Black History Month: Pan-Africanism and the Connecting of the Steel Drum/Steelpan to Black History

Most people with a basic knowledge of the history of the steel drum/steelpan/pan, have no difficulty in connecting the percussive instrument to its Trinidad origins. However, few are able to make the connection between the instrument and “Black History”. Arguably, not many are aware of steelpan’s Western African (Yoruba) roots. In celebration and honor of Black History Month 2021, Panicle USA will bring into focus this overlooked contribution to Black history, namely, the STEELBAND. Naturally, as with other African contributions to the arts, today’s “steel orchestra” appears more diverse than the early “steelbands”. Factually, the “inventors” and earliest practitioners were documented as being young, Black men from “underprivileged areas”.

“In Africa, we ‘invented’ the talking drum. In Trinidad, we ‘invented’ the singing drum.” George D. Goddard

In 1963, George “Sonny” Goddard (my dad), as co-founder of the inaugural Steelbands Panorama, would express disgust over the marginalization of the (predominantly) Black “steelbandsman” [sic]. Sadly, race and class remain inconvenient factors in post-Colonial Trinidad and Tobago in every facet of society. It becomes more of a coincidence then, that “Pan-Africanism” (as a construct) aims at connecting ALL “Black people” in the Diaspora. “Pan” and “Africanism” as hyphenated, conjoined twin! Of course, effective Pan-Africanism requires connections with (BOTH) the “Motherland” (Alkebulan/Africa), and with each other as the “scattered seeds” in the Daispora (i.e. African-Americans and Caribbean/West Indian people of African descent).

Unfortunately, African-Americans were never adequately exposed to the “steelband culture” of Trinidad and Tobago, and, as a consequence, only a handful feel a connection to it, in terms of its “Africanness”, and their claim to it (being African descendants themselves). We, at Panicle USA, aim to function as “cultural ambassadors” as we remain focused on connecting this (steelband) subculture to the African Diaspora in the United States. Stay plugged in to our website, as we will be adding featured articles, videos and photos, that will make the connection as discussed. Happy Black History Month!

George D. Goddard, B. A.

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