For a tiny island, Trinidad has certainly birthed an impressive number of musical genres. Like other Caribbean nations we’ve visited, Trinidadian musicians mix African and European melodies, rhythms and forms, though in Trinidad, East Indian influences come into play too. Trinidadian musical styles include, in rough chronological order:
— CALYPSO: Calypso is Trinidadian folk music that most likely derived from a West African musical/narrative style called kaiso, and developed as a way for slaves to communicate. Calypso musicians sang in French creole and told stories with their lyrics — often with off-color lyrics full of double entendres. The style originated in the 1830s and was well-known throughout the Caribbean but only became internationally popular in the 1950s when Jamaican-born Harry Belafonte brought it to America. Enthusiasts accused Belafonte of watering down the genre and pointed to lyrically bolder (and much more awesomely named) artists such as Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow and Roaring Lion as the true “calypsonians.” Several of our music class songs, like “Bo Calinda,” which is based on a Trinidadian children’s game, are calypso.
National Geographic on Calypso | A guide to traditional calypso: “The best calypso options” | Exetempo: an improvised calypso “war” | Check out this 1987 extempo battle between Relator and Superior | Mighty Sparrow’s “Maria” | You too can dance the Caribbean Calypso
— CHUTNEY: Indian indentured servants who came to Trinidad from 1845 to 1917 brought their music with them and eventually fused it with island music to form a genre called chutney. Traditional chutney music added Indian instruments like the dholak and the harmonium to Caribbean songs, as well as a religious sensibility and, often, vocals in Hindi. Contemporary chutney pioneers like Surinamese vocalist and harmonium player Ramdew Chaitoe became well-known in the ’60s and ’70s all over northeastern South America and the Caribbean . Today chutney has blended with soca to form “chutney soca,” which has become popular international dance music. “What is chutney music?”: a primer | Kuch-Kuch Baby!
— STEEL PAN: After the Canboulay Riots in the early 1880s in which Trinidadian and Tobagoan descendants of slaves protested colonial leaders’ attempts to restrict the celebration of Carnival, British authorities banned stick-fighting and African percussion music. In 1937 they also banned the banging together of bamboo sticks. Trinidadians responded by using anything and everything else as percussion instruments — frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums. This developed into the modern genre of “steelpan,” whose primary percussion instrument is the interior of a tuned steel drum. About the steelpan | The science of steelpan | Wanna buy a steelpan? | A whole lotta people playing steelpan on YouTube
— SOCA: Soca is a faster version of calypso that has finds substantial influence in East Indian chutney. Trinidadian musician Ras Shorty generally receives credit for originating the genre in 1963 when he added Indian instruments such as the dholak and the the tabla to calypso. In the 1970s calypsonians such as Shorty had also added soul, disco and funk, transforming soca into internationally popular dance party music. Today soca remains popular throughout the Caribbean, especially the more overtly East Indian chutney-soca.
Red Plastic Bag’s “Ragga Ragga,” which we sing in class, is a soca song. A brief history of soca | Mr. Dale is a Soca Junkie
— RAPSO: Rapso has its origins in the Black Power/Pan-Africanist politics of the late ’60s and early ’70s and developed throughout the ’80s and ’90s as a form of music that forged calypso, dub, reggae, soul and politically conscious hip-hop. A brief history of rapso | 3Canal’s “Boom Up History”
Visit AATW’s Caribbean Musical Genres page, or explore these musical genres from Trinidad:
Visit AATW’s Caribbean Musical Instruments page or explore these instruments from Trinidad:
Explore these All Around This World songs from Trinidad: