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An Interview with E-Pan Inventor Salmon Cupid

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Salmon E. Cupid
Salmon E. Cupid

Global - The steelpan is the only acoustical instrument invented in the twentieth century. And arguably and similarly, the synthesizer is another major development in the music arena.  Salmon E. Cupid has brought both the development of the steelpan and synthesizer together in the E-Pan, giving the steel panist the creative options.  In a WST (When Steel Talks) exclusive, Mr. Cupid talks about the development of this invention.

  • WST - “When did you first become involved with the steelpan instrument?”

    S. Cupid - “I became involved with the steelpan instrument as a young teenager growing up in Trinidad & Tobago.  I joined the St. Augustine Senior Comprehensive School Steelband1 (a.k.a. then as the Mean Green On Steel) and became captain.  We did several international tours to France and Scotland.  Conventionally, I played with the likes of Pamberi, birdsong, Invaders, All Stars and Renegades to name a few.  Pan Trinbago’s Richard Forteau has known me since the 80’s, following my career and ambitions, mentoring with helpful guidance and advice.”  

  • WST - “Currently you are also the Musical Director of the Toronto All Stars Steel Orchestra.  This organization has had some unique experiences; will you share some of those?”

    S. Cupid -  “With pride, I must say that I enjoy teaching the musical art form with the instrument known as the steelpan.  My students of the Rosedale Junior Public School2 along with parents and teachers have been so enthralled with all that it has given them, they created an alumni where T.A.S.S.O. (Toronto All Stars Steel Orchestra) was born, to continue and expand their horizons.  T.A.S.S.O. has performed at many events, including music festivals, competitions and charity occasions across the Greater Toronto Area, where they have racked up many prestigious awards and accolades.  Internationally, they have participated at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival3 in Aberdeen, Scotland (twice, as invited back), as well as the Australian International Music Festival (AIMF)4 in Sydney, Australia where their achievements were equally up to task and historic.  The moniker “All Stars” is not by coincidence as they have earned that title.”

  • WST - “You’ve spoken of the Sydney Opera House competition in Australia, where your group came away with the gold award.  What is that competition all about?”

    S. Cupid - “The Australian International Youth Festival is a worldwide festival held in Sydney annually.  To take part in that festival there is an audition process, where we had to present music CDs/DVDs along with an extensive bio of the band which was scrutinized by the management of the AIMF selection committee. Our performance repertoire had to consist of ninety minutes of music. If selected, bands have the opportunity to represent their country.  There is also a competitive aspect of the festival where each band has to present about twenty minutes of music.”

  • WST - “What was the experience like for Toronto All Stars?”

    S. Cupid - “By far, T.A.S.S.O.’s most unique events were its participation in international music festivals.   In 2004 and also in 2009, T.A.S.S.O. won auditions to represent Canada at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival which takes place in Scotland every summer.  In 2007, T.A.S.S.O. won yet another audition to represent Canada, this time at the Australia International Youth Festival in Sydney, with the tour climaxing at the world-famous Sydney Opera House. The festival hosted twenty-two bands from as many different countries. T.A.S.S.O. was the only steelband in the competition, where they performed at the Sydney Opera House and were presented with the GOLD award for that aspect of the festival.  After the winning performance at that venue, the management indicated to me that it was the first time a steelband had ever performed there. Playing at the Sydney Opera House and receiving such a prestigious award at this venue was very mind-blowing to T.A.S.S.O. ‘Steelpan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago’ has to mean more than just mere words. So more must be done to have steelbands touring out of Trinidad & Tobago promoting the country, culture and tourism.”

  • WST - “You are the inventor of the world’s first electronic synthesized steelpan - what lead you to invent this instrument?”

    S. Cupid - “Wise words say that “necessity is the mother of invention” and in my case, it was exactly that catalyst which provoked the birth to the e-pan.  The idea was conceived back in my youth more than 25 years ago. Subsequently, while I was on tour with St. Augustine (Green Machine) school band in Europe, as happens often in these cases, in playing and recording steelpan music in pan-yards, that is where I noticed that the quality often came up lacking in the delivery of the truest steelpan sounds and tones when miced. This was regardless of differing venues, but more so in less acoustic-friendly environments and even came into question with recording sessions.5

    As a matter of fact it crystallized in my mind when I was returning to a venue in Paris, when our band was setting up; I noticed and heard the distinct difference in delivery between our bands and others.  Our “miked” steelpan was much more difficult to clearly hear than other “miked”6 bands.  I thought to myself, we Trinis could do better to showcase our talents and started working on a solution.  My idea evolved more and more towards a solution but was secretly recorded and purposely kept dormant over time.  

