What is Pan Music?

Pan music starts with a drum – a drum, but a very unusual one. The steelpan is a large family of highly-crafted steel drums, which range from the lead (soprano) pan to the nine-bass. The former is made from a single, sawed-off 55-gallon oil drum and the latter from nine of the same barrels but full-sized. Yet the instrument started off as a makeshift item of percussion – any old metal container which could keep a loud rhythm.

With the invention of a mysterious technique whereby a single steel drum could be made to play up to 32 loud, concert-pitch notes, the instrument became complex. Today the music of Trinidad and Tobago steelbands rivals in artistry and inventiveness any other modern music.

Yet the instrument and its ensembles remained simple, because these huge organisations, some of which are over 60 years old and larger than any symphony orchestra, are about communion.

Transcending Barriers Worldwide

Pan Music is not just unique in its instrument. No other global institution so completely transcends the barriers separating people into races, ethnicities, classes, generations, religions, genders and nationalities. In any Trinidad and Tobago steelband you could see Caribbean people, Americans, Europeans, Japanese, Africans, young and old, male and female, Christians, Muslims and Hindus.

Enthusiasm for pan music has spread far beyond the region. There are hundreds of steelbands in the US, where it is taught in several colleges, and over 135 in Switzerland. The Nigerian army has a steelband, as do the Dutch police force and the US Navy. Steelbands can be found in almost every corner of the globe, those outside Trinidad and Tobago far outnumbering those inside.

Yet the thrill of being in a steelband only attains its transcendent heights in the panyards of the gigantic Trinidad and Tobago bands, where the pleasures of following the growth of an arrangement, attending nightly practice sessions and rehearsal before competition, either as a player or an enthusiast, are as powerful and as intimate as being in love. This profound experience reaches back to the origin of music, when everyone had a role and the pleasure of music-making bonded small Neolithic clans together, just as the pleasures of sex served to reproduce them.

Now the Panorama competition involves more active participants and larger audiences than any other event. Hundreds of steelbands, including those in schools, represent some of T&T’s most vibrant community groups, involving thousands of men, women, boys and girls.

Pan Music Available to Listen and Buy Online

Click here to find a great selection of Pan Music, available to purchase online from some of the best steelbands in Trinidad and Tobago!

    PAN! Our Music Odyssey is a transmedia project promoting the steelband movement internationally with an 80 minute docudrama, telling the human adventure of Pan from its genesis, through reenactment stories, to its propagation all around the world.