Sydney Recording Studio: Steel pans (steel drums) were created on the Caribbean island of Trinidad in the 1930s, but steel pan history can be traced back to the enslaved Africans who were brought to the islands during the 1700s.
They carried with them elements of their African culture including the playing of hand drums. These drums became the main percussion instruments in the annual Trinidadian carnival festivities.
Sydney Recording Studio: British ban hand drums
In 1877, the ruling British government banned the playing of drums in an effort to suppress aspects of Carnival which were considered offensive. Bamboo stamping tubes were used to replace the hand drums as they produced sounds comparable to the hand drum when they were pounded on the ground.
Sydney Recording Studio: Bamboo Drums
These tubes were played in ensembles called tamboo bamboo bands.
Non-traditional instruments like scrap metal, metal containers, graters and dustbins were also used in tamboo bamboo bands. However, by the 1930’s these metal instruments dominated the tamboo bamboo bands. The bamboo tubes were eventually abandoned and replaced by the metal instruments.
Sydney Recording Studio: Early Steel Drums
These early metal pan bands were a rustic combination of a wide variety of metallic containers and kitchen utensils which were struck with open hands, fists or sticks.
The metal pan players discovered that the raised areas of the metal containers made a different sound to those areas that were flat. Through experimentation, coincidence, trial and error, and ingenuity on the part of numerous innovators, the metal pan bands evolved into the steel pan family of instruments.
As the pan makers knowledge and technique improved, so did the sound of the instrument.
Sydney Recording Studio: Steel Pan Innovators
Several innovators throughout steel pan history have made significant contributions to the development of the instrument.
Winston ‘Spree’ Simon – is credited with creating the first ‘melody pan’ which carried eight pitches. This was the first pan that could accommodate an entire melody.
Ellie Mannette – is credited with being the first to wrap the playing sticks with rubber (which softened the attack and produced a more refined tone).
He was also the first to sink the surface of a pan into its now characteristic concave shape (this allowed for more pitches to be placed on the playing surface).
Anthony Williams – is credited with inventing the ‘spider web pan’ which was designed in a cycle of fourths and fifths. (Pans with intervallic formulas are easier to tune and produce a higher quality sound). This layout is now the most popular and accepted design for tenor (lead) pans.
Mr. Williams is also credited with being one of the first in steel pan history to use large 55 gallon drums as starting material for the pans, a tradition that continues to this day. Maybe even seen in a Sydney Recording Studio.
Bertie Marshall – credited with inventing the double tenor pan. He also recognized the negative effects the sun had on steel pan and was the first to place canopies over the instruments when they were played outdoors.
This is the best steelpan I have ever seen on the screen of our Sydney Recording Studio