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23.03.2015 admin
Foster is not only a great drummer, he has taken pan to the Russian front, besides performing in different parts of the U.S. The steel-pan is the only instrument to be invented in the 20th century.
It is believed that the younger generation of Africans at the time sought to and did change this. These young people continued to experiment with pans and by the early 1940s had developed instruments that could play simple melodic tunes. Since the steel-bands developed out of the poorer neighborhoods in Trinidad and were associated with the violence of these areas, the instrument was frowned upon by the upper and middle class Trinidadian society who tended to be more adept in their knowledge of European music. In the fight for independence and the rise of nationalism, the leading political parties saw the importance of the steel-pan to Trinidadians and it was then adopted as a symbol of nationalism. After independence, the national Panorama competition was established by the new government as the foremost showcase venue for steel bands. Arrangers soon figured out how to add elements of the other genres to their calypso arrangements, resulting in the lengthy, elaborate arrangements we hear in the current Panorama competitions. Trinidadian historian Kim Johnson laments that the steel-pan seems to have “fell to the social scientists by default, as if beating pan was some quaint folk practice, an aspect of ethnicity or national identity or pluralism – anything but a serious, modern art form.” Steel-bands spend months preparing and practicing these elaborate calypso arrangements and this focus may be part of the reason that some believe the steel-band movement has not been taken seriously enough. This is not to say that there are not additional opportunities for pannists to showcase their talents outside of the Carnival and calypso setting. After independence, the national Panorama competition was established by the new government as the foremost showcase venue for steel bands. The forming of the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band Association in 1949 was the first successful effort by some of Trinidad?s influential leaders to end the hostilities. In 1884 drumming was banned from carnival after the authorities feared the drums were being used as a means of communication. Phase II Pan Groove Panyard – photo by caribbeanfreephoto Phase II Pan Groove is one of the ‘elite’ steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago, their arranger is the legendary composer and panman Len ‘ Boogsie’ Sharpe .
With an innate sense of rhythm and a burning desire to express this feeling by beating on something other than bamboo and skin drums during Carnival, some poor, Black, skillful Trinidadians turned to metal containers for music in the 1930s.
After this time the steel bands were so loud that other acoustic instruments could not be heard and most other kinds of band disappeared from the streets.
Experimentation carried on at a feverish pace and the top surface of the oil drums was heated, concavely beaten out, scored and tuned so that different tones and musical notes were produced when beaten, like xylophones, with sticks. Pan Trinbago vice-president Byron Serrette is surrounded by pan players of St Joseph Convent Steel Orchestra.
Owing to a lack of funding, the competition has returned to this venue after being hosted in the iconic Hyde Park for the past three years. Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, Leon “Foster” Thomas has already left an indelible mark in the music arena as a performer, recording artist and songwriter.
Crossfire did well under Brian 'bean' Griffith, not as well as Leon who is an excellent Jazz musician. Yet as popular as steel-pan has become, people seem to know very little about its origins.
Pan, as it is locally referred to, developed as part of the Carnival culture of Trinidad.


