What is the Steel Pan? Google Doodle celebrates the musical instrument born out of resistance and rebellion

It’s time to crank up your speakers and listen to the July 26 Google Doodle as it embarks on a musical journey. The search engine celebrates the “steelpan”, an acoustic instrument made from 55-gallon steel drums, illustrated by Trinidad and Tobago-based artist Nicholas Huggins.

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According to Doodles Archive, the steelpan, developed in the 20th century, originated in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930s. However, its origins date back to the 1700s. It was a staple of carnivals and Canboulay, the annual harvest festivals celebrated in Trinidad, and it is still used in contemporary music. On July 26, 1951, the Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) performed at the Festival of Britain, introducing steelpan and a new musical genre to the world.

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The history of steel pan

When enslaved Africans were brought to Trinidad in the West Indies by colonialists in the 1700s, they also brought their heritage and drumming traditions with them. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, Trinidadians participated in Trinidadian carnival celebrations with their drums. However, percussive performances of African descent have been targeted by restrictive government bills, sparking protests and demonstrations, according to Google Arts & Culture. The site also states that these protests facilitated the development of the instrument. It was improvised using scrap metal, metal containers, trash cans and bamboo stamping tubes. The first instrument developed in the evolution of the steel pan was Tamboo Bamboo. These Tamboo bamboo strips consisted of pieces of bamboo cut to different lengths so that different heights could be achieved, and are now widely accepted as the precursor to modern steel strips. For your information, it also included percussion using cookie tins, oil cans, a bottle and a spoon.

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The instrument, according to Culture Mix, was first seen on BBC television in June 1950, when Trinidadian Boscoe Holder and his Caribbean dancers performed with a steel band on his own television show, “Creole Ball”. And with this exhibition, in 1951 the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) was invited to play on the Southbank in London as part of the “Festival of Britain”. It was the first time that the British public came into direct contact with the instrument.

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The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO)

TASPO, which formed for the “Festival of Britain” in 1951, was the first steel band to use recycled instruments like oil drums. According to Culture Mix, TASPO was a group of the top 12 pan musicians. They were selected from 70 Trinidad steel bands including Ellie Mannette of ‘Invaders’, Sterling Betancourt of ‘Crossfire’, Philmore ‘Boots’ Davidson of ‘Syncopators’, Belgrave Bonaparte of ‘Southern Symphony’, Andrew ‘Pan’ De Labastide of ‘Hill 60’, Theo Stephens of ‘Free French’, Anthony Williams of ‘North Stars’, Dudley Smith of ‘Rising Sun’, Orman ‘Patsy’ Haynes of ‘Casablanca’, Winston ‘Spree’ Simon of ‘Tokyo ‘ and Sonny Roach of ‘Sun Valley.

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Does the steelpan still exist?

The steelpan is now the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and is a true source of resilience for its citizens, according to Doodle Archive. The instruments are now seen in concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, among others. Whether in the UK or Japan, the steelpan is now an internationally recognized instrument around the world.

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