Steel pan drums are one of the most distinctly Caribbean sounds, besides of course, the lapping waves and your piña colada as it spins through the blender… Whether your familiarity ends with the ‘Little Mermaid’ soundtrack or not, steel pan music is a real delight!
The steel pan instrument was created on the island of Trinidad in the 1930s, but its roots are traced back to the enslaved Africans brought to the Caribbean in the 1700s. Out of necessity and ingenuity, these special drums evolved after more traditional instruments were banned. The early metal pan bands used a variety of metal containers and kitchen utensils, quickly learning that the sound varied based on the surface’s angle. The early versions of the steel pan drum were small and handheld, eventually evolving into today’s instrument, made from the bottom of a 55 gallon barrel. Making a steel pan drum is complicated, and requires skill, patience and practice! The barrel must be sunk down in a concave angle and tuned with precision.
Today, steel pan music is as popular as ever in the Caribbean, and can be found deeply intertwined with each island’s unique and shared culture. Carnival in the Caribbean is arguably the best time to experience the tradition of steel pan music. Though each island celebrates their own distinct Carnival at various times during the year, the steel pan is a universal feature in the music of each island. Carnival in St. Thomas is absolutely a time to celebrate this uniquely Caribbean musical instrument and style of music. One of the most famous and popular steel pan bands, the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra, can be found performing at almost every event during the month of carnival celebrations on St. Thomas. They’ve even performed at the White House!
Many restaurants and hotels in St. Thomas offer live entertainment for locals and guests alike, several of which include steel pan artists in their lineup. Bolongo Bay Beach Resort offers a carnival show with live music every week at Iggies Beach Bar and Grille – if you’re curious about local music or the steel pan, come check it out! Steel pan players are also a very popular addition to wedding ceremonies and receptions at Bolongo Bay, one of their wedding packages even includes this entertainment!