Google Doodle: why are we celebrating the steelpan today, and what is it?

26 July 2022, 15:27

A new animation, served up to millions of people today on Google’s homepage, tells the fascinating story of a great percussion instrument – the steelpan.

Today Google released a new Doodle (see above) to celebrate the steelpan, a popular percussion tool and the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

Trinidad and Tobago-based artist Nicholas Huggins, who illustrated the Doodle, said he hopes “people can take away the sense of hard work and creativity of the people of Trinidad and Tobago .

“We are a small country on the world stage, but the fact that we have given the world such a fine instrument should be held in high esteem.”

What is a steelpan?

A steelpan is a large silver-plated drum, often supported by a stand and played with two straight sticks.

The instrument was created by the Trinbagonians – people of Trinidad and Tobago – in the 1930s and is recognized today as one of the only great acoustic musical instruments to have been invented in the 20th century.

On this day, July 26, 1951, the Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) performed at the Festival of Britain and in doing so introduced steelpan and a new genre of music to the world.

Read more: Who was Oskar Sala, Electronic Composer Celebrated in Google Doodle?

Google Doodle celebrates Trinidad and Tobago's instrument, the steelpan

Google Doodle celebrates Trinidad and Tobago’s instrument, the steelpan.

Photo: Google/Nicholas Huggins

Where do steelpans come from?

While the steelpan in its modern form was created in the 1930s, the origins of the instrument date back to the 18th century.

In the 1700s, when enslaved Africans were brought to Trinidad by the colonialists, they brought with them their long-held musical traditions. And when slavery was abolished in the 1830s, they brought the sound of their drums to the harvest festivals that would be held in Trinidad.

Then came a succession of bans on the percussion instrument. In 1877, government officials feared that the game of steelpan would spark rebellion in local communities. In protest, musicians began making music by pounding tuned bamboo tubes on the floor.

In 1930, allegations of unrest led to a second ban. This time, musicians started using metal objects such as car parts, paint cans, garbage cans, cookie jars to make music – and so the idea of ​​the “saucepan ” was born.

The saucepan was banned again during World War II, for safety reasons. Musicians used time to find ways to improve sound quality, forming a range of bumps on the surface that would produce different notes.

Google adds on its website: “In 1948, after the end of the war, musicians began to use the 55-gallon oil drums discarded by oil refineries. In addition to changing the shape of the drum surface, they discovered that changing the length of the drum allowed full ranges from bass to soprano. This formed the basis of the modern version of the pan.

Bumps have formed on the surface of the pan, to sound different notes

Bumps have formed on the surface of the pan, producing different notes.

Photo: Aliyah

How is the steelpan used today?

Pioneers and innovators such as Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall helped make the steelpan a legitimate and respected instrument, with the soothing sound it is famous for in the 21st century.

Usually played using a pair of straight drumsticks with a rubber tip on the end, steelpans can often be heard in groups known as steelbands or steel orchestras, and are enjoyed in concert halls around the world, from the Royal Albert Hall in the UK to Carnegie Hall. in the USA.

Today it is a symbol of pride and resilience for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. Miami musician Etienne Charles, who composed the music for the Doodle video, said, “I would like people to feel the magic of steelpan. An instrument born from the Afro-descendant resistance in Trinidad. A symbol of community, artistic excellence and scientific innovation.

“I hope it makes people more inclined to come and listen to pan music in its birthplace and feel the energy that comes with it. It really is like nothing else.

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