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The History of Steelband in Trinidad and Tobago

Early steelpan movement
This exclusive Sun photograph showing some of the first panmen playing biscuit tins with sticks. This picture was supposedly taken around the late 30's. Young Mannette (second from right) tuning some of the first pans as we now know the instrument to be. Mannette, a pioneer of the steelband art form, now resides in the United States where he tutors and continues experimentation with the instrument. Taken from the Sun newspapers, Friday, March 21, 1986


September 13, 2002

The Editor:

I fail to understand how you would allow such seemingly contradictory information to stand in what should be the definitive site for ACCURATE information on the history and evolution of the steelpan.

I first read your article "Steelband Hoax" which indicates that "... the steelband had been in existence since the late 1930s."

Then I back up to read the "Brief History" which tells me "Pan at its Birth: May 1945". I fail to see how this date would be considered the birthdate of Pan, if you've indicated that it's proven that Pan existed since the late 1930's.

Seems to me that a more accurate "Brief History" would indicate that although Pan first appeared on the streets of Trinidad in May 1945, etc. etc. it was conceived, with embryonic development taking place in the 1930's in whichever panyard(s) it could be agreed upon as the parenting factors.

That, to me, would be a more accurate description of the "Brief History" of Pan.

Also, if you, PanTrinbago, stand by your columnist who says "However the main point is that the month of May should be a significant month as far as Pan Lovers are concerned." what if anything is being done about such an observance?

I love Pan, Mas, Calypso and Soca!! I love my culture, but it saddens me when I look at those who are in positions to make changes seemingly opt for the status quo, and are seemingly afraid to take our culture to the next level - the economically solvent and viable level, using current principles and available economic methods and marketing techniques.

I say seemingly, because clearly I'm not privy to the developmental plans of our Ministry of Culture and the individual component associations. But I can say that for the time that I've been looking on at these "powers that be"...allyuh taking way too long.


Editor's note:

Thanks for your comments, and valid observations.

Seeing that we are presenting the views of pan pioneers who have for a large part gone unrecognized in the wider society, we think it best to let them tell their story their way and let the readers put the pieces together. Readers can submit articles like you did.

May 23, 2002
by A. Williams

The first time Steelbands appeared on the streets of Trinidad…was 100 years to the month of East Indian immigration to the island…May 1945…the occasion was not the Centenarian celebration of Indian immigration, but the celebration of the surrender of Germany in the second World War…2 days of Public Holidays were given 8th and 9th of May…this event was a major, major event in Trinidad not because of who won what or who was even fighting ……but it represented the end of the dreaded "ration card" system,…..where everybody was on 'welfare' to put it in a nutshell……that is ah topic by itself…… people's food supply and stomachs were affected…….as they had been long socialized to 'imported' food and I am tempted to digress to give some stories about some women and those ration cards….well the ones the men had……but ah feel Church people reading….so ah walking de straight an narrow road [fuh now].

When the news hit…that World War 2 was over [really European war]… the urban massive hit the streets in ah frenzy…high class, low class everybody…. the war years 1941-45 was pressure [dey lock up Butler for de duration] and everybody was happy…and in the absence of CD's and Turntables…these old oil drums with a few musical notes on it was the…party hearty…in fact the Road March could have been said to be 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and a next tune from an ad with Alan Ladd called Gun for Hire…I remember the Calypso of the period which was , but can't remember the singer

"Run yuh run
Kaiser Wilhem
Run yuh run
Yuh hear what Churchill say
With ah rope an ah mango wood
We go ¤#$$%¤ up Germanay.

and this other one by Tiger goes like this

"Time so hard yuh cyar deny in the 40's
Saltfish or rice ah ca buy
Dis war wit Englan an germany
Means only starvation an misery
But ah going an plant an fix mih affairs
An dem white people cud fight for ah thousand years

Its hard not to digress on these matters…anyway the State had passed a notorious piece of legislation in 1934 which sort to savage local culture called the Dancehall and Theater Ordinance which was very vicious and had unintended consequences in every aspect of cultural life. But the steelband because its bottle, spoon, biscuit pan, dustbin, tamboo-bamboo roots [Ghanaian art]…survived and began to take shape…so by 1945 the Steelband was on the lips of the people...and that was its start in modern Trinidad…some say it start in Point, some say Tunapuna, some say East Port of Spain with Spree Simon…who gets the credit for it…but many doubt it…. I say it start in Trinidad…and it struggled along till the 50's when Albert Gomes first and then Dr Eric Williams pushed the Steelbands to new heights starting with the TASPO tour to England in 1950.

E-Mail: May 23, 2002

The Editor:
There is a slight error in this Article.

Mr Williams refers to World War!! war years as "1941-1945." This would be correct regarding America's involvement and/or participation. Trinidad & Tobago, being part of the British Commonwealth, was involved directly from September 1939.

Llew. O. Jones

Response: by A. Williams May 23, 2002

"the war years 1941-45 was pressure"

Thank you very much for your correction of the historical record of the war years as far as Trinidad is concerned was: 1939-1945.

I am not aware of that particular piece of information, but I trust that it is correct.

However the main point is that the month of May should be a significant month as far as Pan Lovers are concerned. I hope that each year starting from now, that Trini's the world over pay attention to the anniversary of the birth of pan to place it in its proper historical context.

I hope you can also post something about the Steelpan to help along that line, and now is as good a time as any.

A. Williams

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