Bean pods used as shakers to create percussion.


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These seed pods, which make a distinct and appealing multiple sound when shaken, are an example of how a ‘found object’, in this case from nature, can readily serve as a musical instrument.

Much of Caribbean carnival content is rooted in earlier African cultural practices, and this is especially true of music development in the Caribbean.  Enslaved Africans,
transported and sold to colonial Europeans to work the plantations of the Caribbean, were not permitted to bring anything with them - family and tribal units were split up, names were erased. Yet they brought a great deal to the Americas - all that could be carried in the body, mind and spirit, including ways of making music, dance and movement, stories and religious practices. 

From their arrival in Trinidad in the 1780s, French plantation owners celebrated their pre-Lenten Mardi Gras with the elite carnival practices of masquerade balls and carriage processions between plantation houses. The slaves were forbidden to participate in the Europeans’ Mardi Gras, but in their barrack yards, as Europeans’ journal entries and drawings bear out, they celebrated with their own dance and music-making traditions, together with playing satirical representations of their masters.

A lithograph entitled Negro Dance produced in Trinidad by English artist and designer Richard Bridgens in the 1830s, presents a highly animated scene of slaves in a plantation yard, dancing and playing music. The instruments are created from what is to hand: goat skin is stretched across one end of a barrel to form a drum; percussion instruments include a riding stirrup, a horseshoe and a cooking pot, all beaten with sticks, while shakers have been created from calabashes with small stones or metal shot inside.  This is the nature of the music that was brought onto the streets in Trinidad, and other British-ruled islands, by the emancipated Africans in the 1830s and 1840s.

The musics of Africa and Europe had distinctly different aesthetics. European music of this time was melodic and  drew on seven basic notes. African music  in the Carbbean was strongly percussive and polyrhythmic. Many diaries and letters of the time indicate a general antipathy amongst Europeans to the music of their slaves, while at the same time their minute observation and plentiful comments suggest fascination with both the Africans’ music and dance. In addition, drawings often include representation of the plantation family ensconced nearby as spectators.

Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, seed pods of varying kinds, bottle and spoon, lengths of bamboo and biscuit tins were variously part of music-making on the street and elsewhere. It was in the nineteen-thirties and -forties that steel drums, discarded containers from the oil industry, began to be adapted for playing music, leading to the development of pan, as the steel band drum is known - a drum that  plays music that is both percussive and melodic. This is the only fully accredited new musical instrument, in the West, developed in the twentieth century.

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