of-Spain Trinidad. Now that we have had a glimpse of the rich history of the pan and some of the pioneers of the instrument we have to come back to where we are today.

I would like to think that this rich history and glorious instrument that was born out of slavery and given to the World by a people that were humiliated through slavery should always be part and parcel of the rich heritage of Trinidad and Tobago. This is our mark, it is our heritage and it will always be identified as belonging to Trinidad and Tobago. Our African brothers in our very cosmopolitan society gave us a gift that is now being claimed by so many through Patents issued in the United States and Europe. Now is not the time nor this is the place to lay blame on anyone for this misfortune. It is also sad that the founders, the creators of the only musical instrument created in the 20th Century never really benefited from their creation as the so many people using it today. In the United States and Europe people who had nothing to do with the development of the steel-pan as a musical instrument own patents for the life and blood of Trinidad and Tobago. Again, I have to say it, what a travesty!

I wonder if the people who own these patents know of Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Manette, Neville Jules, Anthony Williams (spider web pan better known as “fourths and fifths”), Bertie Marshall who was the leader of the defunct Highlanders steel band of Laventille in 1957 and creator of the amplified pans and the “Bertiphone” that combined tone control and amplification and Denzil “dimes” Fernandez who invented the "bore pan". So many Trinidadians played such an integral role in the creation and development of the steel pan, yet still none of their names are etched on a Patent.  Well you can’t blame these “so called owners” of the steelpan for going after a good thing and one can understand the business aspect of it however people need to give credit where credit is due. We know that it belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and that is etched in history.

The steel pan was born in Trinidad so if you are not a Trinidadian how can you own the patent for the pan? Well that is a different story because there is so much that goes into the patenting of anything. An idea to do something different could land you a patent so we should be careful in our criticisms of these persons. As an example I would like to cite Hydro Steel LLC founders George Whitmyre and Harvey Price along with their European counterpart Judith Spoo. They own a patent for the creation of the steel pan using stainless steel eliminating the need to chrome the pans. Wikipedia has this to say about this company: “Two Americans, George Whitmyre and Harvey J. Price, have secured a United States patent for "the process of formation of a Caribbean steelpan using a hydroforming press". This patent is being challenged by the Trinidad and Tobago Legal Affairs Ministry, since many Trinbagonian drum makers have used similar methods for years.  Their pan making company, Hydroforming, has gone out of business.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steelpan.

It has always been said that Trinidadians don’t appreciate that which they have – that is true to a point. However, I would like to point my fingers at the government of Trinidad and Tobago and that includes every manifestation of those political regimes. They have done very little to secure and protect the steel pan. Trinidad, the land of steel pan and calypso where we don’t and haven’t done enough, as a nation and government, to properly honor the creators and the instrument that is the buzz of the musical world in this era. The government of the day has invested in the creation and development of the Genesis Pan that is the rave of the island. We don’t know much about it other than it is a bigger pan that has more musical notes than the traditional pan and that it gives off a “bigger” sound that would cause the size of the orchestras to shrink in size.   Kudos is the order of the day and must be extended to the government and Prime Minister Patrick Manning for this endeavor and for securing the patents for the new instruments. We now also have the launch of the National Steel Symphony Orchestra that will be used to represent the country – the pannists are trained in music theory and receive a salary from the government – well done!

So where do we go from here? Recently WACK radio 90.1 FM, on Damion Melville’s Bassa Bassa segment, asked a question regarding the launching of the Genesis Pan. He asked the listeners for their opinion regarding the fact that that no calypso was played but several classical pieces along with local compositions (not calypsos) were used to showcase the versatility of the new pan. Do you think that the station was deluged with calls? If you guessed yes then you were absolutely wrong. As is the case and so typical of Trinidadians we always choose to complain but resist the desire to act. Maybe that is part of the problem and the reason that so many patents exist today for the original pan – none owned by Trinbagonians.

The discussion will continue and the arguments will abound but one thing is certain the steel pan belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and regardless of the ownership of patents by persons whom are not Trinidadians nothing can erase the history and ownership of our National instrument, our National Heritage.
The link below gives a timeline history of the development of the steel pan. Please take a read:

No apologies and no compromise on "When Steel Talks" - so you just read a little history on Pan, now do yourself a big favor and listen to the 'niceness" - pan on the net at the link below:
http://www.panonthenet.com/radio/index96.htm
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Trinidad & Tobago Panorama Champions 