During the 1940s the steel pan would increase in versatility and by 1949, steel pan tuners and builders preferred discarded 55 gallon oil drums from which to fashion their instruments.
As part of the nationalist doctrine however, bands were restricted to playing only calypso songs for this competition. Outside of the Carnival season other competitions and showcases have arisen where the central focus is not calypso – although calypso is not absent.
As part of the nationalist doctrine, however, bands were restricted to playing only calypso for this competition. For the first time steel bands shifted their attention from fighting to pursuing common interests. Searching for an alternative, the people began to use pieces of dried bamboo as a substitute for making music accompanied by singing and dancing. There are classical steelbands competitions, calypso steelband competitions called panorama and steelbands plays pop, or classical music rearranged with a slow calypso beat this is referred to as a bomb tune. Murray Narell, father to pan players Jeff and Andy Narell, convinced Ellie to come to America again in 1967. Although there are varying opinions as to when the first sound from beating on metal cans was heard, there is strong evidence that such a sound occurred in 1935 when the Gonzales (Port-of-Spain) Tamboo Bamboo Band hit the road during Carnival with a bass can.
They scored 285 points to take the title in the Large Conventional Bands Category of the competition. Today, When Steel Talks (WST) has an exclusive interview with Leon as the world-class steel orchestra Panorama drummer for the recently-crowned 2013 Panorama Champion Phase II Pan Groove. My first physical contact with Leon was in 2002, when he performed his winning soloist piece at FMC in Florida. Up until the 1930s, tamboo-bamboo bands were still the norm for Carnival music among Afro-Trinidadians. Steel-bands were also able to gain recognition by being allowed to participate in the national music festival, forming associations, gaining sponsorship from companies, receiving support from key figures in the middle class, and playing classical music and other genres besides the indigenous calypso. Steel pans are not only used as part of a steel band but are now integrated into string bands, brass bands, and as a solo instrument. He came to build steel drums for an inner city youth program and to build for Narell’s family. As word of this innovation spread, aspiring metal can players all over Trinidad began crafting the bottoms of any metal containers (pans) that they could put their hands on, by pounding and partitioning the flat ends with hammers and steel punches to create different sounds.
The revelling crowds heard the newest musical instrument this century being played – the steelpan.
Supernovas were just one point behind on 284 points to take the runner up spot with “Breakthrough” arranged by Amrit Samaroo while Phase II Pan Groove and Renegades both scored 283 points to tie for third place.
Leon shares with us the mindset that has him revered as one of the best steelband panorama drummers ever.
So in the interest of knowledge-sharing and challenging misconceptions, here is the true story of the steel-pan and its evolution.
The tamboo-bamboo bands were Carnival bands whose instruments consisted of different lengths of bamboo which would be played with sticks and knocked on the ground. Whereas pannists may have been able to “drop a Bomb” in the past while on the road at Carnival or in other venues and gain kudos, Panorama did not allow that comfort.


Many who had looked on steel bands as breeding grounds for troublemakers now saw them in a new light. By the late 1930s their occasional all-steel bands were seen at Carnival and by 1940 it had become the preferred Carnival accompaniment of young underprivileged men.
Bosco has been playing solo gig in Grenada since 1990 and has taken his steel drum talent to Canada where he is doing solo shows at weddings, corporate functions, private parties and festivals. Our sound is meant to evoke a small carnival band from the pre-war period using guitar, cuatro (a four-string guitar from Venezuela), flute, drum, bottle-and-spoon and of course vocals. The steel bands now replaced the tamboo bamboo as the percussive and melodic music of the Carnival, interpreting the songs of the calypsonians.
Leon, is also an up and coming arranger, who jumped from 6th at Brooklyn's Panorama to 2nd last year. Bamboo was used after drums were banned by the colonial powers in the 1800s. The names of the bands were fashioned on their communities; John John Tamboo Bamboo, Laventille Hill Tamboo Bamboo and Hell Yard Tamboo Bamboo.
By 1937, paint cans and cookie tin-cans were being played alongside Tamboo Bamboo bands during Carnival. The pans developed further until each steel band could produce the same notes as a conventional orchestra and therefore could proudly play classical music like any orchestra. Whereas pannists may have been able to “drop a Bomb” in the past while on the road at Carnival or in other venues and gain kudos, Panorama did not allow that comfort.
These songs were usually rehearsed in secret to add to the element of surprise and would sometimes be played in calypso tempo. The Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), formed to attend the Festival of Britain in 1951, was the first steelband whose instruments were all made from oil drums. It was not long before the brass bands and the string bands were playing next to the tamboo bamboo bands. These songs were usually rehearsed in secret to add to the element of surprise and would sometimes be played in calypso tempo. When the tamboo bamboo instruments broke, the other bands would lend some of their instruments to keep them going on. Hugh Borde also led the National Steel Band of Trinidad & Tobago at the Commonwealth Arts Festival in England, as well as the Esso Tripoli Steel Band, who played at the World’s Fair in Montreal , Canada , and later toured with Liberace and were also featured on an album with him. They initially took on names from popular American movies and the first two steelbands in the history of Trinidad were Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Hellyard. This union led to the inclusion of many other objects, which enhanced the overall sound of the bands.
In 1940, calypso music and the steelband began their long marriage when the Roaring Lion composed a calypso specifically for Alexander’s Ragtime Band.



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