When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

by Leroy “Jughead” Gordon

Many of the aristocratic elements in the society stuck up their noses at the steelband men and their music and sought to have them banned from playing on the streets. Government at one time even sought to pass a law giving the police the right to go in the pan yards and confiscate (a government word for stealing) the pans. The bands got together and formed an association and put an article in a local paper, that if the Government was going to band the steelpan which the association considered as instruments, then they would have to ban organs, pianos, guitars, and trumpets too.

At this time in Antigua, the governor, the Earl of Baldwin, a very humane gentleman was sympathetic with the panmen for he loved what he heard and championed the cause of the steelband. He said, people were making complaints, but their dogs made more noise than the steelband, for by 10:00pm, there was no steelbands, but the dogs barked all through the night and he passed a bill allowing the steelband to play on the road anytime. This result even raised the pressure off their counterparts in Trinidad who were experiencing the same difficulties...

In 1945, Antigua and Barbuda experienced a new cultural phenomenon, the steelpan, which later heralded the steelband movement, which was piloted by individuals who lived in some of the most depressed areas on the island.

In those days, the refineries in Curacao offered the best opportunities for people from Antigua and the other islands in terms of employment, so there was a steady movement to and from both islands by boat which was the main source of transportation at the time. However, on a return trip to Antigua on “Lady Boat,” which was a passenger and cargo vessel, a stop in Trinidad to refuel was where a few Antiguans first heard the sweet sounds of the steelpan. They were fascinated by both the instrument and its sound and vowed to take this cultural innovation back to Antigua and Barbuda.

On returning home and reporting the good news of what was happening in Trinidad musically, a few men in the Point area who had earlier developed the “iron band” from old pieces of iron, scrap metals, hub caps, old tin pans and sticks which were discarded at the dump site, which is now home to the Port, decided to begin work on building a steelpan. Made from an empty steel oil drum, cut off in varying lengths to emit a range of tones, the pan is put through a process of hammering and heating, thus achieving a chromatic sound. Busta Carty from the Point area, who was very impressed with the steelpan and the sound it created was credited with bringing the first pan into Antigua from Trinidad. The pans built in Trinidad were more advanced than the ones built in Antigua, and as the new invention in music travelled across the island, the race was on to make something similar to the ones built in Trinidad. At that time, no rubber accompanied the sticks that the players used to beat the pans with in Antigua, even though later on, a ball of rubber bands at one end of the stick was introduced to beat the notes.

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