    During that incubation period, continuous research and development was well documented under strict non-disclosure/trade-secret agreements and a utility patent applied for.  The e-pan invention was published with my IP rights fully protected, where the records are logged and lodged in public domains for inspection.  I strived diligently and purposely not to repeat the errors of the past by making sure the horse was before the cart and all the “t’s” were crossed and the “i’s” dotted.  The rest, as they say, is history.

    The E-Pan is a stand-alone instrument and that is what I have PATENTED. You do not need any external sound modules or computer for the E-Pan to work. The E-Pan has MIDI capabilities.  When you have purchased an E-Pan, it comes with built-in tones already embedded in the chip.  You can scroll from trumpet to violin, guitar to flute, piano to organ, even saxophone if you desire.  The E-Pan also has built-in speakers so you do not need to go out and buy any additional speakers. Everything is integrated into this one unit. If a player will like to hook-up to external house speakers/ amplifiers/mixing boards, the unit comes equipped with ¼” jacks for audio in and audio out.   There are also ¼” jacks for sustain pedals and octave control pedals.”

E-Pan Tenor
  • WST - “You have secured worldwide patents on your invention.  That is a major achievement.  Are you considering licensing agreements in the future?”

    S. Cupid - “Indeed, the IP rights of the e-pan invention are protected under WIPO7 conventions, where my e-pan invention is known to go way beyond the miking/amplification of the steelpan.  I am all for licensing my product following established business protocols. However, wise words say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and copy-cat versions have latently surfaced since my invention was first introduced. Amongst them; the E.S.D.,8 the panKAT9 and the P.H.I.-pan,10 all claiming to be first-at-bat while being cagey and dishonest when I approach them to discuss the situation. But short of negotiated agreements, unfortunately the lawyers will argue their cases to defend their interest of their respective clients and the courts will decide.” 

  • WST - “What has been the overall reception to the E-Pan to date??”

    S. Cupid - “The E-Pan has been very well received by Pan Trinbago (the world governing body of steelpan), pan-fans, the media and especially by the steelpan community at large, at home in T&T and abroad globally.  I have been respectfully welcomed in all quarters as inspirational and congratulated for being a true pioneer with this revolutionary electronic steelpan. Even some of my detractors have individually and secretly admitted that what I have accomplished is far superior and can’t wait to get one.” 

  • WST - “You have expanded the family of the E-Pan with the recent introduction of the double seconds E-Pan.  How has that been received so far?”

    S. Cupid - “Rave reviews - particularly by panists who play the double-seconds (pictured below) and have their own distinct playing-style,11 and thus appreciate the comfort of familiarity, yet extension of new features to explore and create. The interest in the e-pan has increased by more than “double” (pun intended) since it’s intro, so I’m very pleased.” 

E-Pan Double Second
  • WST - “Do you plan to further expand the family of E-pans?”

    S. Cupid - “Definitely.  Much to the chagrin and annoyance of family and friends who lecture me to slow down and tackle “one thing at a time,” I am constantly in an “innovation” frame of mind.  I am excited when I think of all the enhanced versions of the e-pan, awaiting production in the future (double guitar E-pan, six bass E-pan). Wise words say, good things come to those who wait and patience is a virtue.”

  • WST - “Where and how can one purchase an E-Pan?”

    S. Cupid - “I have been approached by various retailers to resell.  Thus far I have had discussions to authorize: in T&T at Simon’s Musical Supplies,12 in Canada at Long & McQuade Musical Instruments, and of course on the internet via the NAPE Inc. - Online Store.”

    E-Pan Tenor pan
  • WST - “Beyond the existing steelpan players who are already acclimatized to the traditional steelpan, do you think you will be able to attract new users to the E-Pan, with this [E-Pan] being their first musical instrument?”

    S. Cupid - “It has already happened.  The e-pan has generated all sorts of interest from practitioners, whether expert, novice and even some converts. I have observed that the younger “GenNeX” artists have their national pride intact, but alongside, they have a “post-colonial” conscious sense that they are also “World Citizens” and that Hip-Hop is an urban world-beat.  With that in mind, they tell me that my invention is helping them to embrace “pan” as a mainstream musical instrument, so look out for it.  As expected, this will naturally grow once more and more panists are “seen and heard” using the instrument.” 

