Fox Carnival Band
    Steel Pans at Notting Hill carnival
Steel pans at Carnival

Steel Pans at Carnival
The Caribbean musical heritage is incredibly rich, with many traditions, such as drumming, that date back to the time of slavery. It is also the birthplace of reggae, which comes from Jamaica.

But, in the Caribbean Carnival, steel bands have a pride of place. The sounds they make are shimmering and brilliant. Yet they owe their use as instruments to deprivation. "Steelpan" playing is in fact re-cycling, because the pans in question are discarded oil drums.

Pan playing was developed during the 1940s, when Trinidad's Colonial government banned the playing of African drums customized with local bamboo.

Finding leftover oil drums from the island's refineries, musicians soon worked out that banging them created indentions which could yield musical tones. A whole science soon grew up: how to change the shape, and tone, of a drum by heating its metal; how to "tune" it, how many indentations to make – and how to play it.

Today's steel bands inherit this remarkable history, filled with experiments and inventiveness. (CLICK HERE to learn more or HERE to hear from a UK steelpan pioneer).

British ears first heard these rhythms in 1951, when the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra came to play at the Festival of Britain. Their art was greeted with such overwhelming enthusiasm that the "the pans" even gained clout back at home.

Now, there are steelpan bands all over the world (CLICK HERE to discover some). But their sound remains synonymous with Carnival Caribbean-style.

Helping Out
Carnival Year by Year