|Steel drums were invented on the island of Trinidad around the time
of W.W.II. One can trace the roots of these instruments back to the
African slaves who were placed on the island by Spanish and French plantation
owners as early as the 16th century. The constant struggle against
the "elite" upper class brought many hardships and frustrations to the
African slaves; most of them had been separated from their families and
lost their native languages. Music was their only link back to Africa.
|The elite classes were notorious for setting specific rules and hours
for African drumming. They were fearful the drums would incite the
slaves to rebellion and that perhaps they were sending rhythmic messages.
Over the centuries, as the upper classes would ban the lower classes' instruments
, the lower classes would simply invent a new performance instrument.
Rhythmic elements of African drumming can be heard throughout the evolution
of steel drums and is used in the percussion sections (engine rooms) of
the steel bands today.
|The African rhythmic patterns were later reproduced on bamboo stomping
tubes by tamboo bamboo bands who marched in the streets during Carnival.
These instruments were constructed by cutting varying lengths of
bamboo sticks, stomping the larger sticks on the ground, and striking the
smaller ones together.
|The next important step in the evolution of the steel drum was metal
beating bands of the early 1930's as a gradual replacement for the banned
tamboo bamboo. These bands consisted of players using all metallic
instruments (i.e. tin pans, biscuit drums, dustbins, ect.) and were sometimes
referred to as "iron bands" or "pan bands". It was soon discovered
that these non pitched metal instruments changed pitch after they had been
beaten for a while.
|The very first pitched steel drums were made from smaller metal containers
and were convex in shape. The performer would carry the smaller metal
drum with one hand and beat the metal with the other. These instruments
were crude; they were still in their experimental stages and had no intentional
pitches. In the 1940's and 1950's pan innovators experimented with
the stylings or note patterns, and improved upon the tuning. Today
the drum is constructed from the bottom of a 55 gallon barrel, sunk down
in a concave fashion, and tuned with precision.