Family Steelbands

The ascendancy of the 'family' steelband came to fruition at a time when panyards were popping up in the backyards of many panmen. In fact, many of the steelpan pioneers spent their formative years learning their craft in a family steelband. for example, Lennox Sharpe's first experience of playing the steelpan was at his parents home when he was a child. He moved on and eventually formed his own steelband, Phase II. Family steelbands, often small ensembles are fertile grounds for the development of virtuoso pannists.

In 1967, Dr Jit Samaroo formed the Samaroo Kids Steel Orchestra which was made up of both male and female extended family members. The steelband was created in part as a vehicle to continue the music education of family members after Jit's mother passed away. The technical ability of the steelband members both individually and collectively propelled the Samaroo Kids to national notoriety. They soon began to travel the world as ambassadors of Trinidad and Tobago thus promoting the steelpan in its entirety. By the mid 1970's, the steelband changed its name to the Samaroo Jets due to their globe-trotting exploits. The Samaroo Jets also entered many competitions in Trinidad and their performances at the World Steelband Music Festival were celebrated as some of their greatest achievements. 

Another family steelband that has come through the ranks is the Codrington Pan Family from East Dry River, Port of Spain, Trinidad. Formed in 1999, it was originally a single pan steelband consisting of the mother, father, sons and daugthers. The Codrington Pan Family has at some point competed in almost every steelpan competition Trinidad has to offer. They were placed either first or runners-up beating some of the established Panorama winning steelbands. They also performed for many dignitaries worldwide including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, by whom they were fondly known as the Pan Family. Their music has been described as being comprised of a touch of Jazz, Classical, R&B and Pop with a Caribbean flare. The Pan Family also expands into a larger conventional steel orchestra which includes other steelpan players throughout Trinidad. 

For many West Indians who have settled in the UK, the tradition of forming a family steelband continued so as to ensure that all band members retain a part of their heritage and also to show off the versatility of the steelpan in their new homeland.

In 1975, Kelvin Benjamin and Leroy Sylvester formed the North Stars Steel Orchestra. They learned to play steelpans as members of the Silver Harps, a steelband from Salazar Trace, Point Fortin, Trinidad. On their arrival to the UK, they settled in Huddersfield and so as to continue playing the steelpans they encouraged their families to join together to form North Stars. As the steelband became established, Benjamin secured sponsorship from his employer ICI/Syngenta. The steelband then began to undertake various engagements in Europe and the Caribbean. Their performances throughout the UK included a stint at Buckingham Palace and the 100th anniversary of the Labour Party in the presence of the then Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 2002, North stars won Panorama and in 2005 they embarked on a nine destination UK tour - 'Molten Metal' with the acclaimed trombonist Dennis Rollins and the steelpan soloist from Ebony Steelband, Samuel Dubois. In 2015, North Stars celebrates its 40th anniversary and is still home to members of the Benjamin family.

In 1988, the late Ezeikiel Yearwood and Raymond Joseph formed the Pantonic Steel Orchestra. Although their aim was to form a community steelband for the benefit of the young people in Hackney, the steelband was a fusion of members from their respective families. As the popularity of the steelband became apparent, people from the community were welcomed to join as members. In 1994 and 1995 Pantonic was runner-up in Panorama. The steelband has performed at numberous events such as The Hackney Run, Hackney One Carnival, Shorditch Festival and Hackney Wicked Festival in and around the Hackney area. In 2014, Pantonic Steel Orchestra was featured on the television show 'Come Dine With me', and later that year they had the privilege to perform at St Paul's Cathedral. The steelband holds regular workshops and weekly lessons for players with varying abilities. Many of the original steelband members have gone on to become steelband teachers, private tutors or form their own steelbands. The steelband has now changed its name to 'Pantonic Steel Orchestra, the Next Generation' because many of the current members are the offspring of the original band members.

It is fair to say that many of our long standing steelbands began as family steelbands. However, as the family members left and new non-family members joined, these steelbands have grown in membership and so become community steelbands. The steelband members continue to consider themselves as one 'family' because of the close relationships formed in and outside of the steelband arena, and their willingness to support each other and their families through the good and bad times.