  • WST - “For some, the ability for the traditional panist to access voices other than steelpan - enhances the creativity of the panist.  Do you expect your instrument to contribute to the demand for the exceptional panist - say a Len “Boogsie” Sharpe - performing on the E-Pan, but being able to access additional ’voices’ while utilizing your invention?”

    S. Cupid - “You are absolutely correct!  The E-Pan is now going to enhance the creativity of the panist on the whole.  Generally, the E-Pan is going to contribute to the demand for ALL panists (not just exceptional panists) as the note-layout for the E-Pan is exactly the same as the standardized traditional pan (circle of fourth and fifths),13 in the exact same position, size, shape and style, chock-full of design advantages and features which are well thought-out and appreciated by panists.  Let me say that part of my dream, hope and great expectation was to see the E-Pan in the hands of these very panist-musicians you mention. I know they will “go crazy” creating new compositions and arrangements when they fully explore all the aspects this instrument offers. Virtuosos like Len “Boogsie” Sharpe14 and Duvone Stewart15 (amongst others) have demonstrated this thus far.

    As I’ve repeatedly said from Day 1, this addition to compliment the family of steelpan instruments, will give back lost work to the panist employing the extended versatility the electronic steelpan16 offers.  Folks sometime forget that is exactly what transpired when the steelpan work was made scarce as the electronic keyboardist took over. Most calypsonians use the pan tone on the keyboard when recording in the studio so the pan man/woman lost a lot of work.  The average listener doesn’t know this. Now with the E-pan this can change.”

    E-Pan close up
  • WST - “In terms of music education there seem to be endless possibilities.  How has the E-Pan done within the educational system?”

    S. Cupid - “The E-Pan is breaking new ground in the educational system where steelpan is concerned.  Already there are some schools which are going to be implementing these in Canada. For example, the ability for a band to be practicing in utmost silence with the E-Pan for those in close proximity, yet not necessarily in attendance, will be facilitated by the use of a plug-in headset.  Using the audio-out, the E-Pan can be hooked up to a central computer which the teacher will be using to monitor who is playing what.  The entire band can play in unison under the watchful eye of the teacher, with all the audio coming through headsets.

    The E-Pan is also going to help young panists wanting to use the steelpan as their instrument of choice when seeking acceptance into university by helping to ease the limitation stigma attached to steelpan in mainstream universities around the world.  This is especially true as the E-Pan carries thirteen (13) octaves. T&T deserves to lead on this.  Furthermore, many schools have approached me to incorporate the E-Pan into their school music programmes and extracurricular activities, especially with their front-line players. T.A.S.S.O. has already experimented by adopting and adapting the E-Pan into their programme with the classical steelpan side-by-side integrated electro/acoustic musical performance.  The students enjoy and get a real kick out of it, so I expect the trend to continue to grow.”

E-Pan Tenor on stand
  • WST - “Do you think the major music manufacturers like Yamaha will eventually be interested in securing a business relationship with you/your company as the popularity of your instrument increases?”

    S. Cupid - “Whether the likes of Yamaha or Roland or similar, as a business-man I’m sure they’re interested in any commercial relationship which will foster mutual goals to advance the steelpan and gain a profitable R.O.I. (Return on Investment).  I’ve already had some discussions in that realm.  The fact that I have a good product, IP protection and sales will help the cause. The popularity will rise exponentially when more of the well-known, seasoned panists are exposed to and seen using the instrument on a more frequent basis. I remain confident as the global market and financial17 opportunities are not lost on these gurus and with the right platform, I’m sure they can be coaxed out of their shyness to become more involved.” 

  • WS - “What has been the reception from percussion manufacturers?”

    S. Cupid - “At this time I have not been in serious talks with percussion manufacturers.” 

  • WST - “Your invention should obviously be a source of immense pride for the steelpan community and Trinidad and Tobago. Has the Trinidad & Tobago Government been supportive?”

    S. Cupid - “The steelpan community has been very excited, supportive and proud of my achievements. Many expressed that it was long-overdue but well worth the wait.  Some, as expected, and fearful of change, question the necessity - but even some of those are converting, especially since the steelpan tone is on the keyboard as I explained earlier.  Those put in charge of steelpan development in T&T have not been welcoming, in the least.  In fact it saddens me. I made the effort as a native-son-of-the-soil, ambassador of the steelpan and emissary of our culture chosen and sent by Pan Trinbago to represent and teach steelpan to the world outside of T&T.  That landed me with the T.D.S.B. (Toronto District School Board).

