St. Vincent and Grenadines Association of Toronto

Raphael Davidson

Raphael Davidson
 - First pan man and modern mas' man in SVG
 - Fondly known as Raffi (pronounced Raf-eye)

Small group playing ole time pan in SVG
(Photograph cropped from


By Anthony Williams

When Veronica Francis migrated to Trinidad in 1922, she took her seventeen-month-old-son with her. Neither the mother nor the boy knew the latter would be the first person to start the steelband movement in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and also to influence the course of Carnival in this country for years to come.

But that son, Raphael Davidson, returned to his native land at the end of 1944, like a wise messenger sent from "South" to start and propagate the art of steelband. "It was around Christmas time when I came back here to live", the lively veteran panman said, "I soon made some friends. And we went around serenading for Nine Mornings. Every body was playing some sort of instrument, but they were just 'chak chak', tambourine and guitar. So I got a piece of steel and a round piece of metal and started to play the only rhythm they played on pan in Trinidad at the time. That was 'ping pong ping', and the rhythm fit in with the singing", he added.

Rather interestingly, young Raphael never played pan in Trinidad, although the art had begun to gain stature at the time.

"Well I used to be the drummer in a band so it was kind of easy for me to work up a pan rhythm from the instrument that I had", the self-taught musician stated.

In 1945, Raphael thought there was a lot St. Vincent didn't know about Carnival and so returned to Trinidad. He brought back to St. Vincent some steelband instruments and tuning equipment. That year marked the participation of the first steelband in Vincy Carnival.

"At that time we used to play mas' and steelband together. My band had twelve people in it, some of them I can't remember. But I think there were: Elias Roache, 'Sand Man', 'Bucket Man', Louis Francis and Sonny Trimmingham. Most of these fellas are dead, but I think Elias is still alive", the retired pan man noted.

According to Davidson, Trinidad moved up in the steelband art when one Winston 'Spree' Simon managed to play the first composed tune on pan. The basic 'ping pong ping' also gave way to composed music in St. Vincent when Henry Wilson returned from Trinidad, where he participated in Carnival celebrations, with a band that same year.

"That year, 1948, was when pan men in St. Vincent and Trinidad started to play tune on pan", the old man emphasized, adding, "don't let anybody fool you, Trinidad is the home of Steelband: it all started and developed there."

"When I came here I did not see anything as in Trinidad. Not much people played mas'. And the type of mas' they had were made from cheap pieces of strings and mattings. And on the Carnival morning people used to have to jig up to the administrator's house, jig up in front of him, and he will give the winning band five dollars and a pool of ribbons as prize."

But he refused to 'lick any colonialist boot' and took his twelve-member band on the streets of Kingstown for the first Carnival street jump-up in this country's history, in 1945. His band collected money along the way, and the members received more prizes than those who succumbed to the administrator's wishes.

Davidson migrated to the United States in 1961, and is the owner of a barbershop in New York. But since 1969, a very active and sharp Davidson keeps coming to enjoy Vincy Carnival every year, of which all aspects he judged as being of an extremely high standard.

The above article first appeared in The Vincentian newspaper - Volume 82, No.43. Friday 26 October 1990. The article was re-typed from a newspaper clipping provided by Raphael's daughter, Veronica Davidson-Brown.

Note: Raphael died on December 18, 1993 in Brooklyn, New York and was laid to rest at the Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kingstown, St. Vincent on December 30, 1993.


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