The Roy Geddes Steel Pan Museum in Georgetown, Guyana has to be one of the most unusual museums anywhere, and it's not just because of its exuberant front yard and signs.
Unlike most museums that feature scholarly collections of artifacts and culture, this is a museum that is inhabited, inspired and even lived in by its creator, whose life work as a musician and influencer of musicians has spread far from its Caribbean home.
Roy Geddes is one of the pioneers and masters of steel pan music. If you're not familiar with the amazing sound of drums made from 55-gallon oil drums, take a moment to listen to the clips above.
I recorded the first when Roy demonstrated for us on our visit; the second is part of a performance by his Silver Tones band at a Georgetown hotel about fifteen years ago.
The museum is filled with pan memorabilia, works in progress, and signs proclaiming his philosophy on music and life, much of it revolving around self-discipline; the one above reminds musicians that raw "talent is just a small part of it."
The museum occupies the ground floor of the home he shares with his wife and fellow-curator Pam. They've been married 53 years. More memorabilia fills the stairway to their living room and the living room itself. They are generous with time for visitors, and spent quite a while in conversation with us, especially with my traveling companion, who is originally from Guyana.
The steel drum, or pan, is more than a musical instrument. Although its present form came about starting in the 1940s in Trinidad and Tobago and then Guyana, it is the descendant of African drums, especially 'talking drums' whose use was communication as well as rhythm.
Enslaved people brought to the Caribbean to work on plantations used drumming to help keep their own culture alive and became such a form of resistance or rebellion at times that their drums, and their music were repeatedly banned by colonial governments.
Over the years, Roy worked with many others in a number of bands. Aside from his Silver Tones, he was a founder of the National Steel Orchestra in the 1960s, and was invited to play at Trinidad and Tobago's independence celebration and to tour Cuba, playing in dozens of places.
The Silver Tones, which he formed in 1964, quickly won an avid audience, as well as a number of awards, including two at the Guyana Music Festival. When Queen Elizabeth visited Guyana before its independence in 1966, the Silver Tones were chosen to play.
In addition to his performance career, Roy has played an important role as a 'tuner' in creating pans, and training others. It's a complex process, which he showed us: It starts with hammering the head of the former barrel into a concave shape, and then shaping spaces around it to create individual notes to be struck with bamboo sticks. You can see the process in the video below, part of a fascinating interview with Roy.
Among the many awards to be seen on the walls, a prominent place goes to a picture of Roy receiving the Golden Arrow of Achievement Award from his long-time friend, Guyana President Cheddi Jagan in 1996.
In his later years, he has created a school to teach pan to youth and has played and recorded at fund-raising events for the University of Guyana and other causes, and was invited to Tanzania to make steel pans for the Tanzanian National Service.
NCN Guyana television broadcast an extended interview with Roy Geddes last November with many historic photos.