Steel Pan and African Music of Jamaica

Steel pan music was developed on Trinidad, but its influence spread throughout the Caribbean and eventually began molding the musical styles of Jamaica. Its beats are an integral part of many celebrations, but Jamaica's own African-influenced musical styles share an important part in the development of modern island genres, including reggae.

Music of Steel

Trinidad has a rich musical history, but the development of steel pan music (often called steel drum music) is based on more than just music. Before World War II, Carnival celebrations were becoming raucous, and the island's government made attempts to keep these celebrations quiet by limiting the use of traditional percussion instruments.

The people of Trinidad, however, quickly found a way to use household objects, as well as large steel drums left over from the petroleum industry, to create new percussion instruments. This ingenuity led to the creation of the only acoustic instrument in the 20th century. Steel pans can now play a full scale.

Trinidad's steel bands become popular even outside the Caribbean, but their island neighbors, including Jamaica, quickly took to this musical style. It is based on African rhythms and styles of playing, and it's no surprise that this popular musical style hails from the same spot that originated calypso music.

Crossing Over

Jamaica's African musical traditions may not be as strong as those on Trinidad, but they are still present in elements of everyday life. The strongest influence of African rhythms can be traced to the development of reggae, Jamaica's own musical style. However, African musical stylings have held a place in Jamaica throughout history.

African-style rhythms survived plantation life mostly because they were used in Obeah and Myal spiritual practices. The creolization of Christian beliefs and their combination with African spiritual practices also incorporated these same rhythms and dances that were a part of these beliefs.

Revivalism kept African sounds alive both in music and in Jamaica's culture. The Pentecostal faith, for example, still retained some African elements. In modern times, the peoples' music has made its way to international recordings through its influence of many Jamaicans in the music industry.

It's not unusual to find elements from around the world in Jamaica's culture, but it's also not unusual to see Jamaica's islanders create something wholly unique from these cultural pieces. Still, African culture has been a lasting influence on the music of this strongly independent island.


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