Tambrinin’ In Tobago

By: Katie Manning

January 17, 2013

Music is often associated with the Caribbean, from Reggae in Jamaica and Merengue in the Dominican Republic to the lesser-known Spouge in Barbados and Benna in Antigua and Barbuda. We love how the traditions mix and merge between the islands, creating new musical genres and the eclectic, upbeat vibe that epitomises the Caribbean.

Tobago | Imagine Free & MCA Photography
Enjoying some local music © Imagine Free & MCA Photography

Although technically the island of Trinidad claims the Steel Drum as its indigenous instrument, the people of Tobago are not without one of their own. The Tambrin, similar in design to a tambourine, was created out of necessity by the Tobagoans when African drums were banned and confiscated by their colonisers, who feared their power to spark rebellion. Not to be defeated, the people of Tobago covered circular cheese boxes with animal skin (usually goat) and made replacements – Tambrins.

Nowadays, the Tambrins are made with the easily pliable wood of the Latan Tree or Wild Cassava instead of old cheese boxes, but the goat’s skin still remains. In order to get the best sound out of the drums, they are heated by fire  – and this is in fact a kind of tuning process where each drum is tightened or loosened depending on the pitch desired.

Tobago Beach
Sunset at the beach © mikearther

Tambrin music consists of the percussion of the goatskin drums – a high-pitched “Cutter”, the lower “Boom” and the rhythmic “Roller”, as well a fiddle or harmonica (that plays the lead) and a steel triangle. The five-part bands played an integral part in social and cultural gatherings all over the island until the 1960s, and recently Tobago’s Culture Department has recognised the need to keep this indigenous, unique tradition alive by promoting it through schools and education programmes. The local Tobagoan radio station is even called “Radio Tambrin”.

There are currently several Tambrin bands in Tobago, including The Royal Sweet Fingers Tambrin Band, The Mt. Cullane Tambrin Band and The Unity Tambrin Band. And since there are as yet no commercial recordings of Tambrin music, the only way to hear it is in its best medium…live. We highly recommend catching a performance or two”¦ and be prepared to get your dancing shoes on!


Feature image © cubanman/iStock/Thinkstock


Katie Manning

Katie is an author for the Virgin Atlantic blog. Despite her urban London residency, Katie can often be found exploring far-flung corners of the globe in search of exciting new experiences and stories. A self-confessed night-owl, she makes it her mission to search out the best cocktail bars and live music venues on each and every expedition. Follow Katie @kt_saramanning

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