The slightly metallic, playful sound of the steel pan should transport many European listeners straight to the Caribbean (and players who have the music of “Monkey Island 3” in their ears, back in front of the computer). The percussion instrument was invented in Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela in the 1930s. In doing so, they pragmatically opposed a ban imposed by the British colonial rulers.
Drumming with African percussion instruments was forbidden to the locals in Trinidad. But there was no effective law against their creativity and pragmatism. The first steel pans were made from discarded oil drums, which were easy to come by as the island nation’s oil production boomed.
Today, steel pans are made of thin sheet metal, which forms a concave (curved inwards) shaped resonance body with sound surfaces.
The Festival of Britain was held in the UK in 1951, seven years before Trinidad and Tobago gained independence. At the invitation of the organizers, a band from the Caribbean also traveled and presented steel pan music at the colonial festivity, where British contributions to science and technology, among other things, were presented.
The music of the steel band TASPO went straight to the ears and legs. Long before music was distributed worldwide via radio and long before MP3 and streaming, TASPO became the ambassador not only of a colony, but also of a sound that was new to European ears. Members of the band who did not return home later ensured that the steel bands spread worldwide.
The steel pan has been further developed over the years, for example to the musical instrument Hang, which is composed of two hemispheres.
And the steel pan was imitated electronically: Anyone who hears steel pan sounds in pop music or advertising today is probably listening to sounds that were not produced on real instruments.