Definite Pitch Steel Pans Owner & Craftsman
Ancliff "Ansel" Joseph
Date of Birth: November 1, 1942
Place of Birth: Couva, Trinidad, West Indies
Ansel was born in Trinidad in the early 1940’s when the emergence of steel pan was quite evident. He was exposed to the culture of pan at the early age of five. He grew up in an area of the city (Gonzalez) that boasted of having pioneered some of the country’s earliest steel bands.
Ansel’s first knowledge of the steel pan came to him by way of his eldest brother who at the time led his own steel band. By the time Ansel was eight years of age he had attempted to make pans out of milk and juice cans. With his admission to the elementary school system, Ansel teamed up with a few school mates as a member of what was to be Trinidad’s first all-youth steel band called “City Kids” which later provided pan experience for renowned pan virtuoso Robert Greenidge as well.
In 1958 Ansel graduated from the youth band to an adult steel band, the “Shell Invaders,” led by legendary steel pan innovator Elliot “Ellie” Mannette. It was at this time that Ansel became a protégé of Mr. Mannette learning the principles and techniques of modern building and tuning of the steel pan. This one-on-one training continued for several years and included: sinking the drum, laying out the pattern of notes in the drum, grooving the notes, preparing and tempering the metal, and final tuning of the instrument. In addition, Ansel was trained in the making and playing of all of the different styles of pan that make up a complete band including tenor pan (ping pong or lead) double tenor pan, double second pan, triple guitar pan, cello pan, tenor bass pan, and the bass pan.
In 1960 Ansel was asked to lead a full size steel band from Belmont as tuner and arranger. With this group, called “Satisfiers,” Ansel gained recognition in the annual steel band classical competition. In 1961 he was invited to join the “Merry Makers” steel band, a group well known for representing Trinidad and Tobago on cultural missions. In 1962 “Merry Makers” commissioned Ansel to become their pan builder as well as player and arranger as they embarked upon a European tour. During this six year period they performed in Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Gibraltar and Africa.
Ansel returned to Trinidad in 1968 for a brief time before leaving for Canada where he continued to develop his craft of building and tuning pans. He also began conducting workshops during this period. In 1980 Ansel was reunited with master steel pan maker Ellie Mannette in the United States, working as Ellie’s assistant making high quality steel pans for schools and professional pan players. It was at this time that Ansel upgraded and updated his pan making skills with the knowledge and application of overtones and the use of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th harmonic tones to create sympathetic vibrations and better tone quality in notes on the pan.
In 1983 Ansel returned to Trinidad and worked blending and tuning pans for his former band, the Invaders. He returned once more in 1984, this time working with Bertie Marshall and Tony Slater in the Desperado panyard. In 1985 Ansel moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in California where he became heavily involved in working with youth steel pan performance. Ansel continued his work with youth groups through his ten years in California as well as his move to Phoenix, Arizona in 1995. In 1997 Ansel was the recipient of an Artist in Educational Research Grant and once again returned to Trinidad with Dr, Mark Sunkett, ethnomusicologist from Arizona State University. The purpose of this visit was to research the pre-rhythms of the steel pan movement. In 2006, Ansel began an ongoing relationship with the Valley Harps and Merrytones Steel Bands in Diego Martin, Trinidad, as one of their resident tuners.
Lectures, Workshops, Residencies
1987-1988, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2001-2005: Artist-in-Residence Davidson Middle School in San Rafael, CA.
1988, 1989, 1997: Facilitated guest artist appearance by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael, CA.
January, 1992: asked by the City of Phoenix, AZ to coordinate steel band music for the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration at the Plaza Ballroom.
March, 1992: Seattle Art Museum week long Steel Pan Workshop and Gallery Talk on the evolution of the Steel Pan in the Caribbean.
September, 1992: one day lecture and demonstration/workshop at South Mountain School of the Performing Arts, Phoenix, AZ.
October, 1992: week long Artist-In-Residence at the California Academy of Sciences demonstrating the entire process of making a steel pan.
February, 1993: Yuma Symposium Exhibition, which included some of the country’s top metal workers, in Yuma, AZ.
April, 1993: participant in The Steel Pan Project at the San Francisco Exploratorium in San Francisco, CA and at Mills College in Oakland, CA.
1993: Artist-in-Residence at Kyrene Middle School, AZ.
1995: Artist-in-Residence at Desert Cove Elementary School, Phoenix, AZ.
1995: Recipient of Arizona Commission of the Arts Project Grant.
1996: Artist-in-Residence at Powell JHS, Mesa, AZ
1996: Artist-in-Residence at Mohave Community College, Lake Havasu, AZ.
1997: Artist-in-Residence at Larkspur Elementary School, Phoenix, AZ.
1997: Recipient of Artist in Educational Research Grant.
2001, 2002, 2003, 2005: Facilitated and appeared as artist at “Pan in the Schools Jamboree “ at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael, CA. Brought in guest artists Ray Holman and Rudy Smith.
2014, 2015: Worked with the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) in Phoenix Arizona
2014, 2015: Worked with the nonprofit Castaway Kids Mexico to bring steel pans to Esperanza Azteca, San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico
Built pans for the following steel pan programs:
Phoenix College, Phoenix, AZ , 2021
East of the River Steel Band, Washington D.C., 2020
Project Encore, Sierra Vista, AZ 2020
Dreamers Academy Music Program, New York, 2019
CASYM Steel Pans, New York, 2019
Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center, San Francisco, CA 2018
Tanner Community Development Corporation, Phoenix, AZ 2018
Horry County Schools, South Carolina, 2016
Castaway Kids, San Carlos, Mexico, 2014
Cabrillo High School, Long Beach, CA, 2014
George Gervin Prep Academy, San Antonio, TX 2013
George Gervin Prep Academy, Phoenix, AZ 2012
Sangre Grande Government School, Sangre Grande, TT, WI, 2008
Bahia Vista Elementary School, San Rafael, CA,2008
St. Francis High School/Mountain View, CA, 2004
Alisal High School/Salinas, CA, 2002
Adams Middle School/Richmond, CA, 2000
Del Mar Middle School/Tiburon, CA, 1999
Blaker-Kinser JHS/Ceres, CA, 1999
Stone Valley Middle School/Alamo, CA, 1998
Rocklin High School/Rocklin, CA, 1998
San Rafael High School/San Rafael, CA, 1996
Nelson Avenue School/Oroville, CA, 1996
Powell Junior High School/Mesa, AZ 1996
Vineyard JHS/Alta Loma, CA, 1995
Pomolita Middle School/Ukiah, CA, 1991
Sinaloa Middle School/Novato, CA, 1990
Davidson Middle School/San Rafael, CA, 1985
Parks and Recreation Department/Oakland, CA 1985
Awards & Completed Training
Southwest Folklife Alliance (Affiliate of U of A) Master-Apprentice Award Program Artist, 2020
TAP (Teaching Artist Program through ASU Molly Blank and Kennedy Center for the Arts) 2020