Legends of Carnival: Mas, Calypso, Steelpan

T&T – In this instalment, the second of two parts, we look at the Heroes and Pioneers of our steelpan and calypso. In part one last week, we looked at our Heroes and Pioneers of Mas.

The steelpan

The steelpan evolved from skin drums from the 1830s to 1884 when a ban on all drum beating was imposed during the Carnival celebrations at the time.

It is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and is the only musical instrument invented in the twentieth century.

It is believed that Andrew Beddoe, an accomplished Orisha drummer and one of the best biscuit pan players in Laventille, Andrew “Pan” De La Bastide, Winston “Spree” Simon, Victor “Totie” Wilson and Emmanuel “Fish Eye” Ollivierrie, were among those who created the impetus that led to the transition from the tamboo bamboo to the ‘ping pong’ pan and the steel pan.

Their hard work and dedication paved the way for the later pan pioneers, arrangers and tuners. Some such notable names, in no particular order: Ellie Mannette, Hugh Borde, Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, Ranjit “Jit” Samaroo, Leon “Smooth” Edwards, Pat Bishop, Rudolph Charles, George “Sonny” Goddard, Neville Jules, Clive Bradley, Bertram “Bertie” Marshall, Denzil “Dimes” Fernandez, Anthony “Tony” Williams, Oscar Pile, Ray Holman.


Calypso emerged from the period of African slavery through the slaves, who, not being allowed to speak much to each other, communicated through song.

Gros Jean, an African slave, is said to have been the first calypsonian, named “Mait Caiso” (Master of Caiso) by the Diego Martin estate owner Begorrat in the late 18th century.

In the early days, the songs were sung in patois, in the extempo format and contained colourful and aggressive language as well as messages to the community.

The calypso art form has spawned sub genres such as soca, power soca, groovy soca, rapso, chutney soca and ragga soca.

Among the calypsonians (and composers) and those in the sub genres who have left or are leaving an indelible mark in this area of carnival include Norman Le Blanc, Lionel Belasco, Frederick “Houdini” Wilmoth, Raymond “Atilla the Hun” Quevedo, Walter Douglas, Ebbert “Lord Beginner” Moore, Phillip “Lord Executor” Garcia, Rupert “Lord Invader” Grant, Norman “King Radio” Span, Thelma Layne, Raphael “Roaring Lion” De Leon, Kade “Lord Bryner” Simon, Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts, Slinger “Mighty Sparrow” Francisco, McArtha “Calypso Rose” Lewis, Garfield “Lord Shorty/Ras Shorty I” Blackman, Edwin “Crazy” Ayoung, Sundar Popo, Carlton “Blakie” Joseph, Alric “Lord Pretender” Farrell, Piggy Joseph, Larry Harwood, Christophe Grant, Andrew “Brother Superior” Marcano, Fitzroy “Lord Melody” Alexander, Lancelot Layne, Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, Kelvin “Mighty Duke” Pope, Austin “Superblue” Lyons, Machel Montano, Gregory/GB Ballantyne, Drupatie Ramgoonai, Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba, David Rudder, Rikki Jai, Winston Devine…

For a free download of the book on our Heroes, Pioneers and Role Models (Culture and the Arts, pages 38 to 79), courtesy First Citizens:

Source: Written by Nasser Khan, Column courtesy of First Citizens