Steel drum or steel pan? What is the correct name of the instrument?

by Mantius Cazaubon
(Saint Lucia)

Steel drum or steel pan?

Steel drum or steel pan?

I recently received an email from Mortimer in response to my steel drum (steel pan) section. He challenged the fact that I had used the term steel drum to discuss the instrument whose official name has been declared "steel pan" in Trinidad and Tobago where it was invented.

(The bold text has been added by yours truly.)

After getting his permission I'm posting his email here in its entirety.

"Hi like the site, the only thing I disagree with is calling the Steel Pan a Steel Drum. Just because it came from an oil drum originally does not mean it is a steel drum. We do not call a guitar a piece of wood with strings because that is what it is made from, so why do that to the only new musical instrument of the 20th century? It should be given more respect than that.

When the instrument was invented it was called Steel Pan. The players are called panists not drummers; pan is played not beaten.

I cannot tell you to change what you have on your website but just wanted to point out that fact. My father grew up with Ellie Mannette the one that first sunk the Steel Pan to give us the pan as we know it today and it was never called a drum and so I don't see why we are calling it a drum now just to appease the North Americans. If more of us West Indians would stand up together for what we believe in, maybe we will get where we are going faster and in a much better position than we are now. Thanks for taking the time to listen to my explanation.



Host of Calypso Spectacular 105.5Fm in Toronto. Sundays 3:00pm to 6:00pm and also a part time Soca artist. "

I sent him a brief reply and it reads:


I agree with you and I know that you are totally correct. I used the term steel drum because after doing keyword research I found that most people are not typing "steel pan" into the search engines when searching for information about pan. Largely, they type "steel drums". In an attempt to be more visible (by far) I used the term "steel drums" as well as "steel pan".

Thanks for your comments. I will address it now on the site. "

I was about to make changes to the main pan section but decided instead to send him an email requesting his permission to simply post his well written submission on the site.

Here's the email I sent:

"Hi Mortimer,
Would you like me to post your submission on the site? It's an excellent one. If so, would you like me to include your name and info? Thanks."

To which he responded.

"Yes you can. I stand by all that I say.

All my info and particulars are below.


Calypso Spectacular
Sundays 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm
CHRY 105.5 FM (Toronto, ON Canada)
On-Air Tel: 416-736-5656
Office: 416-736-5293
Personal: 416-566-7290
Listen Live: < >
Follow us on Twitter:
Facebook Page: Calypso Spectacular"

To the previous email I sent, his response read as follows:

"I know and I understand what you mean about the visibility factor. I just find it sad that we have to compromise our beliefs to appease the masses. I have always believed that just because everyone is doing it does not make it right. Maybe we should look at educating the masses so they know what to type in their search engines... that is not your battle but rather the Caribbean's battle.

I guess maybe if when they search for Steel Drums and they find your page the first line should be used as a teaching moment where they are told the correct name of the instrument?

However, I did not mean to give you a hard time these are just observations from a proud Trinidadian, I do not mean to over step the connection we have.

I will attach one of my tracks so you will see what I am about. It is called "Trini Rap" featuring Nicole De Coteau."

End of email message

Mortimer, I should be thanking you. You have not given me a hard time. Your post has put everything into proper perspective. We need more people like you.

Folks. To re-educate people about the correct name for pan is no easy task. To market the correct name is a huge battle. The fact that the name "steel drums" is used in MIDI instruments further complicates it.

This post is linked from the main Steel drum (steel pan) section. This should help clear the air on the correct name for the instrument.

Best wishes,
Mantius Cazaubon

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Nov 12, 2010
It's a Catch 22 situation
by: Liz Mannette

I understand the dilemma. I have a line of jewelry inspired by the steelpan (steel drums). I refer to it as steel drums, and reference the fact that the name is really a steelpan.
But if you are marketing to reach an audience, particularly on the Internet or, in my case, retailers, you have to get their attention and speak in a language they can grasp. Then as the audience becomes engaged and connected to you, you can educate them.
It's a matter of getting their attention first.

Nov 19, 2010
by: Fyah Fy

I think it's important to use "Steelpan" instead of "Steeldrum" for the same reason you prefer use "Steelpan" instead of "steeldrum". If everybody use "Steeldrum", "Steeldrum" will be use more and more. But if people start to use "Steelpan", much more articles, references, will be with "Steelpan" so people will use it more and more.

Nov 24, 2010
Steelpan versus steeldrum
by: Mantius

Fyah Fy, if you only use "steelpan", only people searching via that name will arrive at this page. Those searching for "steeldrum" never will. Unless if they're already on the site and stumble across the page. A writer has no control over what people are searching for or what they call the instrument. An understanding of search engine marketing will put this into perspective. Bless.

Dec 14, 2016
Yes that is so True I was born in Trinidad Port Of Spain I
by: AnonymousRena

That is so True I was Born in Trinidad Port if Spain I am 74 Yrs Old grew up with Renagades Cynco Paters Desperadoes Etc Etc and for all my Years I know it as Steel Pan not Steel Drum The Drum is what the Base of the Musical Section is made of the only Tallest Drum there is but that is called the Base and not steel Drum

Dec 21, 2016
Steel Pan
by: Anonymous

74 Yrs I know it as Steel Pan Not Drum These so call people want to change Trini Identity I was Born in Trinidad play the Tenor Pan in Charlott Street grew up around Renagades Cyncopaters Desperadoes Casablanca when these Band Leaders use to have Big Fights and Steel Pan Gangs So its not Steel Drum Peoples should get their Facts together and Stop the BSAA

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