Steel Pans: The Sounds Of Notting Hill Carnival
Where would carnival be without the sound of wood on metal? So let Pepe Francis MBE fill you in on the secrets behind those steel pans.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking to different people that make up the components of Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest street party in Europe.
You can have all the sound systems, mas bands and costumes, but if your parade doesn’t have the sound of wood hitting metal to a fine tune then something is missing in your recipe.
Because steel pans are a foundation and fundamental part of carnival culture. Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, these steel containers turned into musical instruments still have their place in the modern carnival.
In reality, they have their place in modern music. Last year there was quite a few hit songs with the “ping pi ding ping” sound. Just listen to Kodak Black’s club smash Zeze for proof.
It was the “go-to” sound for many producers outside of the genre. Someone who has made his life’s work of this metal drum and has received an MBE for his efforts is Pepe Francis.
At 76 years young, he’s been part of steel pan for over 50 years and still has a hunger and drive for the art form.
It was a Sunday that we spoke and he was busy loading the van for a Monday pan rehearsal.
I used to see some of my friends leave the block back in the day to go to pan rehearsal. At the time it didn’t seem like the thing for me to do, but I’m sure I would have my old man happy. Instead I chose turntables.
Knowing that there are so many options and choices for today’s youth I wondered if Pepe struggled to recruit for his group.
Pepe proudly tells me: ”I’m on my fifth generation of youngsters, you know?
“As they grow up we bring in more because we were involved with the schools and the youth clubs when they had them. Plus I [have] generations of families coming through.”
Pepe’s band, Ebony Steel Pan, is a powerhouse in the world of pan. Founded in 1969, they have countless accolades under their belt – including European Steel Pan champion and Panorama
champion over 20 times.
Panorama takes place just before carnival and is the battleground for all pan players. This year they boast more than 90 players, Pepe tells me.
He added: “Well we came second last year, so we are looking to come back and take our title, our crown, so the battle begins.”
I sensed that he didn’t take losing too well. Does this mean all plans are under lock and key, like a secret society?
“No, no, no – everybody knows what everyone is playing, it’s just who’s the better composer and arranger,” he lets me know clearly.
One of my loves and a crowd favourite is when you hear hip-hop and dancehall tunes get the steel pan remix treatment.
By Seani B