Google’s Doodle Spotlights On This Caribbean Musical Instrument

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Tues. July 26, 2022: Google is putting the spotlight today on a Caribbean musical instrument – the only acoustic instrument invented in the twentieth century.

Today, July 26, 2022, the Google Doodle celebrates the steelpan, a percussion instrument made of metal, created and influenced by Trinbagonians. It’s the only acoustic instrument invented in the twentieth century, but has origins dating back to the 1700’s.

It was a staple during Carnival and Canboulay, the annual harvest festivals celebrated in Trinidad, and is still used in contemporary music. On July 26th in 1951, the Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) performed at the Festival of Britain, introducing the steelpan and a new music genre to the world.

Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Trinidad & Tobago-based guest artist Nicholas Huggins and composed by Miami-based musician Etienne Charles and Lennox “Boogsie” Sharpe The other steelpan musicians who worked on the project were: Josanne Francis, Jonathan Castro andLuke Walker.

See and hear it HERE

The Google Doodle of July 26, 2022 on the Trinidad and Tobago steelpan. (Illustrations by  Nicholas Huggins)

Says Huggins of the project: “When I was first approached to tackle such a culturally significant topic for this Doodle, I was a bit nervous because I wanted the story being told to be one that Trinbagonians worldwide would be proud of. I was also very excited because I love creating art that showcases Trinidad & Tobago and this Doodle will allow my country to be showcased on one of the biggest online stages.”

Charles commented: “First thoughts were those to contain my excitement to get to work with Boogsie on the music, as well as with Nick, Angelica and the whole google team. Then it was figuring out a process.  Luckily, I had just finished a global steelband project, but this one was a collaborative composition with Boogsie and myself, so he recorded ideas into a phone and sent them to me. From there, I added my part to compliment and arranged the whole piece.”

Nicholas says he hopes “… that people can take away the sense of the industriousness and creativity of the people of Trinidad & Tobago.”

“We are a small country on the global stage but the fact that we have given the world such a beautiful instrument is something to be held in the highest regard,” he added.

“I’d like people to feel the magic in the steelpan,” said Etienne. “An instrument born out of Afro-descendant resistance in Trinidad.  A symbol of community, artistic excellence, and scientific innovation. Hopefully this makes people more inclined to come hear pan in its birthplace and feel the energy that comes from it. It’s really like nothing else.”

HISTORY OF THE STEEL PLAN

When enslaved Africans were brought to Trinidad and Tobago by colonialists in the 1700’s, they brought over their African heritage and traditions of rhythmic drumming with them. When slavery was abolished between 1834 and 1838, Trinidadians joined in on Carnival festivities with their drums. However, in 1877, government officials banned their drumming because they feared that the drumming would be used to send messages that would inspire rebellion. In protest of this ban, musicians started to pound tuned bamboo tubes on the ground as alternatives to mimic the sound of their drums. These ensembles were called Tamboo Bamboo bands.

Another ban came in 1930, when rival Tamboo Bamboo bands would cause disturbances during Carnival and other street festivals. These bands then looked to a new alternative to carry their rhythm: metal objects such as car parts, paint pots, dustbins, biscuit tins and thus the idea of the pan was born.

During World War II, Carnival was forbidden due to security reasons, and musicians began experimenting with the unique instrument to improve the sound quality. Overtime, dents were hammered into the surface of these objects, which played different notes depending on the size, position and shape. In 1948, after the war ended, the musicians switched to using the 55-gallon oil drums discarded by the oil refineries. In addition to changing the shape of the drum surface, they found that changing the length of the drum allowed complete scales from bass to soprano. This formed the basis for the modern version of the pan. The steelpan grew and developed into a legitimate instrument through the likes of pioneers and innovators such as Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall. Many of their innovations and techniques are still used today.

The steelpan is now the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and is a source of great pride and true resilience for its citizens. Steelpans are now enjoyed in concert calls like Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and more. Whether in the UK or Japan, Senegal or the States, the steelpan is an internationally recognized instrument that reminds listeners of its island origins.