Photo/Courtesy of Michael Hospedales
There is nothing sweeter than the melodic and harmonic sound of steelpan music. With human voice-like flexibility, you can literally hear the words bounce out of the pan. It’s that distinctive tone and rhythm that first drew Michael Hospedales to the steelpan as a child. But as the Trinidad-born musician got exposed to different types of music, he felt that this art form was not being explored to its full potential.
Today, the young composer and arranger is on a mission to make the mainstream music industry take the steelpan seriously. “It’s time they truly discover the rhythmic diversity of this powerful instrument,” he said.
In his interview with Unstoppable Yes You, the talented musician shares his journey with the steelpan and his desire to make his instrument more popular across music genres.
What was your first encounter with the steelpan?
When I was 6 years old, I was playing outside and I heard the steelpan music from a distance. I went in the direction of the sound and found a group of older men who belonged to a local band practicing. That same day, I fell in love with the sound of the steelpan. From then on, I would sneak out of the house to play pan after school and I eventually joined the Santa Cruz Pan Jammers.
Why did you have to sneak out of your house play pan?
I grew up with my father and grandmother in Trinidad. My grandmother is very religious and she associated steelpan music with Carnival, which was not her thing. Playing pan was not something she accepted. My father on the other hand was very encouraging and supportive.
In just a few short years, I was fully immersed in playing the pan and mastered the instrument. When my grandmother saw my dedication to the craft, she finally gave in.
I started playing on the road for carnival Monday and participated in Socarama and Panorama, an annual national steelpan orchestra competition. At the time, I didn’t think of playing the steelpan as an occupation, but I knew it was something I wanted to pursue seriously.
When you moved to Brooklyn at the age of 17, how did your musical journey evolve?
When I migrated to Brooklyn after completing high school, I joined two local bands but I did not get the same feeling that I did playing in Trinidad. I did not have the same zeal for the music with these bands, so I became a solo performer.
I started recording videos of myself playing pan in my living room. I did covers, creating my own unique flavor to familiar tunes like Blessed by Shenseea, Zeze by Kodak Black and I Don’t Care by Ed Sheeran, featuring Justin Bieber. I did not want the steel pan to be typecast as a soca instrument – an instrument that you only listen to during the carnival season or on a cruise ship. For this reason, I cover a variety of genres - R&B, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Pop, Afro Beats, and even Classical music.
Michael 's rendition of WizKid's You Don't Need No Other Body
Why don’t you feel the steelpan gets the respect it deserves?
The steelpan is no doubt an icon of Trinidadian culture. However, I would like to see the instrument’s reputation evolve. While most steelpan orchestras play the traditional Caribbean music - soca and calypso, I believe we (pan musicians) can take steelpan music to new heights.
I would like to remove the stereotypical association of steelpan music as cruise ship music or that trendy sound that occasionally gets infused in a hip-hop track. I would like to see the steelpan take center stage and stand on its own as a mainstream instrument.
Who are your musical inspirations?
When I am composing music, I draw inspiration from Prince and Bob Marley, but Michael Jackson is my all-time favorite artist. What I admire about them is that they were fearless in the way they expressed their music. They often took musical risks that paid off.
Bruno Mars, Carlos Santana, and multi-instrumentalist Corey Henry are also musicians I look up to. They have a way of taking something classic and turning it into something new and exciting.
You’ve performed with award-winning violinist Mapy and major soca artists including Machel Montano, Kes, and Nailah Blackman. You’ve also performed at celebrity birthday parties and weddings. What’s next for you?
I am currently working on original music. I would like to release an album with a collection of music that captures my musical journey and pays homage to my musical heroes. Also, while I have performed at Caribbean events in the U.S. and my home country, I would love to get the opportunity to perform at headline-grabbing festivals and events like Cochlea, the Essence Music Festival – and even the Grammys.
Michael Hospedales is a symbol of Caribbean culture and pride. His talent is undeniable, as is his determination to elevate steelpan music. Michael brings energy, technical perfection, and musical versatility to his performances, making him unstoppable and an artist everyone should experience.
Listen to Michael’s music on Instagram via @michael_thepannist.