    I proudly and respectfully returned first with my hard-earned accomplishments including my patent-pending IP protected rights in hand, to the UWI people.  I wanted them to see what I was doing first-hand, and garner a good-faith review to explore opportunities to advance the steelpan by incorporating the improved “steelpan sounds” I learned they were working on, (centred at UWI/SDC18/NIHERST19/CARIRI20). The reception was lukewarm and they seemed disinterested.  There was absolutely no mention or talk whatsoever about the PHI - before and up to that point, confirmed by patent searches at the T&T IPO; no application filed either.   Matter of fact, my T&T co-patent application was accepted as the first with no others on file.

    Later, when the e-pan patent was granted and I returned with my prototype as proof-of-concept in tow, to try again, I was summoned into a room with all the team involved.  I was rebuked, rejected and characterized as “the enemy” and lectured down, to say that they were also working on a similar project and they would be protesting mine to unhinge my patent, n.b. that nothing further has surfaced in that realm to date,21 while in the same breath questioning if there was any interest to co-operate.  Behaviour a tad too paternalistic for my stomach.  Meantime at a later date the PHI-pan began it’s surfacing and unveiling, yet seemed to shadow and mirror every move I make playing “ketch-up.”

    The mimicry has reached curious levels as some wonder why I ever bother to expose what I’m doing and contemplating, as it seems, to telegraph the moves which are copied. I am constantly being contacted by observers who find it ironic that their technology is reluctantly piggy-backed22 on mine as defined prior art23 (with mis-leading characterization) as they attempt co-patent-application in WIPO domains to validate and justify the T&T IPO.  Since that time, I have challenged them and requested from the T&T Government to reconsider the positioning and bias towards a select few, and instead consider practicing a policy of “open-mindedness” towards all steelpan people which is less patronizing, especially ordinary unconnected citizens, all dedicated as we are to our nation.

    I have a long way to go in my life, but methinks the judgment on which certain steelpan pioneers were elevated shoulder-to-shoulder and made more deserved lacked credibility in the first order, never mind the last. Smacks more of the plain politics as usual24 some continue to practice in the zeal and zest to make up for lost ground. I have presented my case to the PMO, and while impressed with my achievements and through my direct information better able to grip what the e-pan vs. the rest is about, they have not yet offered me any kind of support or assistance but have taken it under advisement and are now looking into it further. As we move along, I appreciate and understand better the frustrations felt by steelpan pioneers like Ellie Mannette and Bertie Marshall.”

E-Pan Double Second on stands
  • WST - “The inventing of any product, and then developing and marketing the item is a mammoth undertaking. You have essentially done all of this by yourself.  What keeps you going?”

    S. Cupid - “Essentially and unequivocally, faith and trust in God along with a firm belief in myself and the support of family and friends. The Holy Scriptures tells the story of David vs. Goliath because that’s what I feel I’m frustratingly up against at times. We all know how that story ended so there’s lots of hope for me, right. What people need to understand is how the process of protecting IP rights works. One cannot disclose and publicize an idea then apply for a patent when prior art and patents already have existed. I am Salmon Cupid, the inventor and patent holder of the world’s first and only electronic synthesized steelpan, born and bred in the Republic of T&T, which means any accomplishment on my part reflects and redounds on my home and native land.”  

  • WST - “What’s next for Salmon Cupid the inventor?”

    S. Cupid - “Well, as I work on other enhanced versions, with features like layering down and sequencing, I recognize that this is a “block and tackle” game full of politics, so I’ll continue to promote. I’ve been also championing a cause for some time now, urging all the powers that be to record the colour and tones of all the major/master steelpan tuners, before they “move on.”  Although I still feel strongly about that, I have somewhat changed my approach as I clearly recognize that when the authorities finally act, it will be reported that, that is what they always wanted to do and it will be done in such a way where it will not be made accessible to the general public (like myself) which is willing to pay through licensed royalties, for the steelpan tuners to benefit from the additional revenue stream. This has exited the tuners as they will gain and not lose work with this innovation.

    Once again, I may have to record these tones independently to be on the safe side, especially with the current track record. God willing, the sky’s the limit and I intend to continue my journey taking pan to higher heights, teaching, arranging, composing, innovating and doing my best to motivate the next generation of steel panists. Stay tuned because as we all know, “When Steel Talks, E-verybody Listens!” You can follow “E-Pan Man” on Facebook to keep abreast with the development of the E-pan. Thanks for your time and interest in allowing me the opportunity to get the word out.”

Following is additional and supplementary information and suggested reading as provided by Salmon E. Cupid:

Contact Salmon Cupid -
1 (416) 617-0860
Inventor of the World’s 1st Electronic Synthesized Steelpan

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