Steel Pan History

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Title: Steel Pan
Name: Dominc Naimool
Student number: 1000035972
Due Date: Tuesday, March 19 2013

From the palm tree laden beaches of the Caribbean a comes an iconic instrument whose distinctive tune has for decades been characteristic of the British West Indies, the afro-Caribbean culture and the island way of life. Though its unique melody can be found throughout the islands, many westerners may be surprised to know that this instrument does not come from the popular islands of the Bahamas, Jamaica nor Barbados but from the small island of Trinidad & Tobago. Though this instrument is relatively new on the global music scene, appearing as recent as the 1940’s it is no doubt that in its short life it has made a notable impact in Trinidad, the Caribbean and the world. Unlike many instruments the term “steel pan” has multiple meanings and may refer to a single instrument, orchestral arrangement or family of instruments. The steel pan’s culture and tradition is like that of any other instrument in that the world’s perspective of it is based on a combination of its history, artists, repertoire, and performance context.

Trinidad &Tobago are a pair of twin islands in the southern Caribbean Sea. Though they are geographically considered part of the Americas, due to their proximity to South America and Venezuela in particular, of which they are 6.8 miles away (at their closest point), Trinidad has shared and absorbed much of its culture from its indigenous inhabitants, colonial history, and the people who came to work on the plantations. Trinidad was discovered in 1492 by the Spanish explorer Columbus, on his first voyage to the Americas. Like many of its neighbours, though it originated as a Spanish colony through wars, acquisitions, treaties and varied emigration it has changed hands many times resulting in immense cultural diversity. This long line of colonial masters began with Spain, who in 1532 appointed its first governor to oversee its new acquisition. Very soon after its role as a labour colony was solidified, its primary source of labour, the indigenous population quickly eradicated through hard labour, disease and displacement. In order to resolve this labour deficit and increase population the Spanish government invited the French to settle in Trinidad and they came with their slaves, property and traditions of their own. They saw the opportunity to migrate to Trinidad as a blessing.”(“Emancipation Day”, 7), as planters in Martinique, Guadeloupe and other French territories feared that the revolt in Haiti could happen in the other French islands, and so they became afraid. “In February 1797, during the wars of the French Revolution, Trinidad capitulated to a British force, and in 1802, following the Treaty of Amiens; it was formally ceded to Great Britain.”(“Colonial rule, 1). It was Britian’s rule that lead to: the freedom of the slaves in 1853. Trinidad becoming a liberated part of the Commonwealth in 1962 and a sovereign Republic in 1976. Though the British shaped the political, economic and social aspect of Trinidad, it was the French influence that brought Trinidad one of its most iconic pseudo-religious celebrations, Mardi-Gras or Carnival. This celebration would play a major role in the cultural development of the nation and the emergence of the steel pan. “When the freed slaves (slavery was abolished in the West Indies in 1834) joined in the festivities, they could not afford the conventional instruments, so they used African drums, the instruments of their ancestors, then created percussion bands made up of bamboo joints cut from the bamboo plant.” (Pan a short history,1) Due to the fact that many of the plantation owner were absentee, it was these (former) slaves from the “Yoruba, Hausa, Congo, Ibo, Rada, Mandingo, Kromanti (Koromantyn) and Temne” (“Emancipation Day”, 7) traditions that became the founders of this nation and the innovators of this new instrument. To an...
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