Google Doodles celebrates ‘The Steelpan’

Home*Cover Story*News

Google Doodles celebrates ‘The Steelpan’

Google is honouring the national instrument of T&T, the steelpan, by highlighting it as a Google Doodles Tuesday.

The Doodle was illustrated by T&T-based artist Nicholas Huggins and music composed by Etienne Charles.


Today’s Doodle celebrates the steelpan, a percussion instrument made of metal, created and influenced by Trinbagonians. It’s the only acoustic instrument invented in the twentieth century, but has origins dating back to the 1700’s. It was a staple during Carnival and Canboulay, the annual harvest festivals celebrated in Trinidad, and is still used in contemporary music. On this day in 1951, the Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) performed at the Festival of Britain, introducing the steelpan and a new music genre to the world.

When enslaved Africans were brought to Trinidad by colonialists in the 1700’s, they brought over their African heritage and traditions of rhythmic drumming with them. When slavery was abolished between 1834 and 1838, Trinidadians joined in on Carnival festivities with their drums. However in 1877, government officials banned their drumming because they feared that the drumming would be used to send messages that would inspire rebellion. In protest of this ban, musicians started to pound tuned bamboo tubes on the ground as alternatives to mimic the sound of their drums. These ensembles were called Tamboo Bamboo bands.

Another ban came in 1930, when rival Tamboo Bamboo bands would cause disturbances during Carnival and other street festivals. These bands then looked to a new alternative to carry their rhythm: metal objects such as car parts, paint pots, dustbins, biscuit tins and thus the idea of the pan was born.

During World War II, Carnival was forbidden due to security reasons, and musicians began experimenting with the unique instrument to improve the sound quality. Overtime, dents were hammered into the surface of these objects, which played different notes depending on the size, position and shape. In 1948, after the war ended, the musicians switched to using the 55 gallon oil drums discarded by the oil refineries. In addition to changing the shape of the drum surface, they found that changing the length of the drum allowed complete scales from bass to soprano. This formed the basis for the modern version of the pan. The steelpan grew and developed into a legitimate instrument through the likes of pioneers and innovators such as Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall. Many of their innovations and techniques are still used today.

The steelpan is now the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and is a source of great pride and true resilience for its citizens. Steelpans are now enjoyed in concert calls like Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and more. Whether in the UK or Japan, Senegal or the States, the steelpan is an internationally recognized instrument that reminds listeners of its island origins stated.