Research Question

The steel pan is an object that currently holds much importance in the Caribbean culture and is an instrument that was made out of innovation and curiosity. As stated previously in my historical analysis of the object, the working class developed the steel pan during carnival time. Since then it gained popular attention and ultimately ended up becoming a national symbol for the country of Trinidad and Tobago. What I intend on researching further and honing in on is the process of becoming a national identity. What makes an object an identity, and how can an object attach a national identity to a person who doesn’t own it nor knows how to play it. This is interesting to me for research purposes because although the instrument is nationally accepted, what kinds of processes did it go through to gain this recognition and what stages does an object have to go through in order to obtain such a designation.

This object was seen as a way to express oneself and was used by the lower class, so I also want to key in on the transition of the steel pan not only as an identity, but the steel pan as a socioeconomic symbol and how it helped to drive cohesiveness for a nation. This is an instrument that has changed hands since its inception and I am going to not only follow it through time, but also demonstrate how changes in time and status created a diasporic culture of music from one instrument. However, my main focus for this piece will be how an object can forge a national identity and the implications that must be considered throughout this process.

By shaunpoon

Object Social/Cultural Context of the Steel pan

The steel pan is an instrument which has a very significant cultural following, as mentioned in my previous post, this instrument was created out of a cultural festival based in Trinidad and Tobago and has followed not only the Trinidadian diaspora, but the Caribbean diaspora as well. This instrument can be traced to various parts of the world where Caribbean Diasporas tend to migrate, such as North America, Europe, and to a certain extent Asia. When you consider this object it is seen as a musical symbol for the country of Trinidad and Tobago, and an icon in its musical culture. Originally this object was seen as an instrument of the working class, otherwise known as the “grassroots” (the marginally poor or unemployed), however that has completely changed context in modern society as the object has retained much value and is not an inexpensive object, or as easily created from oil drums (Stuempfle 3).

Over time as the instrument has been modified it has taken on a more intricate design and has been perfected for pitch, size and tune therefore it has created more value for itself and is not typically an object/instrument of the “working class”. In the past it was seen to cause more clashes between bands in Trinidad and received much hostility from the upper/middle class, however now it is an instrument that is in a price range which is more fitting for the middle/upper class, and less attainable for lower income individuals. Nonetheless, since its inception, the object garnered much negativity as it was seen as a threat to social order, but overtime it gained support and became a national symbol for the country. No matter how you position it, in todays Caribbean culture this object is seen as a memento of Caribbean culture and music, and has been accepted throughout the Caribbean diaspora



Stuempfle, Stephen. The Steelband Movement / the Forging of a National Art in Trinidad and Tobago. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1995. Print.

By shaunpoon

History of the Steel Pan


Originated in the country of Trinidad & Tobago, the steel pan came to be as a result of innovation. The time of Carnival in Trinidad takes place two days before Lent and is a celebration consisting of parades, costumes, music, dancing and all sorts of entertainment. It is claimed that the pan was developed during the World War 2 period in Trinidad, following a band on “stick bands” forcing people to search for alternatives. Searching junk yards some young men realized that a sounds could be made through interaction with the base of a garbage bin at a certain angle and began to create dents to tweak sounds. Over a series of years they created an instrument out of an oil drum and added 25-30 tones on one object (Seegar 52). It is truly an instrument which has and currently has many owners, of many types, many ages and ethnicities, as well as many variations as it is used in bands, solo acts and various others. It has created festivals around the world and brought fame to organizations and concerts alike.

Considering the history of such an object and its original purpose, this object has transformed significantly over time, we can trace it back to steel, an alloy consisting of iron and carbon, then to the development of the oil drum for commodification and finally the transformation of the oil drum into a steel pan after years of development. However, since the creation of the steel drum/pan, there has been one use, and one use only, the ability to use it  for outputting amazing sounds. If we isolate the instrumental purpose from the steel pan, attach the base and smelt it, then we can get a series of uses and purposes, but this particular object was designed as an instrument and stays true to that use since its conception. Throughout the course of time, the instrument has only adapted with time, once was used as a instrument played while hanging from the body, and now it is more stationary, it has even been transformed into a digital version called the “E-Pan”.

Created from the country of Trinidad, the instrument has been become global; after being heavily integrated into the Caribbean music scene, the steel pan can be traced to North America, South America, and even Asia where there are various groups around the world playing this beautiful instrument. Although a more recent discovery and development, this instrument is one that has brought popularity and bliss to the music industry, and has also created a scholarly following listed below.

People/bands – Tony Guppy – Panorama (Steel Band contest)

Scholarly sources

Aho, William R (1987):Steelband Music in Trinidad and Tobago:The Creation of a People’s Music. Latin American Music Review, Vol.8, No.1, 1987, pgs. 26-58

Grant, Cy (1999):Ring of Steel – Pan Sound and Symbol. Macmillan Education, London. 1999

Kronman, Ulf. Steel Pan Tuning: A Handbook for Steel Pan Making and Tuning. Stockholm, Sweden: Musikmuseet, 1992. Print.

Seeger, P. (1964):”Steel drums – how to play them and make them”, Oak. Publ. New York.

Stuempfle, Stephen (1995):The steelband movement : the forging of a national art in Trinidad and Tobago, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.


By shaunpoon