Steel Drum History

Caribbean Music and the Steel Pan

Calypso Music is best known by the cheerful melodies sung by Harry Belafonte and the sound of the West African Kaiso rhythm better known as Calypso. In 1956 Harry Belafonte recorded his Calypso album containing the famous Banana Boat Song Day-O, probably the most internationally known calypso song. His calypso album became the first to sell over one million copies. The 1970's led to the popularity of the Steel Drum and dynamic tempo of the Soca Beat. Soca music originated as a fusion of calypso with Indian rhythms, combining the musical traditions of the two major ethnic groups of Trinidad and Tobago. In 1973, Ras Shorty introduced Soca to the world with his hit song Indrani. By the turn of the 1980's Lord Kitchener's classic hit Sugar Bum Bum made Soca more popular then ever.

The steel drum or steel pan as it's called in the West Indies was invented in the late 1930's on the island of Trinidad. During a time when the locals, called Trinis, where deprived of all traditional rhythmic instruments from the government, the formation of the Iron Bands began. The Iron Bands would beat on anything including; irons, trashcans, tools, break drums from car parts, and anything that would make a tone. Then during a particularly heavy Iron Band session somebody discovered that an oil drum could produce a pure tone. Winston "Spree" Simon is generally credited as being the inventor of the pan and Ellie Manette, a pan maker still active today, was the first to give the pan it's mature form. The pan is skillfully hammered by hand out of a 55-gallon oil drum and tuned to create a full chromatic range of notes, and each pan has it's own order of tones that are unique to it's creator. Since it's invention the smooth and relaxing sound of the steel pan has gained popularity with music lovers around the world.

Reggae Music is best known by the relaxing melodies sung by Bob Marley and the pulse of the one-drop beat. Originally reggae music took its form from Ska music that was developed in Jamaica around the 1950's. Flavored with Mento, the music quickly assumed a uniquely Jamaican up-tempo beat that became known as ska. Mento is a Jamaican form of music similar to Trinidad's calypso. By the summer of 1966 the birth of the slower, more melodic rock steady beat emerged. The slower rhythmic feel gave space for more complicated melodies while the Horns moved to the background and vocals became more prominent. The term reggae, pronounced "ray-gay", was used to refer to a "ragged" form of dance rhythm popular in Jamaica. Reggae music traditionally deals with politics, poverty and Rastafarianism. A significant difference between reggae and it's predecessors, ska, and rock steady, was its new spiritual emphasis. This traditional form of reggae is called "Roots Reggae". This is the form of reggae that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer are famous for. In the late 1960's Bob Marley and The Wailers were extremely popular only in the Caribbean and not internationally known. In 1972 this all changed with a recording of Catch A Fire, the Wailers first album. This album laid the foundation for reggae to become an international phenomenon and was the beginning of Bob Marley's worldwide fame.

Over the years reggae has taken on other forms and have continued to grow and diversify into different styles. One such style to become very popular is "dub", a form of re-mixing an instrumental version of a song and adding special effects such as echo and reverberation. A DJ would then talk or sing over the instrumental track creating a new style that would be a heavy influence in America. Osbourne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby pioneered the style of dub and his influence of re-mixing eventually led to the birth of American rap music. A Daddy U-Roy's number-one hit Wake The Town lead in the era of dub reggae. People around the world love the melodic feel of reggae music. One world one love is an international sign of peace.

Feelin Irie Mon!

Listen to History of Jamaican Music:
"From Folk to Mento"

Article by the BBC:
"A Brief History of the Steel Pan"
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1956 FILM:
"Historical Moment of Steel Pan Creation & Tuning from Trinidad & Tobago to North America"

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