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The Handpan Mafia

Author: Rudy Kendall hang pan hangdrum karibpan steel drum blog steel pan steel pan blog steeldrum steeldrum blog steelpan steelpan blog

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. 






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  • Admin on

    Handpan Mafia Anon,
    you claim my troll game is good and finally, you are not wrong!
    In order to defeat a troll like yourself all I did was put my words into song
    And magically, trolls like you who used to swarm here are leaving in throngs!
    But that is the medicine that needs to be given to you ding dongs!

    You come here and troll and expect not to get trolled?
    Do you honestly believe over my brand I would let you roll,
    Like you were out in the park just taking a stroll?
    Because that is how comfortable you are trolling, you troll!

    Hopefully now you see I have a heart made of gold,
    And when I am ready I can be pretty cold,
    So next time you and your troll friends want to feel bold,
    go back to facebook and see if your lies can be sold!

  • Handpan Mafia Anon. on

    Admin, you have perfected the art of trolling. Congratulations! You deserve a Troll-scar (oscar) award. Good luck with your alienation and self-destruction, you are on the right path. Im out!

  • Rudy on

    Steelpan handpan, those are only words. Lets make beautyful sounds . Music is the language here.

  • Handpan lover on

    Dear Admin, I would love to apologise about the censorship, I didn’t understand the posts had to be approved before being seen, it’s my fault, so I honestly apologise.

    Than… I’m sorry if I showed any kind of negativity, it’s just that I know the handpan community and it’s hurtful to read that is considered by you or by anyone as a “mafia”. So, once again I apologise if I’ve been in any way rude or unpolite.

    So now I can discuss the points you’ve written in the previous answer. I don’t think I falsely claim that a high rate does not make one as a good handpan maker, I think I rightfully said that a high rate does not make one as a good handpan maker. As somebody else told you before, with better words than mine, having a high rate is for sure a good point to start, but doesn’t mean or prove that the customer satisfied are well informed or professional handpan player. It could come from people just entered in the handpan world. So the high rate is good point to start, but it depends by the people who have been rating the instruments.

    You made a comparison between having a high customer satisfaction rate as a handpan maker and Selena Gomez (at the top of the pop charts) being a better musician (or not) than Radiohead?!

    Handpan Lover, it is quite clear you are all over the place!

    About the Selena Gomez and Radiohead thing… It was just to say that on top pf the chart you don’t always have the best artist. As for the rating it doesn’t always reflect the true skills of a maker. There is a ranking of the best handpan makers for example, but some of them for me, in my own opinion, are not the best, and for many others it’s the same. So, the handpan mafia doesn’t exist: it’s simple to understand why. Makers are not working together, they just build handpans by their own. Every maker is trying to his best: some of them are gorgeous, other not yet, other maybe will never be. If you check there are more than 100 handpan makers, but you can count on the fingers of your 2 hands the number of the best ones. And they are the best not because of the mafia, but because they are the best. That’s all. With all the respect to the other handpan maker who are trying their best.

  • Fran on

    I’ve just said I’m not sure you’ll like my playing, that’s it! You’re into steel pans since 23 years, I’m into it just since 10, and I can guess you can play better than me :P
    But I don’t think I’m just playing around, I’m trying to do my best since I’ve started! I’ll upload asp the video, so you can say if I’m a pannist or not! ;)

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