It began with the congo drum. In 1883, the Act of Emancipation became effective in Trinidad. With this Act, the once silent drums of Africa, rose again to express the joy of freedom felt by the black man. The first bands were formed for the purpose of celebrating emancipation and the music of these bands was only appreciated by one sector of Trinidadian society – the ex African slaves. This celebration was known as the Cannes Brulées which translated means ‘cane fire’.
For the African the formation of these bands heralded the re-
These bands also recreated the human idea of territory and jurisdiction, fighting and rules. When boundaries were not observed, fighting would invariably lead to a stickfight in which one representative from each band would fight to the background chants and Kalinda songs of these bands. If blood was drawn from the head of either opponent, the other was declared winner. No man could strike another when he was on the ground and no one could intercede.
The structure of forms within the Cannes Brulées celebrations practised by the Kalinda bands, remained as cultural forms practised by the African only and just as “whites” prosecuted the African, so too did they prosecute his art forms. The “whites” held both political and economic clout and they used their power to prosecute Cannes Brulees by passing laws which restrained and sometimes prohibited the celebration.
The taste of freedom and the experience of holding some of power, however, prompted the African to voice his opinion in a society which had almost never heard his voice. He suggested that the
Cannes Brulees be held on Mardi Gras, a white upper middle class fete. The whites did not appreciate this intrusion and retaliated by passing even harsher laws. But the first move had been made towards a Trinidadian society which would take note of the black man and the African did not give up the music which allowed him to do so.
The Kalinda bands continued to prosper as an underground art outside of Port of Spain, in areas like Tunapuna Arima, Freeport arid Brasso far from rigid government control. The whites thought that once left alone, the art would die; but it grew and began to encompass not only the African but all members of the lower class.
It prospered until the law totally condemned the African drum. The lower class however could not let go of the music and art form which gave them substance. This prompted further growth toward the steelband and a more integrated society as the tamboo bamboo was formed.
The structure of the tamboo bamboo band was the same as the Kalinda band.
Its instruments -
Later the whites again used their power to suppress its development. But, as we have seen when the congo drum was banned, the passing of laws could not stop the tamboo bamboo bands. Instead the laws forced the bands to change their instruments. The alienated lower middle class needed the continued musical support to satisfy and add substance to their human existence.
The steelband then emerged from the barrack yards of Port of Spain as the replacement where neither the Kalinda bands nor the tamboo bamboo band could exist even secretly as they did in Maraval and Arima. The beating of tins then flowed out of areas like La Cou Harpe, Eastern, Port of Spain, John John, Hell Yard and Newtown.
This emergence began in the late 1930’s and early 40’s (1938-
Again the lower class individual had to find a way to produce his band. He found a way through the East Indian festival of Hoosay. Since there were no restrictions on Indian cultural forms, the African joined the Hoosay and played the tops of paint pans and other drums from the waist instead of using steel bars.
The steelband had already succeeded in drawing two factions of the society together: the Africans and East Indians.
The instrument grew and developed increasing its range of notes. A steelband association was formed in 1949 and began lobbying for the proper acceptance of pan as a social phenomenon. Gradually it was accepted and so a part of the alienated lower classes of the society was accepted into the general flow.
Today the steelband and its art form continues to affect the lives of the society since its status has been greatly upgraded.
One of the most important effects of pan is that is has brought the racial elements of the society together even though the instrument is of the African percussion strain, for it has integrated the characteristics of the European orchestra in order to perform classical pieces, jazz pieces and calypsos. The Asian strains have also been adopted from the inception of pan when pan was used in Hoosay, as the beating of the tin with sticks like an Indian drum introduced.
Pan through the eyes of Trinidadians and Tobagonians and the wider Caribbean is seen as geographic communities, not talked about in ethnic terms. One talks of Despers of Laventille, Fonclaire from South, Angel Harps from Central, the steelband from Guyana that played in the Festival.
Pan now also serves as a form of musical therapy. Previously it served as an instrument on which the insecurities and frustrations of the lower class could be played out. Now the healing effect of steelband music is felt by every pannist. This musical therapy continues even further as steelband music serves to discipline and regularise the community.