The Story of Steelbands and the Steelband Art Form in Aruba - UpClose!

A When Steel Talks Exclusive

Aruba flag

Perhaps nothing captures the island mood more than the music of the steel pan, which is made from a 55-gallon oil drum. Leonard Turner, a Trinidadian immigrant who worked at the Lago Oil Refinery, was the first to introduce steel bands in Aruba, making instruments from oil drums collected from Lago Oil Refinery. Steel pans reached the height of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, providing music for carnival. Today, only a few remain. Known as the father of steel pan, the late Edgar Connor mastered the craft of tuning and building steel pan; his sons continue the tradition and are accomplished steel pan players.   ...Aruba Tourism Authority

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Leonard Turner, a Trinidadian immigrant who worked at the Lago Oil Refinery, was the first to introduce steel bands in Aruba. Being unhappy with the lack of entertainment on the island Turner recruited a group of young men and they began experimenting with music.

In 1948 Turner formed his first steelband, known as the Invaders. In 1950  he joined forces with Naldo Brown and formed another steel orchestra, named Shoo-Shoo Baby and Aruba All Star Boys.

Aruba steelband
1957 - Aruba Invaders Win First  Panorama - photo by Dr. Meiners

They started making their steel pans from oil drums collected from the Lago Oil Refinery. The barrels were formed by hammering the bottoms with a sledge hammer until they had the right shape and tone.

The group increasingly started to play variants of the samba, rumba and other popular music on their home-made instruments. As their rhythm and appearance became more common, and popularity grew, more and more musicians joined. Some of the steel bands grew to over forty musicians.

In 1951 a steelband from Trinidad arrived, exposing the steelpan scene to men like Naldo Brown, Edgar Connor, Dennis Jones and others.

Noormannen-steelband in 1961 - Aruba
Noormannen-steelband in 1961- Aruba Carnival  - photo by Dr. Meiners

The first Carnival steel band competition ever was organized in 1964. Eight steel bands competed in a legendary competition. The Merrymakers, the Devils, the Curacao Heroes, the Long Gun Boys, the Paradera Steelband, The Silver Stars, The Allstars, and the Aruba Invaders were all talented groups which produced the most amazing sounds. Finally the Aruba Invaders won with their variant of the Theme from Exodus, making them the first Aruban steel band competition winners.

Steelband uit San Nicolas, 1969
Steelband uit San Nicolas, 1969 - photo by Dr. Meiners

By the 1960s multiple steel bands were providing music for the carnival parades. This went on for over 30 years, although carnival steel bands were most popular in 1978, where a total of 18 steel bands featured in the steel band competition. Unfortunately, the amount of musical panmen decreased in the 1990s because of a lack of institutional support and appreciation. Today, steel bands are almost a lost art. You will rarely ever see a steel band in a parade, although one or two may exist.

Aruba steelband 1962
1962 Aruba Steelband - photo by Dr. Meiners

Rising Star
Carnival 1972 - see more

1968 Panorama Champions
March 1968 Panorama Champions Invaders  - See more

Esso and Lt Governor
Lt. Governor of Aruba O. S. Henriquez and Lago PR Administrator O. V. Antonette are here with brand new pans and drums marked "Aruba Esso Steel- band" to shipment to Curacao. The 23-piece steelband set is Lago's gift to the patients of the Psychiatric Institute "Rustoord". - See more Esso News 1972

Edgar Conner
Steel Orchestra Contest in Wilhelmina Stadium on February 5.The first place winners were the "Aruba Invaders" of San Nicolas. In picture above Carnival Foundation President Milo Croes hands winner's trophy to Edgar Conner, leader of the Aruba Invaders.  - see more: Esso News Special Issue 1972

Steelband in Aruba : eco di un gran epoca Part 1 of 2

Steelband in Aruba : eco di un gran epoca Part 2 of 2

Aruba 1965

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