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Norman Darway Speaks on the History of Steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago

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Where It Started Staff Article
Interview Recorded: February 23, 2005
Posted: March 01, 2005

We are dealing now with the history of the steelband and where it started, how it started and the amount of distortion on the birth of the steelpan.

One of the first distortions I would like to deal with is Mr. Humphrey Reefer's version in the T&T Mirror dated March 26th 1987.

Mr. Humphrey dealt with one Baird, who he said, picked up an oil drum and started beating it on Point Fortin beach, and this is how the steelband started in 1931. He made this statement to Mr. George Goddard, who was one of the past presidents of the steelband Association. Now when Mr. Goddard asked him, where did they get the steel drum from, he said that Port of Spain did not have any steel-drum and South had steel-drum because they use to ship oil. Then Mr. Goddard asked him when was the first time he ever came to Port of Spain and he said that it was in 1934 to attend a dance at Prince's building. But what happen to Mr. Humphrey, to me, he didn't know that all over Trinidad there were wooden barrels, there were no steel-drums. The people who came to produce steel drums, or make steel-drums in this country, was a company by de name of Van leer Steel Workers Company who came in the late 1936-37 to make steel-drums so that we could have shipped Pitch and Oil instead of using the wooden barrel.

When I talked on the radio about the weight of a steel-drum in the early days, that no one man couldn'-a pick up a steel-drum in one hand and beat it, the next year Mr. Humphrey come and say that it was a half ah drum that the fella, one Baird started to beat. Now, two hours after interviewing Mr. Humphrey, George Goddard went to a fella by the name of Fyzul Odinga, stated that it happen, but it happen in 1935. So we look at de distortion at time, because Humphrey say it happen in 1931 and Odinga say it happen in 1935. But what you would see is that no time at all, the guy dat they talking about, Baird, ever claimed or ever come forward to say that he started the steel-drum. Nobody know who is Baird. Later on from the South of Trinidad, a guy by the name of Horace "Nickadee" Nicholas who was from a band call Bataan, he said that the steelband started in 1939 at Kings Warf. So, we see three different versions now appearing about the steelband starting in South Trinidad. From South we come now again to a guy by the name of Franklyn Roberts. Franklyn Roberts said that he got a pan from George Street after he visit his brother who was an apprentice Taylor on Charlotte Street, and he took that pan back to Buenos Ayres where de boys and dem start beating it, and then they form a band by de name of Starlite. He said that Point Fortin, got their steelband long after Buenos Ayres, and this was due to Philmore "Boots" Davidson who was from Casablanca Steelband, coming to see his mother at Erin road in Point Fortin, and teach de guys in the area how to play the pan, and he called them Young Casablanca.


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