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Imagine you are looking back on an event, that changed not only your own life but as well the whole history of steelpan music. This short documentary will blow your mind.

The video piece was published in. I stumbled over it while researching the life of the calypsonian Roaring Lion, and I thought it would be great to share it with you. It contains original footage from the event, which only takes place once in a century.

Short Documentary | BBC "The 1951 Festival of Britain "
Length: 5 mins
Video abspielen
Sterling Betancourt was a part of the Trinidad All Stars Steel Percussion Band, describing his first experience of leaving the tin twin island and finding himself in this completely different world. While living here, I can tell you that not everybody has the chance to leave Trinidad and Tobago - and only the best were chosen for such an important occasion.
Here is another piece, where Sterling Betancourt shows you the "Ping Pong Samba", as well as the prosperity of Jamaicans heading to Great Britain to find a new place in Life, as same as many Trinbagonians did. See for yourself what impression the British Empire had.
Video abspielen

Here are a few photographs from the event The installations and structures were extra built for this occasion, comparable with an international expo. In the full documentary, you will hear that world war II left still its footprints on the city, while corners still had huge holes in the ground from bomb attacks. Still, the United Kingdom tried to represent as best as it could to leave a good impression and a prosperous vision of Great Britain‘s future. I wonder what the festival will look like in 2051, but let us go back in time now into the year 1951.

Festival of Britain - 1951
South Bank - Location of the Festival of Great Britain (1951)
King of England - Festival of Great Britain
King of England opening the Event (1951)
The King and Queen accompanied by Mr Gerald Barry, Director General of the Festival, followed by Mr Herbert Morrision, Queen Mary in her wheel chair and other members of the Royal Family during their tour of the exhibition.
Visited by the Leaders of the Country
Design Innovations to present Britain in a new light (1951)
Festival of Great Britain 1951
Attractions for young and old (1951)
Science Exhibition - Festival of Britain
Science Exhibiton at the Festival of Britain (1951)
Science Exhibition - Festival of Britain 1951
Science Exhibiton at the Festival of Britain (1951)
Festival of Great Britain 1951
Evening Impression - Festival of Britain
So, why is this Festival so important for the development of steelpan music? It was the very first time that people out of Trinidad and Tobago were able to hear the sound of the freshly mastered art form from the twin island. The reception has been more than fantastic, especially when the people's first impression was "what are these dustbin boys", after the first song, they amazingly changed their minds and started to love it. From this day on, the instrument went all across the world and inspired a lot of people to start doing music and to appreciate Trinidad and Tobago's musical invention.
For the featured musician, Sterling Betancourt, it was the start of a fascinating music career. In 1964 he was one of the first steelpan players at Notting Hill Carnival, which is taking place ever since this date on top he was a part of the organizers of the event. Russel Henderson, Sterling Betancourt, and Ralph Cherrie initiated the multicultural Notting Hill children's street festival. A festival that grew to become the biggest street event in Europe, the Notting Hill Carnival.
Also, he traveled to many different countries to perform and record records. He performed in Japan, the Arab Emirates (including Dubai), Morocco, Indonesia, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.
Musician and steel pan arranger - Sterling Betancourt in 1952
He received many national and international awards for his commitment to promoting steelpan culture throughout the United Kingdom and pioneering steelpan projects in English schools. But back to his early beginnings in 1951.
Steel Pan music to be heard by the world for the very first time
Here are a few of the members of Trinidad and Tobago's arising steel drum orchestras, who were chosen to attend and perform at the festival. Some of them will go down in steelpan history, even more than this.

Theo Stephens (Free French Steel Orchestra, San Fernando)
Belgrave Bonaparte (Southern Symphony, Oropouche)
Andrew De Labistide (Casablanca Orchestra, Port of Spain)
Philmore Davidson (The Syncopators, Port of Spain)
Patsy Orman Haynes (Casablanca Orchestra, Port of Spain)
Winston "Spree" Simon (Tokyo Steel Orchestra, Port of Spain)
Dudley Smith (Rising Sun, Belmont)
Ellie Mannette (Invaders, Woodbrook - Port of Spain)
Anthony "Skip" Williams (Pan Am North Stars, Port of Spain)
Sterling Betancourt (Crossfire Steel Orchestra, St James)

Feel free to look out for these names on YouTube and you will be amazed by the sweet sounds combined with powerful performances from all over the world.

The following selections shall include pieces, that the musicians performed. The saxophonist and the vocalist stay unidentified, even though somebody in the comments believes the singer is Theo Stephens, I can't confirm 100 %, still it is very possible that also this record was made in the United Kingdom.
Steel Pan at the Festival of Great Britain (1951
Video abspielen

I am fascinated of the idea, that this event was a life changer for so many, including the musicians that travelled on a ship that transported bananas overseas from the Caribbean to the UK, to show the world the new invention. I believe for the players, the festival was just one of many magnificent events they performed, but according to the impressions of the documentary, it must have been an overwhelming experience. 

While the core idea of the festival was to combine entertainment with science and the futuristic world, it fits perfectly together with the innovative idea that people in Trinidad and Tobago had by creating an instrument out of oil drums, containers, and bamboo pieces of different lengths. Simply, mezmerising! How do you like the impressions from the early 1950s, feel free to comment down below. 

Written by:
DJ Mika Raguaa - Professional DJ & Multimedia Designer
DJ & Researcher


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