Mark Allison making steel pans with a Jamaican sound

February 14, 2019
Mark Allison, a member of Silver Bird Steel Orchestra and steel drum maker, demonstrates how the instruments are built.
Allison explains the process of making steel pans sound different from what you would hear in Trinidad and Tobago.
Mark Allison, member of Silver Bird Steel Orchestra, and steel pan maker.

Six years ago, Mark Allison saw a need for making steel pans as the Silver Bird Steel Orchestra was expanding.

As a group, they wanted a different sound while maintaining the essence of the true nature of steel drums.

Realising that he could ‘tek hand mek fashion’, he turned to YouTube, researching ways of creating steel drums himself.

“Building steel pans comes with years of experience and a lot of strength. We as a group recognised the need for new pans as we expanded, and so we started producing our own pans. I ‘YouTubed’ it and researched how they really do it and improved on it,” he said.

Allison said that the craft was not easy to perfect as he was aiming for a sound that was different from that of the Trinidad steel bands.

He said that for the past six years, he has been making the drums and it takes a lot of skill and craft.


“To build one of these pans takes two to three weeks. It is a normal steel drum that we take and use a hammer to pound it down to get it to a level where we can orchestrate the notes in it, and then groove it to get the notes. Our drums have a different arrangement from the Trinis. Our double tenor would be their single tenor. So we spread out our notes across two pans while they would put less notes in one pan,” he said.

The 45-year-old said that he is very happy that he took on this work because they are seeing the benefits. Silver Bird is the only steel band company in Jamaica that is making steel pans.

He said that since he started to perfect his craft, people have been requesting to purchase steel pans from them.

“We get orders online and quite a few number of foreigners, after hearing us play and realising that it is different from Trini steel pans, (they) ask to buy from us,” he said. “We teach schools as well, and so if they want to purchase from us, they get a different price from what we sell internationally.”

Allison, who has been a member of the Silver Bird Steel Orchestra for the past 11 years, said that as a group they have travelled much, learning and playing various genres of music such as jazz, classic, soca, dancehall, and reggae.



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