Calypso and Reggae

Those are the sounds of Calypso.

Brought over with French traders during colonization to celebrate the sugar cane harvest, the pre-lenten dance party of Carnival provided a space for European and African musical styles to blend and evolve. From Western Africa came the styles of Mento and Niyabinghi, brought over in the minds of African slaves and 9460447.0005.101-00000002maintained to preserve their heritage. Originally intended as religious customs, both traditional musical styles acted as bardic vehicles to pass down traditions orally through generations. When slavery displaced millions of Africans to the Caribbean without even the shirts on their backs, oral tradition became even more necessary. For hundreds of years, the frantic drumming and chanting of the Mento and Niyabinghi became commonplace in many early Afro-Caribbean communities, preserving critical elements of African culture for future generations. As cultural discourse increased over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, aided by the influence of multi-cultural celebrations such as Carnival, traditional African musical styles were influenced by the music of the European colonists- the French, British, and Spanish. This fusion of Latin melodies and instrumentation, such as horns and guitars, with the already-present African rhythms formed Calypso.

Though Calypso and Reggae may share similarities in rhythm and instrumentation, their message is much different. Starting as dance music during carnival celebrations, Calypso was innocent and embraced by both the African and European communities. Reggae was different. Emerging in the early 20th century out of the fusion of Calypso rhythms and the new, slower influences of Jazz and R&B, Reggae embodies African pride and heritage. It challenges the established order and pushes for change and rights for Afro-Caribbeans.

Hear Traditional Mento Drumming: