Trinidad and Tobago - Music and Performing Arts

Trinidad and Tobago is one of the few countries to boast a national instrument—the steelpan. Looking to create music with few resources, the people of Trinidad and Tobago began creating makeshift drums of discarded oil barrels. Experimentation in the 1940s led musicians to discover that changing the shape of the flat end of the barrel created a new sound; over the years, Trinidadians created drums that played an extensive range of notes and could be played in concert with other drums to create orchestras. The steelpan drum continues to play an important role in Trinidadian culture. Rival steelpan bands (steelbands) often played against one another and in 1963 Panorama was created to give steelpan musicians a creative outlet in a structured environment. Panorama—still the premier competition of its kind—continues to bring together large steelbands (some numbering more than 100) who compete against one another for both bragging rights and substantial amounts of prize money; finals are held the weekend prior to Carnival.

The island nation is also the birthplace of calypso music, which has its roots in African folk songs, but with a heavy influence from the French, Spanish and British who settled on Trinidad and Tobago. Calypso music was long sung in Patois (a French dialect) before shifting to English. The first calypso recording in 1914 took the genre to a new level of popularity and international reach that was further cemented by the establishment of "calypso tents" in the 1920s in which "calypsonians" practiced and performed, as well as an influx of American servicemen who were stationed on Trinidad during World War II and who enjoyed calypso shows as a part of the island's entertainment. In the decades since, calypso has continued to evolve, as well as to produce new musical genres such as soca (soul calypso) and rapso (a form of street poetry about everyday people and their experiences).

Today, music lovers can enjoy Trinidad and Tobago's rich offerings at Carnival as well as at the Laventille Steelband Festival, the Steelpan and Jazz Festival or the Pan Yard Sensations series of concerts among other options.

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