It’s really difficult to trace the origin of the very first steelpan or steel drum. Many historians believe it dates back to the days of slavery.
But what we do know is that the tenor pan or ping pong steelpan is the invention and brainchild of Winston “Spree” Simon.
And yes of course he’s Trinidadian. Trinidad is the home of the steelpan after all and it’s our national instrument. It’s the birthplace of steelpan and steelpan music.
The beautiful thing about the steelpan is that it was born out of poverty, made from discarded biscuit tins and drums that were waste materials and used by those who could not afford more traditional instruments.
It also came from wanting to find a voice. African drumming which was very popular then, was frowned upon by the authorities. But the people needed a way to express themselves, to be heard through music, and they started experimenting.
It happened by accident. Winston Simon had a kettle drum (a one note instrument) which he loaned to a friend and when it was returned it was misshapen and had lost its sound. In trying to reshape it he noticed different sounds coming from different areas of the drum.
His first iteration was only 4 notes. But then he was able to increase to 9 and then 14 clear notes.
Winston Simon was part of the group that introduced the steelpan to Europe, touring London and Paris in 1951 as a member of Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra.
If you’ve never heard the steelpan being played, the notes are so sweet it touches your soul.
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