As a veteran steelpan enthusiast (23 years), it is disheartening to say the least, that there is apparently a Handpan Mafia in existence which collectively, whether willfully or not, has conspired to remove the handpan from the traditional steelpan family of which it is a descendant. In the process, they have essentially on the whole, emerged from out of the shadows and have now basically cornered the handpan market. They simultaneously charge exorbitant, over-inflated prices for instruments which only maintain their over-inflated valuation due to an essentially uninformed, easily led, and non-musically oriented buyers market.
Allow me to expand.
The handpan is an instrument that has a wide appeal on a viral level due to its inherent simplicity musically speaking. In terms of the actual playing of notes, with 8-9 notes tuned in one lonely scale, it is nearly impossible to hit a wrong note with most handpan tunings. Percussion and finger techniques aside, virtually anyone with no musical background can play a handpan and make relatively decent music, which in turn, allows handpan players to present themselves as musicians fairly easily.
The handpan's user-friendly nature is one of the great keys to the handpan's wide appeal and strong demand. The other great key being the mellow sound, which is a distinct steelpan sound.
In the previous blog post, I noted how it is easier for a traditional steelpan tuner to tune a handpan than it is for a traditional handpan tuner to tune a traditional steelpan. The same can be said with regard to players of traditional steelpans and players of handpans.
A traditional pannist with no prior knowledge of the handpan will be able to play a handpan more effectively than a handpan player who attempts to play a traditional steelpan with no prior knowledge of the steelpan. This is due to the fact that traditional steelpans are generally chromatic instruments with some, like the tenors and double seconds, double tenor and quadrophonics, containing more than 3 full octaves.
As the level of playing difficulty varies so immensely between traditional steelpans and handpans, traditional steelpans are usually not appealing to handpan enthusiasts simply due to the fact that the user-friendly nature of the handpan is not present in the traditional steelpan per say. While it may take a new handpan player a few months to become proficient in playing the handpan, it generally takes at least a few years for a new traditional pannist to become proficient with the instrument
Additionally, on the flip side of the coin, handpans are of little to no interest to traditional steelpan enthusiasts, many of whom consider the handpan a ''boring'' instrument due to its severe limitations musically speaking.
Therefore it is evident, that these two markets rarely intersect for these reasons.
It is safe to say that many of first time handpan owners or expectant owners have little to no musical background. Unlike most buyers of traditional steelpans, who most likely already know how to play the pan and have a musical background before they purchase one. Many traditional steelpan buyers already play the instrument in a band, but would like to own their own instrument.
The handpan basically allows a musical novice to present him or herself as a musician without the years of training that usually is required to play a chromatic instrument such as a traditional steelpan, while at the same time ''passing'', if I may call it that, as a ''decent'' musician.
It is precisely here that the Handpan Mafia has realized a golden opportunity and has undoubtedly seized upon it.
The first step in the Handpan Mafia's consolidation and cornerning of the market, especially at the high-end, was and is the continuing implication that the handpan is somehow a unique instrument. It is certainly not. The distinction of being a unique musical instrument DOES belong to the traditional steelpan however!
This is evident to me on a near daily basis, as the many people who see me play pan ask me if I am playing a ''hang''! So it is quite clear to me that in some parts of the world at least, many people do not even know of the traditional steelpan, but are aware of the handpan.
As far as we at KaribPAN are concerned, it is the duty of every handpan maker to acknowledge the Caribbean origin of the handpan instrument, instead of marketing it as a unique Swiss (European) invention by implication or otherwise. I may also point out that no members of the Handpan Mafia are from the Caribbean, neither do they have Caribbean backgrounds. In sum, this makes them cultural misappropriators at the very least.
The second tactic the Handpan Mafia uses is the patenting of names related to the steelpan, which lends further credibility to the lie whether by implication, intention or both, that the handpan is a unique invention!
Thirdly, online discussion forums for handpan enthusiasts are operated and funded by this Handpan Mafia to highlight other Handpan Mafia affiliated outifits while virtually blacklisting or censoring discussions about their competition on the Mafia-owned forums. Competition which consists of basically more than 90% of the other handpan makers on the market. This Handpan Mafia is even content to refer to themselves as a ''Family'' of all things, while all other makers who are not aligned with them are outsiders or non-''Family'' by default.
The mean spirited, selfish nature of this behavior of the Handpan Mafia is quite obvious to anyone who loves the steelpan and engages in the business of pan out of pure love for the instrument. These malicious tactics only serve to segregate, and ultimately isolate the handpan into a classification of its own, which is the Handpan Mafia's desired result. Unfortunately for them however, they can never ultimately succeed in transforming the handpan into a ''unique'' instrument because they cannot rewrite history at this early stage in the life of steelpan. Steel pan has not even reached its 100th year of existence, so it is still a relatively modern instrument whose history is still being written to this day by the thousands of traditional pannists today who keep the steelpan tradition and culture alive, as well as new handpan players currently discovering the instrument!
Undoubtedly however, the ''new'' culture of the handpan community is radically different than the culture that historically emanates from the traditional steelpan community, which brings me to my next post where we will compare and contrast the culture of the Handpan and the culture of the traditional steelpan!
Maybe I will post more about this phenomenon of the Handpan Mafia at a later date. However, this literal corruption, misrepresentation and misappropriation in the industry has encouraged my partners and I to offer very reasonably priced, high quality options on the market.
At KaribPAN we pride ourselves in conductingthe business of pan in a socially responsible and ETHICAL manner.