Dr. Dave Ramsaran
Music in the Caribbean is not just a song and the artist is not just a songwriter. Their music plays a huge role within the culture of the Caribbean lifestyle. The music touches the hearts of many and makes them feel at home when they are surrounded by the sounds of their music. Throughout the different countries in the Caribbean, they each have their own style and genre of music. For example, Jamaica consists of Reggae, Ska, and Mento whereas Trinidad and Tobago has Calypso, Cariso, Chutney, and Soca. All of these genres and styles contribute to the society of Caribbean culture in different ways from one another. They have also been created and started in different styles compared to one another just like American music has its own genres and styles.
There are many popular musicians such as: Bob Marley, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts, who have either moved away from their homelands in the Caribbean, have parents born and raised in the Caribbean’s and moved to the United States, or were born and raised themselves in the Caribbean. No matter whom they are or where they are currently living, their Caribbean blood and culture lives on with them and have an influence on their lives as they know them today.
Culture of Caribbean Music:
Caribbean music has had a great influence on the culture and the people who live in each country of the Caribbean’s. The music, however, did not just derive from inside the Caribbean. There have been many music traditions gained by influence from South America and Africa. Each country has established their own styles and genres of music along with different musicians and composers. Once music became a popular aspect of Caribbean life, they have expanded to different types of music and have found different uses for the music such as: churches, performing arts, recording studios, radio, and music television. This culture of music has greatly influenced music in surrounding countries. American music is the one country heavily influenced by Caribbean music. Bob Marley and reggae could be viewed as one of the most inspirational aspects of the music to America. There are multiple festivals throughout the year and Carnival in the Caribbean’s where many musicians come to perform and share the love of music with their national families. These festivals can be viewed as one of the best and most inspirational times of any other Caribbean aspects of life.
Jamaican music is one of the most well-known and popular genres of music in the Caribbean. Jamaican music originated as a fusion of music from Africa and its neighboring countries such as Trinidad and Tobago. Jamaica integrated the genres of mainly Calypso and Soca from Trinidad and Tobago. The main genres of music in Jamaica are Mento, Ska, and Reggae. Mento is a form of Jamaican folk music which mainly uses acoustic instruments. It has influenced both ska and reggae music. Mento was first brought to the Caribbean by the West African slaves. European music and traditions was mixed along with it which formed this genre.
Ska originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s and was the beginning steps to reggae. Both mento and calypso were integrated into the style while also mixing some, what we now know as, jazz (White 1998). Count Ossie, a drummer from the Rasta community was the first person to ever record a ska song. One of the most important names in the history of ska is Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. Dodd was a DJ, not an artist, who is responsible for the first spread of ska music across Jamaica. He stressed the country needed more national pride and cultural identity during the time in which the country was gaining its independence.
Reggae is one of the most commonly known genres of Caribbean music and has spread in popularity all across the world. Reggae was first created in the late 1960’s after the creation of ska. Reggae is very similar to ska and has almost all of the same qualities such as having the music styles of mento, calypso, and American jazz. The lyrics of reggae songs are mainly written about socialism and what is occurring in society at the time such as society itself, religion, and love (Anderson 2004). One of the most inspirational musicians was a reggae musician and touched the lives of many people around the world and even though he has passed away, his music is still very popular and known throughout the world. This popular, life-changing musician is Bob Marley. Marley has earned multiple individual music awards and has also been a part of many bands that have won awards as well. He was a huge advocate for cannabis, even though it was illegal; he used it due to his religious beliefs. “When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural thing and it grow like a tree” (Hagerman 2012). Sadly his life was ended too soon at the age of thirty six due to the spread of melanoma to his lungs and brain. Even though his life was cut short, his legacy of reggae music still lives on today.
Trinidad and Tobago Music:
The genre of calypso music has a great cultural importance in Trinidad and Tobago. Calypso music originated as a means for Trinidadian slaves to communicate with each other and to protest against the class system and their masters. It was developed in order for the slaves to gain solidarity and has become a part of its cultural history and a tradition within the Trinidadian society. The first music of calypso was created in 1914 and became a huge uniting force among the different social classes (Guilbault 2005). Its huge significance and meaning gave it a huge boost and quickly spread internationally.