Large Conventional Bands
2017 - Massy Trinidad All Stars - Full Extreme - arranged by Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
2016 - Desperadoes - Different Me - arranged by Carlton 'Zander' Alexander
2015- International Panorama Champions - Trinidad All Stars - Curry Tabanca - Leon Edwards      
2015 - Trinidad All Stars - Unquestionable - Ken "Professor' Philmore
2014Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove - Jump High - Len Boogsie Sharpe
2013 - Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove - More Love (Black Stalin) - Len Boogsie Sharpe 
2012 - Neal & Massy T'dad All Stars - Play Your Self (Crazy) - Clive Telemaque, Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
2011 - T'dad All Stars - "It's Showtime- Anslem Douglas- Edwin Pouchet, Alvin Daniel
2010 - Silver Stars - Battle Zone - Anslem Douglas - Edwin Pouchet
2009 - Silver Stars - First In De Line - Eunice Peters - Edwin Pouchet
2008 - Phase II - Musical Vengeance - Anslem Douglas - Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe
2007 - Trinidad All Stars - Pan Lamentation - De Fosto - Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
2006 - Phase II - This One's For You, Bradley - Ronnie McIntosh - Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe
2005 - Phase II - Trini Gone Wild - Colin Lucas - Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe
2004 - Exodus - War 2004 - De Fosto - Pelham Goddard
2003 - Exodus - Pandora De Fosto - Pelham Goddard
2002 - Trinidad All Stars - Fire Storm - De Fosto - Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
2001 - Exodus - A Happy Song - 3 Canal - Pelham Goddard
2000 - Desperadoes - Picture On My Wall - Emanuel Synette - Clive Bradley
1999 - Desperadoes - In My House - Emanuel Synette - Clive Bradley
1998 - Nu Tones - High Mas - David Rudder - Clive Bradley
1997 - Renegades - Guitar Pan - Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1996 - Renegades - Pan In A Rage Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1995 - Renegades - Laramania - Merchant/De Fosto - Jit Samaroo
1994 - Desperadoes - Fire Coming Down - Robert Greenidge - Robert Greenidge/Superblue
1993 - Renegades - Mystery Band - Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1992 - Exodus - Savannah Party - Pelham Goddard - Pelham Goddard
1991 - Desperadoes - Musical Volcano - Robert Greenidge - Robert Greenidge
1990 - Renegades - Iron Man - Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1989 - Renegades - Somebody - Baron/Winsford Devines - Jit Samaroo
1988 - Phase II - Woman Is Boss - Denyse Plummer/Len Sharpe - Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe
1987 - Phase II - This Feeling Nice - Denyse Plummer/Len Sharpe - Len 'Boogsie' Sharpe
1986 - Trinidad All Stars - The Hammer - David Rudder - Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
1985 - TIE - Desperadoes - Pan Night & Day - Lord Kitchener - Beverly Griffith
1985 - TIE - Renegades - Pan Night & Day - Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1984 - Renegades - Sweet Pan - Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1983 - Desperadoes - Rebecca - Blue Boy - Clive Bradley
1982 - Renegades - Pan Explosion - Lord Kitchener - Jit Samaroo
1981 - Trinidad All Stars - Unknown Band - Blue Boy - Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
1980 - Trinidad All Stars - Woman On De Bass - Scrunter - Leon 'Smooth' Edwards
1979 - No Panorama | The players demanded greater financial compensation re: costs!
1978 - Starlift - Du Du Yemi - Mighty Sparrow - Winsford Devines - Herscel Puckerin
1977 - Desperadoes - Crawford - Lord Kitchener - Clive Bradley
1976 - Desperadoes - Pan In Harmony - Lord Kitchener - Clive Bradley
1975 - Hatters - Tribute To Spree Simon - Lord Kitchener - Steve Archaiba
1974 - Harmonites - Jerico - Lord Kitchener - Earl Rodney
1973 - Trinidad All Stars - Rainorama - Lord Kitchener - Rudy Wells
1972 - Harmonites - St. Thomas Girl - Lord Kitchener - Earl Rodney


*In 1971 a new Pan Body was created to replace the National  Association of Trinidad and Tobago Steelbandsmen (NATTS) (founded in 1950 http://www.bestoftrinidad.com/steelband70s.html) . 

The New body was named PAN TRINBAGO!

1971 - Harmonites - Play Mas - Lord Kitchener - Earl Rodney (tie)
1971 -  CIBC Starlift - Queen of the Bands - Mighty Sparrow (tie)
1970 - Desperadoes - Margie - Lord Kitchener - Mackie Boyce
1969 - Starlift - The Bull - Lord Kitchener - Ray Holman
1968 - Harmonites - Wrecker - Lord Kitchener - Earl Rodney
1967 - Cavaliers - Sixty-Seven - Lord Kitchener - Bobby Mohammed
1966 - Desperadoes - Obeah Wedding - Mighty Sparrow - Beverly Griffith
1965 - Cavaliers - Melody Mas - Lord Melody - Bobby Mohammed
1964 - Pan Am North Stars - Mama Dis Is Mas - Lord Kitchener - Anthony Williams
1963 - Pan Am North Stars - Dan Is The Man - Mighty Sparrow - Anthony Williams

First (Official) Panorama Competition to be held in Trinidad and Tobago was at the Queen's Park Savannah on 02/22/1963.
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The Sanch catalog of digital recordings features an exquisite blend of the Music of Trinidad and Tobago with emphasis on the Steel-pan. Sanch Electronix Limited was established in 1979, and produced the world’s first compact disc of authentic Steel-band Music in 1987.


If you are interested in high quality steel  pan recordings then your source should be Sanch  out of Trinidad. We recommend this site for quality steel pan music! Link to the site here: Sanch
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