What is a steelpan? Instrument featured in Google Doodle explained

Advertisement

The Doodle is an illustrative change to the Google logo that celebrates milestones such as anniversaries and the lives of famous artists, pioneers and scientists throughout the year.

Register to our Mazic News Today Newsletter

The new animation, shown to millions of people worldwide on the Google homepage, celebrates the history of the Steelpan and the enduring legacy it created.

Advertisement
Steelpan Google Doodle (Google Images)

What is a steel pan?

The steel pan emerged in the 1930s and has since become an icon of Trinidadian culture.

Advertisement

It is considered to be one of the few large acoustic musical instruments made in the 20th century.

A steelpan is a large silver metal drum, often placed on a stand, and played with two straight sticks.

Advertisement

A series of dents are hammered into the shiny metal surface and each creates a different note, subtly different from the surrounding ones depending on position and size.

History of the steel pan

Advertisement

Although the steelpan gained prominence in the 1930s, the instrument’s origins date back to the 18th century.

In the 1700s, enslaved Africans were brought to Trinidad by colonialists. They brought their long musical drumming tradition with them.

Advertisement

After emancipation in 1834, the celebrations grew more powerful and their slaves began creating their own festivals, fueled by drum music.

What followed was a series of bans by the government, in 1887 the government banned performers from drumming over fears it would help stir up rebellion from local communities.

Advertisement

In protest of this ban, musicians began banging tuned bamboo tubes on the floor as an alternative to replicate the sounds of their drums. These ensembles were called Tamboo Bamboo Bands.

Another ban followed in 1930 when rival Tamboo Bamboo bands caused trouble during carnivals and other festivals.

Advertisement

It was at this point that the steel pan came into its own and musicians began experimenting with new alternatives to continue their rhythm. Metal objects such as car parts, paint pots, and trash cans were all used.

Tim Wall of Birmingham City University said: “Slaves were stripped of their cultural identities, their names, their music, so they created new music with things lying around.”

Advertisement

The Steelpan in today’s society

After the end of World War II in 1948, musicians switched to using the 55-gallon drums that were being discarded by oil refineries, and the steelpan grew and became a legitimate instrument through pioneers and innovators such as Winston Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall.

Advertisement

The steelpan is now closely associated with the national carnival celebrations in Trinidad & Tobago and symbolizes national pride.

Trinidad and Tobago-based artist Nicholas Huggins, who illustrated the Doodle, said, “I hope people can take away the sense of industriousness and creativity from the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Advertisement