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My Story

I grew up in the part of Port of Spain colloquially known as, "behind the bridge" or "E.D.R." which stands for East (ofthe) Dry River. This district borders the western limits of the city’s overcrowded hillside. In the South East of the city, areas like Laventille or "the hill" and “John John”, are known to have made significant contributions to the evolution of the Pan.

In these city segments there was always this continues blend of rhythms that would surge spontaneously on the street corners from "the boys on the block”. Sometimes with no instruments and just using speech audio rhythms or “mouth band” as it was also called, these youths, the representatives of the urban counter-culture and virtual regarded as society’s outcasts, would build up a poly-rhythmic blend of percussions and sounds. At other times, they may get hold of an old milk can, a cardboard or wooden box, pieces of scrap iron, and the inevitable “bottle and spoon” which resulted in the playing of all these harmonic grooves.

My parents, like many other concerned parents at that time, never allowed me to participate in any of the poly-rhythmic blend of rhythms, which were continually present. Reason being there was the stigma of “outcasts” attached to the Pan players in its early stages of development.

In spite of parental restriction, from my humble home while in the still of the night, I could distinctly hear many of the major steel bands playing some of whom still exist today. Names like Highlanders, Trinidad All Stars, Renegades, Sputniks, City Syncopaters, Casablanca, Blue Diamonds and Tokyo to name a few. Each band possessed their own distinct sound.

It is this environment that is the foundation of my development as a percussionist in the Trinidad & Tobago Folklorist context of Kaiso (Calypso) rhythms, and its by product Kaiso Jazz and So-Ca.

Steel Pans- Its Early Beginning

Back in the late 1930s early 1940s the first Ping Pong or Melody Pan as it was then called (a claim stated by one of its inventors), was created by hammering out the pan into a convex shape using stones and pieces of wood. From that humble beginning and in the twin Caribbean Island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago some sixty years ago, the Pan or Steel Drum as it is also called by many of its non-Caribbean admirers, has evolved into a beautifully sounding chromatic percussion instrument of today.

However the birth of this instrument began from the African Hand Drum, brought to the Caribbean by the African slaves. Around the 1800’s, the Colonial authorities banned the African hand drum in an attempt to suppress non-European cultural expressions.

The Tamboo Bamboo ensemble took the place of African drums to provide rhythmic accompaniment for the Afro-Creole street culture. Kalinda, Dame Lorraine and carnival parades. Cut to different lengths and sizes, the bamboo band simulated the four main voices of the hand drum ensemble.

The transition from bamboo band to metal came around 1935. More durable containers like metal garbage bins and covers, biscuit drums, paint cans, brake drums, chamber pots and bottles and spoons replaced the delicate Bamboo.

Then came the ping-pong, or melody pan around 1935. Which was a small hand held pan cut from a paint tin or carbide container. The indentations made by striking it with wooden sticks, were pushed upwards to form small bumps, which were then tuned to different pitches. Controversy still surrounds the issue of the first person to play a melody on the pan.

Between 1935 and 1939, the steel band was mainly a percussion ensemble. Although a simple melody could be played on the ping-pong pan, they were used along with the five-note tenor kittle to provide a rhythmic `motif or riff to accompany a chant, which the crowd carried with encouragement from the band's chantwells. Other instruments included a two-note bass drum or du-dup, bottle and spoon, brake drums, a cuff boom, graters and other metal objects.

During the 50s and beyond, Anthony Williams, Ellie Mannette, Neville Jules, Rudolph ”Charlo” Charles and Bertie Marshall were some of the major innovators responsible for taking this beautifully sounding chromatic musical instrument to where it is today.

I am truly honored to have personally experienced the development of this 20th, century phenomenon

For more in-depth information on the history of the Steel Drums, please visit wikipedia

History fo Steel Drum Music

PO Box 505674
Chelsea, MA 02150
(617) 889-1678

Purpose Statement
Toby Tobas: Steel Drum Player, Steel Drum Band, or just Pan. Repertoire covers multiple musical styles such as Caribbean Folk, Calypso, Brazilian Bossa, Reggae, Kaiso”Calypso” Jazz, Afro Cuban & South American Favorites. Range also includes Latin Jazz, Easy Listening, and some pop variety as well. This unique sound is guaranteed to enhance your special event with state of the art production year round.

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