How Music Saved My Life: The Journey to Create The Solos Handpan
It’s funny how life’s darkest moments can be the source of our greatest art.
This is the story of how loss and depression led me to my passion, my wife, my family, and my service to the world. This story is about you - because all of us are healing from some part of our past, and all of us have profound gifts to give to the world.
Music saved my life. If you have even the smallest ear for a tune, music can save yours too.
It all started with a silent 3-year-old...
I was born in Kingston Jamaica, I had a sister and my 2 parents. When I was 3 years old, my mom left me and my sister. I was so confused and distraught that I grew numb inside. I was interested in anything and completely disengaged.
My father gave me to my grandmother at the age of 6. For years, I was numb and I did nothing. I sat around. I was a mute. I would follow her, listen and do as I was told. I was just … there. Like a body without a soul.
Taking adventures didn’t work, and neither did psychiatry.
My grandmother, god bless her, she was looking for ways to stimulate me, to bring me back to being a “normal” kid. To laugh, to be playful. She tried to travel first. She brought me to Cuba, England, Belgium. But I was still numb.
She then brought me to psychiatrists and other specialists. That also failed. Nobody knew what to do. My blessed grandmother never lost hope, she kept looking for something that would help. I will never stop being grateful for my grandmother for what happened next.
Something Clicked - The Music Healed My Soul
One day, everything changed. That day was the day I discovered the Jamaican steel drum (pan). For the first time in my life, I had a reaction. I was talking. I was engaging.
When I talked to my grandmother, you wouldn’t believe her shock! She was thrilled. Grandma signed me up for Steel Drum (Pan) classes right away.
Something sparked deep inside of me. There was passion in the Steel drums. There was “feeling”. I connected for the first time in my life. I felt emotions.
This might sound crazy, but at that moment, I already decided that I would dedicate my life to music and building instruments. This eventually would lead me to become one of the best players of Jamaican steel drum, and I eventually to build my own unique instruments.
Discovering the Drums with Soul
From there on, I started to study with my mentor. He was the main builder of the Jamaica steel drum. He taught me about 2 kinds of music
The first is nice melodies, nice and loud sounds.
The second is deeper and powerful. It moves you and makes you feel something inside, it shifts something deep in your soul. These drums have “feeling” and have their own “soul”.
What I knew from my experience is that I came back to life because of the “feeling” of the Jamaican steel drum. I know that I don’t feel that when I hear the Trinidad drum (it feels too high pitched). I needed to learn how to create instruments with the deep, soulish feeling of the Jamaican steel drum.
The Quest to Become a Master Builder
For the next 20 years, (from 7 years old to 27 years old) I would spend all my days studying, playing, and learning the steel drums. At first, I would spend hours watching my master build. I would stand there for 10 hours a day, watching. Every movement, the bending of metal, I listened deeply. For years, I watched and learned.
My master at first didn’t want to teach me, he didn’t want me to mess up his instruments. But after years of me showing up and watching, he saw that I wouldn’t go away, so he eventually let me try. He allowed me to practice building. It took many years and hundreds of hours, but the time didn’t matter. I was passionate, and nothing would stop me. I had a mission.
I worked alongside my master for several years until I had learned enough about building myself that I wanted to go to the next level. I felt like there was more to the steel drum.
So I created my own sound.
It took many hours again, and much experimentation. I couldn’t stop. This was my mission. In the end, I was proud to create my own drum, my own sound: the Pinto Steel drum.
At that point, another miracle happened. I met my (future) wife Nathalie, and we fell in love through our passion for music. We moved to Montreal, Canada and had 2 beautiful daughters (the loves of my life). I was teaching the steel drum, and still building.
Until one day, my life changed again: the day I discovered the handpan.
Learning the Handpan
I first discovered the handpan in 2007. It was familiar, yet still different from the steel drums I was used to. I fell in love with this instrument.
My next 10 years was now set. I became a handpan builder.
My goal was to build it differently and add something new. I also saw that handpans were mainly used by enthusiasts, in their homes, or at small gatherings, but I wanted the handpan to take a bigger place in the world of instruments. Since I have a background as a professional musician and performer, I saw the potential for handpans for professional percussionists and performers. I wanted to see the handpan on the biggest stages in the world.
That handpan didn’t exist yet, I wanted to create it.
The Long Process to Master the Handpan
It had taken me 20 years to learn how to manipulate steel, understand the sounds, and build a deep knowledge of music and music theory. I knew it would take a long time to learn how to build the handpan. I didn’t know it would take this long…
The process took 7 years. In 2017, I had created the first version. It was close. People loved it, but it wasn’t there yet. I didn’t feel the base had settled harmonically. Everything else was there, the notes, the sound. I kept going until one day, I got it. The true sound of the “Solos”.
The Solos Sound is Born
Solos is an acronym for “Sound of Love on Steel.” That’s what we are about. Finally, in 2018, I created the first version of the sound I was looking for. The feeling was there. And people noticed.
Now, one journey is ending - the quest to craft an instrument that wakes up the soul. Now, a new journey begins - to get the Solos handpan into the hands of people who will transform as they play it.
The Solos purpose is to help people heal.
I want to help kids like that 3 year old Pepeto. That small kid I was in Jamaica, who was numb, empty, and void of emotion. The handpan I’m building is meant to be special. I’m looking to build pans for people who connect with this story and who want to heal, connect, and feel deeply.
I am very proud of this instrument, and I appreciate for you reading my story. I love to chat with everyone who is passionate about sound, about how it can move and transform you.
I am always available for questions, please reach out, and connect with me, and share your story if you wish too.
To healing the world through music and passion,
Solos Founder and Master Craftsman
Email Pepeto at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story of healing through music!