The steel drum ensemble has a relatively recent history, emerging in Trinidad in the 1930s out of jump-up groups who marched in festive Carnival processions banging all manner of car parts, pots, pans and tins, until the loose concept of a "steel orchestra" began to take shape. Things were helped along immeasurably when Winston "Spree" Simon began exploring the melodic possibilities of the steel oil drum, eventually developing a 14-note drum in the late 1940s. The steel drum, or "pan," was struck like a drum but played like a keyboard, and pan groups quickly applied the instrument to all sorts of styles, from military marches to jazz and classical pieces, although calypso was usually the preferred form. More recent steel bands have taken pan music into bold experiments in funk and fusion and beyond, and given that the steel drum is an almost perfect representational instrument for the cast off nature of the contemporary age, it makes for a pretty amazing story of art and music literally rising out of the junkyard.
Here are some fine steel band jams for a warm autumn afternoon:
The Esso Trinidad Steel Band - "I Want You Back"
The Hell's Gate Steel Band - "Blowing in the Wind"
The Rising Sun Steel Band - "Battle Hymn of the Republic"
The B.W.I.A Sunset Steel Band - "To Sir With Love"
The Esso Trinidad Steel Band - "Sabre Dance"