The Jump Up Steelband


Steel pan (also steelpan, steel drum): a pitched percussion instrument fashioned from empty 55-gallon oil barrels. The steel pan appeared in an early form in Trinidad during the late 1930s and emerged from an environment of oppression. When the British outlawed African skin drums in Trinidad during the late 1800s, drummers turned to bamboo tubes and formed "tambou bamboo" bands (from the French "tambour" for drums). The bamboo stalks were cut into different lengths and then either beat with sticks or thumped on the ground to sound bass tones. These bands were extremely competitive and, in an effort to be heard above the rest, drummers took to supplementing the bamboo by banging on bottles and metal objects such as pots, pans, biscuit tins, garbage can lids, dust bins and automobile parts. Winston "Spree" Simon loaned his favorite "drum" to a friend and when it was returned, found that it had been beaten out of shape. During the process of pounding it back, he discovered that he could sound various musical notes by striking different sized dents in the metal. At this time, the metal drums moved from being primarily rhythmic instruments to melodic ones. Ellie Mannette is also credited as being one of the inventors of steel pan and was the first to form convex notes on a concave surface. He is also said to be the first to choose discarded oil barrels as the material of choice and had many to choose from due to the presence of a U.S. Naval Station and oil refineries. The steel pan underwent a great amount of development during WWII and continues to be refined today. One development was the move from the use of wooden sticks to rubber tipped mallets. Another was the introduction of harmonics. Sometimes referred to as "steel drums" the instrument and the artform is simply called "pan" in Trinidad. Today, steel pans are sophisticated, chromatic instruments that can be constructed in soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass ranges.

Trinidad (Trinidad and Tobago or T&T): birthplace of steel pan and calypso. This republic of two islands (and a number of smaller ones) is the southernmost in the Caribbean chain. It is located roughly seven miles off the coast of Venezuela and was once a part of the South American mainland. Originally settled by Amerindians (from South America), it has been occupied in turn by the Spanish, British, Dutch and French.  T&T also has a history of slavery and indentured servitude, with laborers coming from Africa, Portugal, China, India and the Middle East. T&T is made up of approximately 1.3 million people (or "Trinis") and is one of the most ethnically diverse of the Caribbean islands. It is also one of the most prosperous, due to the presence of petroleum, natural gas and asphalt. Its Pitch Lake is the largest natural resource of asphalt in the world. T&T is also home to House of Angostura, the famous producer of bitters. Manhattans anyone?

Jump Up: a party with dancing and carrying on. Commonly associated with Carnival, but good anytime.

Calypso: song form developed in the early 1900s by Trinidadian slaves of West African descent. The music is an amalgam of African rhythm, French troubadour music, British sea chanteys and other sources. Since the slaves were not allowed to speak to each other, they often used song to communicate and to make fun of the slave masters. Later, calypso became a way to spread news or to satirize a political or social situation. Kaiso!

Soca: a contraction of the two words "soul" and "calypso." Believed to have been developed by the calypsonian Lord Shorty (later known as Ras Shorty, following his conversion to Rastafarianism) in the 1970s. It is a more uptempo version of calypso and incorporates rhythmic elements of soul and funk. A more recent development is rapso, a combination of soca and hip hop.

Reggae: music form developed in Jamaica around the late 1960s. Reggae is a slower version of its precursors mento, ska and rocksteady and is characterized by it's rhythm guitar "skank" on the upbeats and prominent bass lines. Bob Marley was its most famous practitioner. Irie!

Engine Room: the non-pitched percussion section of the steelband. These instruments commonly include drumset, hand drums, scrapers and irons (see "Iron Section" below).

Iron Section: this section of the steelband is comprised of musicians striking automobile brake drums with short metal rods, and it produces one of the most distinctive sounds in soca music. Often times, three rhythmic lines are played simultaneously to form a single, interlocking pattern.

Panorama: the steelband competition that is held in Trinidad every year. Regional and preliminary performances take place all over the island during the month before the finals, which is held on the Saturday before Carnival at the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Each band spends an intensive period in its panyard learning and rehearsing the calypso that it will perform for the competition. This calypso will run through numerous variations and end up approximately eight or nine minutes in length. The bands can be comprised of 100 or more musicians in the large band category and are judged on the arrangement and presentation of the piece, as well as the tone of the instruments. Another steelband competition, Pan is Beautiful, is held every two years. In this event, each steelband must perform (1) a piece by a composer of Caribbean descent and (2) a selection by a composer of any origin. For the second piece, many steelbands will choose a classical music theme or an entire movement from a symphony.