Cariso music is a form of Trinidadian folk music. This type of music is a huge ancestor of calypso music. This genre of music is almost perfect by mostly female chantwell’s. Rapso music has become a tradition of cariso music. Rapso music is known as “the poetry of calypso” and “the power of the word in the rhythm of the word”. It is the poetic rap version of Trinidadian music.
Chutney music is a newer form of music in Trinidad and Tobago. The word chutney is originally a condiment which is a part of an East Indian Cuisine. It is hot, spicy, and unrelenting with its fiery qualities. This form of music comes from traditional Indian music and Trinidadian soca music. It utilizes folk acoustic instruments which is very different from most Trinidadian music because most of the genres do not use acoustic instruments in the music (Diethrich 2002).
Soca is a style/genre of Caribbean music which originated in Trinidad and Tobago. Soca is a blend of both calypso and classical Indian music. Lord Shorty is a musician who is credited for the creation of soca music. He called the new genre “solka” which stood for “the SOuL of KAlypso”. However, “soca” was a misspelling from this and eventually ended up being the accepted spelling of the term. Many people believe that soca is the blend of calypso and American soul music. Sadly, this is not the case. The massive impact of Indian people and their culture within Trinidad and Tobago had a huge influence in this genre of music.
Lee “Scratch” Perry, a Jamaican musician, is a huge influence in the life of reggae music. Perry is a producer, mixer, and songwriter all in one. Many consider him to be a musical genius due to his huge contribution and influence on the life of reggae. He has his own sound to his voice that is unlike no other. In his producing career, he has produced the likes of Bob Marley and a group called The Congos. Perry played a huge role in the production of dub music and was an amazing music mixer. He was able to create remixes and effects to music and was considered to be one of the best in the world at it.
Aldwyn Roberts, otherwise known as Lord Kitchener, was a Trinidadian calypso artist. He wasn’t only known in Trinidad and Tobago or even just in the Caribbean for that matter. His music quickly became famous internationally throughout the world. He travelled all over the world in order to gain knowledge and broaden his understanding of music. He would then take his experiences and the things he has seen in different countries and find ways to integrate them into his music. His father taught him to play the guitar and he quickly mastered it with ease. Roberts has been won countless awards and was also inducted into calypso’s Sunshine Awards Hall of Fame in 1989.
Many musical geniuses have come from the Caribbean whether it be from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Bahamas, etc. Although some Americans may not even know that some of their favorite pop, R&B, and rap artists are from the Caribbean or born in a Caribbean family. For example, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are two very famous rap and R&B artists in North America who have been on the Billboard’s top 100 songs multiple times. Nicki Minaj was born in Trinidad and Tobago and later moved to the United States. She is known as a rapper, singer, and songwriter. Although she may not use her native born nationality’s culture of music in her style of music, she is still very faithful to her homeland.
Another very popular artist in the United States is Rihanna who was born in Barbados. Rihanna is an R&B singer and songwriter. She is viewed upon as one of the single best selling artists of all time. Rihanna had the nightmare of a childhood with her father being addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol which led to her parent’s divorce. She grew up listening to reggae music and started to gain an interest in singing. Leaving high school to start her musical career may have been one of the best decisions she made in her life because it was the start to something special. Even though she moved to the United States and has struck stardom with her music, she frequently visits her hometown in Barbados and has not lost touch with her Caribbean lifestyle.
The music industry was heavily influenced by the Caribbean and still continues to be today. Through the likes of reggae, calypso, soca, and many more genres, people around the world know something about these styles of music. The culture of the Caribbean has been greatly affected by its music and the artists who create it. Bob Marley, Lee Perry, Aldwyn Roberts and many more are inspirations to countless people and have changed the lives of so many individuals through their music. To this day, music from the Caribbean and its artists continues to influence the lives around us and the culture that resides within the Caribbean.
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