Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the steelpan with an illustration by Trinidad and Tobago-based guest artist Nicholas Huggins.
The video accompanying the Google Doodle shown to the search engine’s visitors on Tuesday, July 26, was composed by jazz musician Etienne Charles and features steelpan soloist Lennox “Boogsie” Sharpe along with fellow pannists Josanne Francis, Jonathan Castro and Luke Walker.
The Google Doodle traces the history of the percussion instrument invented in Trinidad and Tobago in the 20th century. Its origins date back to the 1700s when enslaved Africans brought over their heritage and traditions of rhythmic drumming. Even after slavery was abolished between 1834 and 1838, a series of government bans on drumming throughout the ensuing decades eventually led Trinidadians to experiment with improvised drums made out of metal objects such as car parts, paint pots, dustbins and biscuit tins — leading to the development of what we now know as the steelpan.
In the mid-20th century, the instrument gained popularity with the help of pioneers such as Winston “Spree” Simon, Ellie Mannette, Anthony Williams and Bertie Marshall. It has become the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, a staple at the country’s annual harvest festivals, and a symbol of pride and resilience among its citizens.
“Pan makes up a huge part of my musical development,” Charles, who was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobado, said in a Q&A. “I jump at any chance to put pan and steelband culture on a global stage.”
Charles said he drew inspiration from his first time on the road with a steelband, as well as the music of Boogsie, a popular composer of steelpan music in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I’d like people to feel the magic in the steelpan,” Charles said of his composition. “An instrument born out of Afro-descendant resistance in Trinidad. A symbol of community, artistic excellence, and scientific innovation. Hopefully this makes people more inclined to come hear pan in its birthplace and feel the energy that comes from it. It’s really like nothing else.”