Steel Drum 101

The steel pan originated in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930’s. Since the 1880’s, the colonists had tried to suppress and outlaw the rhythmic drums of the African natives, fearing riots and uprising. However, when their drums and Tamboo Bamboo were taken away, the natives simply found other “instruments” to play. These instruments ranged from old car parts, to dust bins, to garbage can lids, and even empty oil barrels (from the U.S. Navy bases on the islands).

In the 1930’s, it was discovered that notes could be produced by denting the oil barrels. Ellie Mannette, a drum maker still active, was one of the first to dish out the pan and tune it to produce several notes.  The pans TCSBA bands play today were made by Ellie Mannette. Many pan makers began to experiment and soon large neighborhood groups were formed to play music on the pans. By the late forties, the oil drums had become the instrument of choice and the annual festival of “Carnival” was filled with large performing groups competing as steel bands.

Today, steel drums are used around the world as a solo instrument and together as bands of three to hundreds. All types of music can be played on the steel drum. They will often be heard in reggae, soca, ska, and calypso music, but can also be found in many popular recordings and even classical.