Caribbean Heritage [Part 2 of 3]

Music of the Caribbean

Calypso music can be compared to the blues of the Deep South. lt was used as the way to ease the woes of the oppressed and as a means of communication amongst slaves. In the early days Calypso served as a verbal means of consolation. It was not until the English defeated the Spanish in the Battle for the Island that Calypso assumed its magnitude, since everybody now spoke this new language. Gaining more ground as news-carriers and town criers the Calypsonian was respected and revered.
Whatever news they brought through their lyrics was the gospel. Calypso turned out to be an excellent tool used to spread social and political commentary,. Today, Calypso. maintains its informative stance and has evolved to cater to the dancehall crowd. Some modern-day Calypsnians still provide old time Calypso, in terms of the lyrical content, to the up-tempo beats of today.Calypso is the music used to create the rhythms of Carnival in the Caribbean and the world.

For those new to this music, a good starting point is in the name itself. “Soca” is the rhythmical fusion of Soul and Calypso. Its geographical origin is Trinidad and Tobago and its inspiration has always been those islands pre-Lenten carnival celebrations.The ever-infectious Soca music has now evolved into the definitive indigenous musical form of the Eastern Caribbean. The music is part of the vibrant Caribbean culture that has spread through emigration and has now established itself as far a field as North America and Europe.

Ska is, first and foremost, dance music. Ska is a Jamaican dance music that swept out of Jamaica in the early 1960’s to shake the working and middle class Jamaicans before going on to the UK. and then on to the world. Rocksteady and reggae sprang from the loins of Ska in the late 1960’s. Mid-1970’s and 1980’s/1990’s revivals of this popular dance form have kept this music alive and fun through the present. The Ska beat is drums and bass, rhythm guitar, lots of horns. Ska is rich in history, broad in scope and guaranteed to make you shake and groove.

Reggae music is an offshoot of Ska that developed in the late 1960s. Reggae was developed out of Rocksteady music, a music developed by early Ska vocalists as audiences demanded a steadier beat and perhaps less all-instrumental music. Note that many reggae stars got their start as Ska musicians. Notable examples are Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Rita Marley Anderson, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker. As the fast beat of Ska mellowed through Rocksteady, it gradually led to the creation of reggae.
The transition from rock steady to reggae was, like the transition from Ska to rock steady, a process which was both a response to and a reflection of the changing social conditions of the society. Where rock steady had the legacy of singing the romance songs of Jackie Opel and Lord Creator, reggae laid emphasis on Africa, black deliverance and redemption.

Haitian Music
Haiti developed its own musical style through their application of spiritualism an African ritual. RARA, MIZIK RASIN are different music forms specific to Haiti.
Konpa Music is a fusion of Haitian folklore, Tipico, Cuban and African rhythms born in 1955.
Compa music is a mix of European ballroom dance. Compas Music went through various changes influenced by Salsa, Soca, Soukous and at other times influenced by Mambo and Sing.

Steel Drum or Pan
The Steel Drum, or Pan, is a unique instrument, and one of the most recently invented. It is a skillfully hammered 55-gallon oil drum which has been carefully tuned to produce tones. The Steel Drum carries the full chromatic range of notes, and can produce just about any type of music you can think of!

During British Colonial rule of Trinidad in the 1800’s, hand drums were used as a call for neighborhood gangs to collect and ‘mash up’ with the other gangs. Hoping to curb the violence, the government outlawed hand drums in 1886. Deprived of the drums, the Trinidadians turned to the ‘Bamboo Tamboo,’ where each member of the group would carry a length of bamboo and pound it on the ground as the group walked through the streets, producing distinctive rhythmic ‘signatures’ which identified each gang. When two gangs met on a march, they would pull out the machetes they had hidden inside the long bamboo poles, which solved none of the violence problems. Soon, the government outlawed the Bamboo Tamboo also.

Deprived of all traditional rhythmic instruments, the Trinidadians took any objects they could find, including garbage can lids, old car parts, and empty oil barrels. They used these instruments to form the Iron Bands, which marched down the streets playing the same distinctive rhythms. These impromptu parades were called Iron Band. One day in the late 1930’s, during a particularly rough iron band session, somebody discovered that a dented section of barrel head produced a tone. Originally the pans were convex, like a dome rather than a dish. Ellie Manette, a pan-maker still active in the US today, was the first to dish out a pan and give the steel drum its mature form. Many tuners began experimenting with and producing tuned ‘pans,’ eventually forming large groups of ‘panmen’ into orchestrated bands.