Photo of the Day: Trinidad & Tobago’s Streetwise Steelpan Tradition
If you’re lucky enough to experience the incredible spectacle that is Panorama during Trinidad Carnival, or take in a performance of an authentic Trinbago steel band orchestra anywhere in the world, it’s hard to believe that this amazing music, its instruments, and players were once relegated to the seedy underbelly of Trinidad & Tobago society.
Back then, between the 1930s and 50s, steelpan music occupied the dark and nefarious province of baa-johns and thugs; outlaw gangs hailing from what was then the poorer eastern areas of Trinidad’s capital city. It was quite taboo to be seen in a pan yard in those days, but that wasn’t the most dangerous place to encounter these musicians…
The problems happened when two steel bands were passing on the road. When they got together, there would be like a steel band clash.
So says my Dad who should know since he played a five drum bass in a steel band in the late-1950s and early 60s. His band was based in San Fernando a southern province a good distance from the more volatile pan scene in Port-of-Spain.
The clashes, though violent, could not suppress the majesty of the music, which caught the ear of U.S. Servicemen stationed in Trinidad during and after WWII, who helped to expand its popularity across the world. In time, steelpan music was elevated to the apex of our proud West Indian musical heritage, a spot it still retains today.
The steelpan – the only new acoustic musical instrument invented in the 20th century – a true product of Caribbean streets. It’s a magical history worth remembering every time you hear those sweet pan notes…