A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PANTAM / HANDPAN / HANG
How Everything Started – Is the Steelpan the Mother of HANG / PANTAM / HANDPAN?
Trinidad & Tobago, 1930’s: The British Colonial Lords have forbidden the locals (historically descendants of slaves, mainly from Africa and India) from drumming on African percussion instruments. Being resilient and proud people, they were looking for new possibilities for musical expression. It is important to note that on this island state, oil production played a crucially important role. So in their search for new possibilities of instruments they could play resulted in the first Steelpans, made from discarded oil barrels in the early 1930s. During the Second World War the carnival celebrations in Trinidad were forbidden and at the V-Days, as an act of rebellion, Steelbands were first heard in the streets of Port of Spain!
(Photo: Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO), 1951)
The Steelpan gained international attention when TASPO (Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra) was invited to England in 1951 to present this new musical instrument at the Festival of Britain. Some musicians from this group stayed in England (Sterling Betancourt MBE) and made the Steelpan known in Europe. Other Trinidadians carried the Steelpan and Trinidad’s music (Calypso) to America and around the world.
Steelpans ‘conquer’ the globe and also find their way to Switzerland!
Switzerland, 1965: Its quite certain, that an Englishman named Steve Berg, was the first to make a Steeldrum in Switzerland (1965) after he came back from a trip to Trinidad. However, it took quite some time to make this new instrument known. Nevertheless, in the years 1976/77 the Steelpan quickly became known and started to spread. The initiator of this was Sterling Betancourt, a Trinidadian, who came to England at the beginning of the fifties and often played in Zurich hotels. In Bern the ‘Pan-Virus’ attracted the attention of some locals, on the occasion of a concert of a Trinidadian Steelband at the Bernfest in 1976. Alex Santschi and Felix Rohner (literally) went into the forest and dared to build steel pans themselves.
(Photo: Steel Pans in Bern)
The 1980s to the 1990s – SteelPans made in Switzerland !
Switzerland, 1980 – 1998: Felix Rohner from Bern has been engaged in the production of Steelpans in Switzerland since 1976. In 1985, he started to practice the pan tuning as a profession. He founded the “Steelpanmanufaktur Bern” at this time. He studied lots of high class Steelpans like those from Elliot „Ellie“ Mannette, a master Steelpan maker from Trinidad. From 1985 to 1993, Felix Rohner supplied several dozens of Steelbands with his instruments in German-speaking Switzerland. In this time (end of the 1980’s), Sabina Schärer came into touch with Steelpan music and hence she met Felix and started to work with him. Early on they also recognized (like Ellie Mannette) that the quality of the raw material used for making Steelpans is an important factor – and so they started intense research on appropriate materials…
From the Steelpan to the HANG – how the first PANTAM / HANDPAN was created !
Switzerland, 1998: In the year 1999 the Swiss percussionist Reto Weber visited the workshop of PANArt and came up with the idea, where they could make a ‘new’ instrument for him. His playing on multiple Ghatams at once inspired Reto Weber. So he asked Felix to make a Ghatam with more than one note from steel in a way that he could also play like a Ghatam, with his HANDS. Some time later, the first “HANG” was born. “HANG” means HAND by the way, in swiss dialect. A Ghatam, made from steel, with more notes, playable by hand (but too big, at the first try…).
(Photo: screenshots from the movie “PANArt Hang documentary 2006: HANG – a discreet revolution”)
In 2001, Rohner and Schärer presented their new instrument, the HANG at the Musikmesse Frankfurt. They gave up the construction of Steelpans and instead focussed on making the Hanhhang (plural for Hang). In 2003, they renamed their company to PANArt Hangbau AG.
Photo: Front line: Prototype Hang from November 1999 (left), Ghatam (right); second line: Three Hanghang built in 2007, 2006 and 2005 respectively (from the left to the right)
Since 2014 PANart® builts no more Hanghang. Now they are into the development of new instruments and Sound Sculptures, all based on their patentend material, the Pang Steel. In 2013/14 PANArt has obtained a patent in the USA and in Europe.
PANArt 2014 Quote: <<The Hang became a cult object and similar instruments were shoved into the marketplace in high numbers. The desire of many people to play an instrument without having to learn one, has been satisfied this way. The pressure of the high demand for the Hang has generated the emergence of replicas of the Hang, collected under their generic name „handpan“. The tuners of PANArt have been experiencing and playing the art form steelband over many years, they have built thousands of steelpans. They have grappled intensily with Trinidad’s gift to the world. They didn’t put the gift into a vitrine but they have literally digested it and absorbed it into their own culture. This is how the Pang instruments were born, the Hang and latly the Gubal.>>
ABOUT PANART: (quoted from HANGBLOG.ORG)
In 1995 the steelpan tuners Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer began building steelpans of deep drawn and nitrided raw forms instead of steel drums. They called their new material Pang and filed a patent for this method. In the second half of the 1990s they dealt with an in-depth examination of the acoustic properties of the Pang sheet. A result of these activities was a new, hand played musical instrument, the Hang®, that was developed in 2000 and attracted worldwide attention in the following years. In 2003 the two tuners renamed their company PANArt Hang Manufacturing Ltd. For many years they focussed work completely on building and further developing their sound sculpture Hang. This focus changed in 2013. As from then they developed a number of new Pang instruments.
Today PANArt builds the Hang® Bal, the Gubal®, the Hang® Gudu, the Hang® Urgu and various Pang string instruments. The PANArt team, that was extended in the meantime with Basil and David Rohner, also deals with the music played with these instruments – the Pang music.
