“They didn’t care. A steelband man, you have sticks in your pockets; you would be the subject of police harassment.” That is the opening line from Panomundo (the promo), a 7-minute video that explores the history of the steelpan. The film uses a series of interviews to give an account of the hardships that the pioneers of the steelpan faced.
Award-winning filmmakers, British director Keith Musaman Morton and American producer Charysse Tia Harper, travelled to Trinidad & Tobago in January 2012 to uncover how the steelpan, which originated from an oil drum, became a highly respected musical instrument.
“The slaves came with their African tradition of drumming and they used bamboo sticks,” Morton explained. “Soon that was outlawed and other variations of ‘improv percussion’ were introduced until a dustbin was picked up and then an oil drum came into play.”
The founding fathers of the steelpan uncovered they could make different pitches on the oil drum by tuning it in a certain way, which is how the notes on the pan evolved. By how widely it is accepted in communities around the world, no one would suspect that it came from such a tumultuous background.
“It was a great experience to talk to the men and women who witnessed or were part of the uprising,” Morton said. “Not many people know what a struggle it was to play this music and that’s why we want to tell this story in its entirety.”
Panomundo (the word being a combination of ‘steelpan’ and the Spanish word ‘mundo’, which means “world”) is set to be a feature-length film. Though the promo video gives an insight into the history of the steelpan, it does not explain how it is globally popular. The next step will be to capture the influence that the pan has on various cultures. Thus the duo has set up a campaign on Indiegogo an international crowdfunding site to raise $30,000 US to complete the film.
“It would not be considered ‘history’ if it did not have an impact on people,” Harper explained. “In order to fully understand how strong that influence is, we will have to visit those locations and have them explain it to us.”
The deadline to raise the funds to complete the film is 15th January 2013. Morton and Harper will then shoot in Spring 2013 and edit the project by summer. They have been asked to preview Panomundo ahead of the Notting Hill Carnival in London in August 2013.
“It will be an honour, really. We’ve had such nice chats with Sterling Betancourt, Russ Henderson, Ray Holman and Ray Funk, to name a few. It will be a pleasure to have their knowledge and story heard by an audience,” Morton said.
In the meantime, the filmmakers will continue to screen Panomundo (the promo) – they had two recent screenings in London, including one at the 4th International Steelpan Conference at the University of East London- and another in Los Angeles in October.
Towards the ending of Panomundo (the promo), international pannist Ray Holman sums it up nicely: “Pan has taken over the world….Canada, Africa, Germany and France. I’m very proud…that such a small country as [Trinidad & Tobago] could have music that will be interesting and so loved by people in large metropolitan cities.”