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Steel Drums and Sunshine

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Oh, to be a grinning cat playing the steel drum on a tropical island.

The steelpan, more commonly known as the steel drum, is a percussion instrument originating from Trinidad & Tobago. The steel drum is just that - a steel drum with an open lid, with multiple concaves that the pannist (the name for a steelpan/steel drum player) hits with mallets to play notes.

The steel drum is commonly used to play catchy and fun tunes in real life, particularly in the calypso style, and that often translates into fiction. Steel drums will often be used for upbeat background music.

Since the steel drum comes from the Caribbean islands, it is often associated with tropical places. Because of that, in fiction, you're likely to hear steel drums in island, jungle, ocean, and especially beach settings. This means that in video games, they'll likely be used in Palmtree Panic and Under the Sea levels.


Compare with Banging Pots and Pans and Trash-Can Band. For other music in tropical settings, see Jungle Jazz, Jungle Drums, and Waltz on Water. See also Regional Riff.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Foxtrot: One arc has Roger take the family to the Carribeany Resort, a hotel more than a thousand miles away from any ocean. Roger is the only one not to see past the tourist trap nature of the place, and when he asks his wife if she wants to go to a steel drum concert, argues that it isn't fake because it's a real guy playing the synthesizer... who had just hit the "bagpipes" setting.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Little Mermaid (1989): "Under the Sea", Sebastian the crab's song about how it's great to live in the ocean, prominently features steel drums. The song is also popular with pannists in real life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Death in Paradise: The theme song is full of bright horns and steel drums to better sell the place the series is set on rather than the subject matter (which is murders being committed on the island).
  • In The Office (US), Michael, who just came back from a trip to Sandals, Jamaica with his girlfriend Jan, is reminiscing in his office playing the titular riff from The Merrymen's "Feeling Hot Hot Hot" on a steel drum.

  • Downplayed in "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys, where the steel drum is mostly percussion, in the background of the multilayered mix, but the first verse ends on the lyrics "We'll be falling in love / to the rhythm of a steel drum band" and there's a big steel drum hit in the middle of the second verse.
  • Seth Everman posted a video where he tests out the sounds on a keyboard by playing Toto's "Africa" in different styles. For the genre simply labelled "Jamaican", Everman uses the "steelpan" setting on the keyboard.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, usually known for electronic music (Oxygène), teamed up with the Trinidad-based steel drum band Amoco Renegades on his 1990 album Waiting For Cousteau. The opener, "Calypso", is this trope in spades. It got even better when Jarre got the Amoco Renegades to Paris for his mega-concert the same year.
  • In "Beachfront Celebration" by Kevin Mac Leod, the melody is handed off from a jazzy piano to steel pans to mariachi trumpets, then a combination of all three.
  • Noisestorm's "Crab Rave" by Noisestorm, uses a steel drum-esque sound for its catchy, grooving main melody. The music video features dozens of crabs dancing on a tropical island.
  • Country Music duo The Bellamy Brothers were fond of this, starting off with "You're My Favorite Star". Surprisingly, they averted this on "Get into Reggae Cowboy".
  • "Then What?" by Clay Walker, despite being an otherwise-normal song questioning a man's choice to commit adultery, uses steel drums prominently throughout.

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    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs (2020): In "Warners Unbound," when the Warners are travelling to an island for a vacation, a steel drum rendition of the show's theme song plays in the background.
  • Tom and Jerry: In the Gene Deitch short "Calypso Cat", the titular duo and Tom's love interest for the episode arrive via cruise to a Carribean island, where a musician cat plays a funky beat on the steel drum. Unfortunately for Tom, his girlfriend falls in love with the Calypso cat and leaves Tom for him.
  • The "Marge in Chains" episode of The Simpsons has Mayor Quimby giving a news conference from his office proclaiming to the public that he has postponed his trip to the Bahamas due to the flu outbreak...only for The Reveal to show he is there as a steel drum player walks through the shot.