So now – Who deserves the respect about “having invented the PANTAM” ?
The question: Who has invented the HANG is easy to answer. It was definitely Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer (PANArt) and for this, we all who love those soundsculputes should be thankful. But the honour about how this magical instruments turned into reality, needs to be divided amongst others as well in my opinion. The PANTAM / Handpan is a “collective product”, originating from the energies of the following people:
- The people of TRINIDAD – their history and their creativity opend the door to “singing steel” for us.
- Winston “Spree” Simon , Sterling Betancourt , Elliot „Ellie“ Mannette , Anthony Achong and many more – by sharing their love for Steelpans, Steelpan music and their knowledge about singing steel and tuning, they have bestowed us with priceless gifts. Without them, there wouldn’t be any Pantams / Handpans / Hang – and without sharing their knowledge about tuning steel, these wouldn’t sound like they do!
- The creativity and spirit of the ancient people of: India(Ghatam), Africa (Atukpen, Udu) and Arabia (Jahla, Mirwas) – to bring us instruments that teaching us lots about Idiophones (ghana vadya) and air-resonance.
- Reto Weber – as the One, who gave an important impulse for creating the first PANTAM / HANDPAN, known now as the HANG !
I really hope, that at least one day ‘we all’ will be ready to pay respect to ALL of the people, who have contributed their passion, knowledge, experience and creativity to give birth to such a beautiful Instrument!
“No reflection on how Pantheon Steel, and I personally, came to where we are would be complete without a special thank you to Trinidad & Tobago. No thanks will ever be enough; without you, of course, and the steelpan, there would be no handpan. And in the same breath I urge us all to remember, that while there is a handpan, there is also still the steelpan, following its own voice, and evolving and thriving as well. For this we are doubly blessed.” – Kyle Cox, Pantheon Steel
From the HANG to the PANTAM / HANDPAN
The first makers who started to make Sound Sculptures like the HANG were (as far as I know):
- Bill Brown with the CAISA in Germany (the CAISA is not really a Handpan/Pantam following the definition it has not a ‘Closed Body/Sphere’.
- Kyle Cox and Jim Dusin, with the HALO by Pantheon Steel in the USA and Luis Eguiguren’s BELLART in Spain around 2006/2007.
- Philippe Maignaut‘s SPACEDRUM in France in 2008/2009.
Thus far, there are more than 100 makers of PANTAMS / HANDPANS active who make instruments, with varying degrees of subjective and objective quality. Moving forwards, there shall clearly be more and more and the quality shall continue to rise; meanwhile the prices shall hopefully stabilise and possibly even come down to more affordable levels…
Where does the name “Pantam” and “HandPan” comes from?
There is considerable confusion about the names for these instruments. Initially, HANDPANS / PANTAMS were commonly called just ‘Hang’ or ‘Hang Drum’, which simply means ‘hand’ in the Swiss Bernese dialect. Since PANArt protected itself with trademark law, another name was needed to apply to all of these newer instruments. Hang is strictly speaking, only the designation for instruments created by a single manufacturer.
As a suitable name of the family of instruments in the English-speaking world, HANDPAN was more and more used. This name is quite established there now. However, musicians from other regions of the world created more names like Cupola, Disco Armonico etc.
Meanwhile, especially outside the English-speaking world the name PANTAM slowly started to spread. This name dates back to the beginnings of the instrument. The musician Ziv Yehezkel then sold the first generation, in Israel because of pronunciation difficulties, under the name PANTAM.
How to make a PANTAM / HANDPAN (basicly 😉 ) & more Informations about those Sound Sculptures
PANTAMS / HANDPANS are handcrafted in a complex process as individual pieces (more about at “HandPan Knowledge“) . In the relatively short life of this instrument, there has been an explosion in the number of makers and we now have about 100 or so worldwide who understand the art of producing these instruments. However, it still seems to be that there is the demand for these instruments is insatiable and still outstrips than the supply. This is perhaps why so expensive to get a well made and HANDPAN / PANTAM (please also read the article about HOW TO BUY A PANTAM)!
On this website, you also can find a list of PANTAM MAKERS around the world.
Moving forwards it seems, that more and more makers will begin to emerge and continue to develop their skills and thus continue to evolve this beautiful instrument and bring more Handpans / Pantams to those who love to play them!
LIST of LINKS:
Steelpan Music in Trinidad and Tobago. The creation of a Peoples Music
The early History of Steelpan in Trinidad and Tobago
Steelband – The Beginning
ABSTRACTS and POSTERS “Musical Instruments – The steeldrums”–FELIX ROHNER and SABINA SCHÄRER – PANArt AG – Presented by PANArt at the Conference on New Developments of the Steelpan
TASPO | Sterling Betancourt | The 1951 Festival of Britain
1956 film: Historical Moment of Steel Pan Creation & Tuning, from Trinidad & Tobago to N. America
Ellie Mannette: Father of the Modern Steel Drum
Sterling Betancourt & Lord Kitchener Jools Holland London Calling
Notting Hill Carnival: Who Started It? – Wyn Baptiste grew up in Notting Hill believing his dad Selwyn, a Trinidadian steel pan player who arrived in Britain in 1960 and was the first Chair of Notting Hill Carnival Committee, was the man who started Carnival. But the truth isn’t quite that simple.
WIKIPEDIA about Sterling Betancourt
Dr. Anthony Achong Comments on the Pan-Hang Argument
Panart: – Anthony Achong: “The Secrets of the Steelpan”
Youtube: PANArt Pangensemble: Hands on Pang