Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: 72 years ago, The Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) first debuted the steelpan to critical acclaim in the United Kingdom, claimed the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago while sharing the history.
According to the official update, in 1951, the newly formed Steel Band Association began preparations for their first major project: creating a steel band to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Festival of Britain in London.
This led to the formation of TASPO, the Trinidad All-Steel Pan Percussion Orchestra, with eleven top pannists from T&T: Winston “Spree” Simon (Fascinators), Ellie Mannette (Invaders), Anthony Williams (North Stars), Sterling Betancourt (Crossfire), Theo Stephens (Free French), Orman Haynes (Casablanca), Belgrave Bonaparte (Southern Symphony), Philmore Davidson (City Syncopators), Andrew de la Bastide (Hill), Dudley Smith (Rising Sun), and Carlton Roach (Sun Valley).
In addition to this, the organisation stated that they were led by the Barbadian-born Lieutenant Joseph Griffith, the Director of the Saint Lucia Police Band. As TASPO’s Musical Director, he created a diverse repertoire to demonstrate the steelpan’s range: mambos, calypsoes, waltzes, and sambas. The band first performed at the Globe Cinema in Port of Spain, then in London, where they were a huge success.
Furthermore, the National Archives mentioned although TASPO only existed for a short period of time, it led to a reevaluation of steel bands. They brought a musical revolution to Britain, and this warm reception gave legitimacy to steel band music at home.
Musicians Ellie Mannette and Anthony Williams created vastly improved instruments for TASPO’s performances abroad, such as Mannette’s 23-note ping-pong pan and Williams’ 14-note tenor boom. Additionally, Lieut. Griffith ensured all of the pans were tuned to concert pitch and included all notes of the chromatic scale, leading to a more uniform tone quality, according to the update.
UK audiences greatly enjoyed this new form of Caribbean music. Trinbagonian Edric Connor took TASPO to a variety of other venues to perform, and their popularity grew through word of mouth, even enjoying a tour of Paris before returning to Trinidad and Tobago.