Steel Drums Herald Westminster Windrush Anniversary

There’s no more fitting sound to pay respect to the Windrush generation than a Caribbean steel band, and that’s what attendees of the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey were treated to in celebration of 70 years since the arrival of Caribbean migrants on the Empire Windrush Ship.

It’s been a controversial time for the government in regards to those originally welcomed to the UK to help the country overcome an employment crisis after the Second World War, as it was recently revealed that records had been lost, and some of those people who had journeyed to the UK by request had been, or had had family, deported because of a lack of official paperwork.

Baroness Floella Benjamin, patron of the Windrush Foundation, was in attendance, and danced in the naves to the likes of songs such as Amazing Grace played on the steel pans, according to the BBC. Other guests included Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadie Khan, but the majority of attendees were the family’s of those who came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation.

Addressing the congregation, Reverend Canon Joel Edwards acknowledged the hardships that have been endured by this generation, institutional racism as just the start, but also celebrated the gift that this generation has made to Britain in terms of leaders in the worlds of politics, business, education, music and sport.

From this year on, each 22nd June will be marked officially as Windrush Day, with government grants in support of events celebrating the day and the contributions of the Windrush generation to life in Britain.

steel pan band

A Potted History Of The Steel Pan

Now that it feels as though summer is finally here, with a brilliantly hot May Bank Holiday only just behind us, there’s no better music to accompany the sunshine than the intriguing and unique sound than a steel pan band.

No doubt you’ve come across the interesting range of notes of steel drums before, but have you ever stopped to think about just where this musical style originated from? The instrument itself is a 55-gallon oil drum that has been hammered in such a way as to produce certain tones, with the drum capable of playing any kind of music whatsoever.

Back in the 1800s, when Trinidad was a sugar plantation society, slaves were brought to the region by colonists from central and west Africa to work on the plantations, bringing their music with them. Drumming and singing were commonplace, a big feature in all religious ceremonies and other celebrations, as well as a method of communication.

But eventually the colonists became concerned that the drumming was being used as a way of organising riots and uprisings, so all drum parades were banned towards the end of the century. After this, bamboo sticks were used to beat out rhythms, with groups of musicians later known as tamboo bamboo bands – although these too were banned in the 1930s because rival bands would often clash and fight in the streets.

The first steel drum was invented in Trinidad at about the time of the second world war. The tamboo bamboo bands made the move to steel because metal was stronger and louder than bamboo, with the first versions of the steel drum paint and biscuit tins!

From there, it was discovered that dents and bulges of various sizes in the tins could make sounds of different pitches and musicians started to tune them up so that melodies could be played! Winston Spree Simon is the man widely credited with playing the first recognisable tune on a steel drum – you can read more about him on the TriniSoca website.