Technology Giant “Google” Celebrates the steelpan instrument via Google Doodle

Celebrating Steelpan - Illustration by artist Nicholas Huggins

Doodle of steelpan instrument ‘live’ on Google’s web site

Doodle of steelpan instrument ‘live’ on Google’s web site

Global - On Tuesday July 26, 2022 the steelpan instrument of Trinidad and Tobago is featured and celebrated on the site of technology giant “Google” via the famed Google ‘Doodle.’ The ‘Doodle’ is essentially an illustrative change made to the Google corporate logo “to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists” - and more. The doodle is then seen by users all around the world who access Google’s homepage on that day, and is available thereafter in the doodle archives.  The date July 26 is one of significance in steelband history; it commemorates the performance of TASPO (Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra [see video]) at the Summer Festival of Britain seventy-one years ago in 1951 on that day.

Trinidad and Tobago-based artist Nicholas Huggins is the creator of the illustrative artwork featured in the doodle, while Etienne Charles is the composer of the accompanying music performed by the legendary steelpan icon Len “Boogsie” Sharpe. The 70-second animation which notes key elements of the steelband art form, is the work of motion designer Mick Seegobin. The musician list on the Google post was updated later on in the day to include Josanne Francis, Jonathan Castro, and Luke Walker.

The Steelpan via the Google Doodle

Animation highlights include a truck descending from what could be the hills of Laventille, pan manufacturing from the sinking and grooving of the steel drum, then pan tuning, and playing the final product. The panyard, a panside on the road via truck, with vendors, masqueraders in the background on the sidewalk, a steel orchestra on stage at the ‘Big Yard’ at the Queen’s Park Savannah, positioned between the Grand Stand and the [now-defunct] North Stand - are also incorporated.

Google Doodle of steelpan instrument with illustration by artist Nicholas Huggins
Google Doodle of steelpan instrument with illustration by artist Nicholas Huggins

Google provided its data synopsis for the doodle captioned ‘Celebrating Steelpan’ as follows:

Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Trinidad & Tobago-based artist Nicholas Huggins, celebrates the steelpan, a percussion instrument made of metal, created and influenced by Trinbagonians. It’s the only acoustic instrument invented in the twentieth century, but has origins dating back to the 1700s. It was a staple during Carnival and Canboulay, the annual harvest festivals celebrated in Trinidad, and is still used in contemporary music. On this day in 1951, the Trinidad All Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) performed at the Festival of Britain, introducing the steelpan and a new music genre to the world.

TASPO performing at the Festival of Britain

When enslaved Africans were brought to Trinidad by colonialists in the 1700s, they brought over their African heritage and traditions of rhythmic drumming with them. When slavery was abolished between 1834 and 1838, Trinidadians joined in on Carnival festivities with their drums. However in 1877, government officials banned their drumming because they feared that the drumming would be used to send messages that would inspire rebellion. In protest of this ban, musicians started to pound tuned bamboo tubes on the ground as alternatives to mimic the sound of their drums. These ensembles were called Tamboo Bamboo bands.

Another ban came in 1930, when rival Tamboo Bamboo bands would cause disturbances during Carnival and other street festivals. These bands then looked to a new alternative to carry their rhythm: metal objects such as car parts, paint pots, dustbins, biscuit tins and thus the idea of the pan was born.

During World War II, Carnival was forbidden due to security reasons, and musicians began experimenting with the unique instrument to improve the sound quality. Overtime, dents were hammered into the surface of these objects, which played different notes depending on the size, position and shape. In 1948, after the war ended, the musicians switched to using the 55 gallon oil drums discarded by the oil refineries. In addition to changing the shape of the drum surface, they found that changing the length of the drum allowed complete scales from bass to soprano. This formed the basis for the modern version of the pan. The steelpan grew and developed into a legitimate instrument through the likes of pioneers and innovators such as Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall. Many of their innovations and techniques are still used today.

The steelpan is now the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and is a source of great pride and true resilience for its citizens. Steelpans are now enjoyed in concert calls like Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and more. Whether in the UK or Japan, Senegal or the States, the steelpan is an internationally recognized instrument that reminds listeners of its island origins.

Guest Artist Q&A with Nicholas Huggins and Etienne Charles

Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Trinidad & Tobago-based guest artist Nicholas Huggins and composed by Miami-based musician Etienne Charles. Below, they share thoughts behind the making of this Doodle:

Q. Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?

Nicholas: The Steel Pan is the national instrument of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) and was actually invented here. It is an instrument that was born from resistance and rebellion and is truly emblematic of the people of T&T. At the time, African percussion was banned among other things, and the steel pan developed out of that. The fact that such a sweet tune can be extracted from industrial oil drums is something that should be cherished. The steel pan is also closely associated with our national Carnival celebrations, and therefore is a great source of national pride.

Etienne: For many reasons. Pan makes up a huge part of my musical development, I grew up in Phase II’s panyard aka the Village. I jump at any chance to put Pan and Steelband culture on a global stage.

Q. What were your first thoughts when you were approached about working on this Doodle?

Nicholas: When I was first approached to tackle such a culturally significant topic for this Doodle I was a bit nervous because I wanted the story being told to be one that Trinbagonians worldwide would be proud of. I was also very excited because I love creating art that showcases Trinidad & Tobago and this Doodle will allow my country to be showcased on one of the biggest online stages.

Etienne: First thoughts were those to contain my excitement to get to work with “Boogsie” on the music, as well as with Nick, Angelica and the whole Google team. Then it was figuring out a process. Luckily I had just finished a global steelband project, but this one was a collaborative composition with Boogsie and myself, so he recorded ideas into a phone and sent them to me. From there, I added my part to compliment and arranged the whole piece.

Q. Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?

Nicholas: I drew inspiration from the early innovators behind the story of the Steel Pan. Without them, there is no Pan and the landscape of Trinidad & Tobago, and the entire world in fact, would be much different. These early pan-men like Winston Spree Simon and Ellie Mannette are inspiring for any Trinbagonian.

Etienne: I drew inspiration from my first time on the road with a steelband, and my first times hearing the full band sound, as well as Boogsie’s music.

Q. What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?

Nicholas: I hope that people can take away the sense of the industriousness and creativity of the people of Trinidad & Tobago. We are a small country on the global stage but the fact that we have given the world such a beautiful instrument is something to be held in the highest regard.

Etienne: I’d like people to feel the magic in the steelpan. An instrument born out of Afro-descendant resistance in Trinidad. A symbol of community, artistic excellence, and scientific innovation. Hopefully this makes people more inclined to come hear pan in its birthplace and feel the energy that comes from it. It’s really like nothing else.

Link to original Google post

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