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Before we consider the history let us agree on what is a steelpan instrument.

This is the description as given to us by the scientists at the University of the West Indies.

The steelpan is a definite pitch percussion instrument in the idiophone class and is traditionally made from a steel drum. The metallic playing surface is divided into convex sections by channels, groves or bores. Each convex section is played by striking the pan sticks to produce musical tones.

In the land of its birth - Trinidad and Tobago, the STEELPAN is more often called simply PAN. Some enthusiasts mainly in North America have begun to refer to it as the “STEELDRUM”, a term not easily accepted by the average ‘Trini’. Groups are called “PANSIDES, STEEL ORCHESTRAS and STEEL BANDS..

Who invented the Steelpan Instrument is shrouded in claims and counter claims, but there is one fact on which there is no doubt despite the claims of some philistines. THE STEELPAN WAS ‘BORN’ IN TRINIDAD one of the twin islands that now make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The late Dr. J.D. Elder M.A. Ph.D. in his book FROM CONGO DRUM TO STEELBAND* stated that “True to the pattern of the genesis of any social movement there are as many accounts as there are informants.” It is interesting that while today we are discussing Steelpan as a world recognised family of musical instruments, in 1969 Dr. Elder was referring to its development as a “social movement. This is an aspect of ‘PAN that needs to be researched.

Writing in 1969 he left us with these 6 questions, which up to now have not been answered to the satisfaction of all. For the sake of provoking discussion and revelation we have added in italics a few names.

  1. Where did the “iron bands” really begin? And when?
    Newtown? East Dry River, The 1930s?
  2. Who discovered or invented the “iron band”?
    Alexander’s Rag Time Band?
  3. Who beat the first tune on a pan?
    Winston ‘Spree’ Simon? Fisheye? Neville Jules?
  4. Who tuned the first pan?
    Winston ‘Spree’ Simon? Neville Jules?
  5. Who was the first to introduce pan into a carnival band?
    Tripoli? Destination Tokyo? Red Army?
  6. Which was the first organized steelband in Trinidad?
    Gonzales 2 nd Eleven, Hell Yard, Destination Tokyo

If you think you have the answers to any of these questions send them and we will post them for the benefit of all :PAN” enthusiasts and students of Steelpan History. Click here to send your comments

A Socio-Historical Account of the
Emergence and Evolution of the
Trinidad Steel Orchestra
By J. D. Elder, M.A., Ph.D.
University of the West Indies
St. Augustine, Trinidad.