In the weeks leading up to Lent, the rhythms of Carnaval reverberate throughout Central and South America. In Trinidad, the signature sound of Carnaval is the Steel Drum Band. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
Gage Averill is an associate professor in the Department of Music at New York University.
“The steel drum was born in the period around and after World War II. It grew out of Afro-Trinidadian Carnaval ensembles that were using other instruments. For a long time in the 19th century, people were primarily using African-style drums. But these, along with a number of other elements of African Carnaval, were banned by colonial authorities who were trying to keep Carnaval a more pristine, middle-class event. So they banned drums, and people responded by using lengths of bamboo tube, banging them on the ground to get a certain note. And these groups, that were known as Tamboo Bamboo bands, were the most popular instrumental ensemble at Carnaval.”
To beef up their bands’ sound, Trinidadian percussionists began to experiment with other materials found on their island, including oil drums and garbage cans.
“Around this time, a couple of innovators found they could, out of a pitch oil barrel or even a biscuit bin, get a couple of different notes by banging a little section out. They began to elaborate them into sets, you know, not just a single barrel, but two together to get more range, or using bigger barrels to get a bass sound, and little barrels to get a high melody. And this is the origins of the steel band. By the 1950’s they were playing Western orchestral music. And they toured a famous band to England. And this is considered the beginning of the exposure of the steel band to the world.”
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.
THE MUSIC HEARD IN THE BACKGROUND OF THIS PROGRAM IS THE GROUP “LAVENTILE SOUND SPECIALISTS” PLAYING “PAN IN YUH PAN” ON THE CD “PAN ALL NIGHT.” FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT DELOS INTERNATIONAL,INC. HOLLYWOOD AND VINE PLAZA,1645 NORTH VINE ST., SUITE 340, HOLLYWOOD, CA, 90028. TEL #800-364-0645