Celebrating Caribbean music in all its glory

All Around This World Caribbean "Everywhere Map"

For the last three months we’ve had so much fun celebrating Caribbean music in all its multicultural glory. As we hopped from island to island we dug deep into the region’s complicated past, one that has struggle and sadness at its core, but which was always aware that the story need not end there. The resilience of Caribbean peoples resonates in every cha cha cha, kompas and clever calypso, in reggae’s hope for justice and change, in soca’s celebratory soul. We emerge from the Caribbean with a love of life, sung with eyes open by those who have survived. Looking forward to next season!

Rikki Jai’s Charismatic Chutney

As far as we’re concerned, Rikki Jai will forever be the only Chutney Soca King.
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.  Today chutney has blended with soca to form “chutney soca,” which has become popular international dance music. In this video chutney soca star Rikki Jai gives us a taste.

Wake me up with Parang

Proud and playful Trinidadian parang is a joyful genre of Caribbean folk music.

Parang is a staple of the Christmas season in Trinidad, Tobago and Venezuela. When parang performers regularly start their singing before sunrise and sing LOUDLY to rouse their friends from their beds. This video from Lopinot, Trinidad, introduces us, gloriously, to Trinidadian parang standard, “Rio Manzanares.” (We LOVE this.) In All Around This World classes we give our all to another parang song, “Ola de la Mar.”


What is Calypso? The Mighty Duke Explains

Trinidadian “calypso” most likely derived from a West African musical/narrative style called kaiso and developed as a way for enslaved Africans to communicate.

Trinidadian Calypso musicians sang in French creole and told stories with their songs–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.” In this video Mighty Duke schools us by asking and answering the question, “What is calypso?”

Trinidad, Tobago and You

All Around This World -- The Caribbean featuring Trinidad and Tobago

This week our online class takes us deep into the islands, to the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Like most of our other Caribbean island friends, Trinidad, which sits near its sister island Tobago in the southern Caribbean just northeast of Venezuela, was already inhabited before Columbus dropped by and told people there that they all of a sudden were living in Spanish territory. Trinidad’s first settlers, about, 5000 years ago, were Othroid people from the north coast of South America, then the Saladoid people, then the Barrancoid people. They were followed by Arawak and Carib people, who met their end shortly after Columbus and the Spanish encomienda system came to town. Trinidad remained Spanish colony until 1802 and a British colony until it became independent in 1962.

This week we’ll explore Trinidad’s multiethnic mix, especially enjoying music and culture created by descendants of enslaved Trinidadian Africans and South Asian indentured laborers who today intertwine to give Trinidad colorful, complex, Caribbean, life.

A Tuk Band tearin’ it up

Our favorite tuk band from Barbados, is EVERY tuk band.

Landship is a tradition from Barbados that refers to both a dance performance group and an essential social-cultural community organization for the African-Barbadian community. Landships organize themselves into individual “ships,” named after British vessels, which unite into “fleets” under the leadership of “Lord High Admirals” and other “officers.” Landship performers will tell you they are not doing a dance; instead they are executing “manoeuvers” to the command of the Captain in the course of a parade. The primary musical “engine” of a landship is the Tuk Band, a drum/fiddle/triangle ensemble based upon British regimental military bands. In this video we hear “tuk” in action.

Ring Ting Ting

The Merrymen definitely want to make you smile. And, when you listen to “Ring Ting Ting,” smile you shall.

The Merrymen is a band from Barbados that became popular in the 1960s due to its happy, uptempo calpyso — a style that became known as “blue beat — its flamboyant troubadour costumes and the very merry whistling of lead singer Emile Straker. while you’re watching this slideshow featuring the best album covers ever.

Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga Ragga

Does Red Plastic Bag rule Barbados…? You better believe it.

One of All Around This World’s favorite soca songs is “Ragga Ragga,” a mid-’90s Caribbean mega-hit by Bajan musician Stedson Wilshire, otherwise known as “Red Plastic Bag,” “RPB” or even just “Bag.” In the song RPB declares his general disdain for ragga music, in which deejays speak, sometimes incomprehensibly, over a pounding beat.

Don’t you dare call Barbados “Lesser”

All Around This World -- The Caribbean featuring Barbados

This week in our online class we voyage to Barbados, a glorious island nation in the “Lesser Antilles.” Barbados had a long history even before the British arrived in 1625 to find it uninhabited. Amerindians had lived there in about 1600 BC, then the Arawak came-and then the Caribs, who ruled the roost for several hundred years until they disappeared, likely as a result of their encounters with Spanish and Portuguese visitors (and/or their germs).  The island soon became a land full of wealthy sugar plantation owners and their African forced laborers. For the next three hundred years only the very wealthiest citizens of Barbados were allowed to vote, ensuring domination by those very wealthy citizens. Only in the 1950s did universal suffrage come to Barbados. In 1966 Barbados became independent. 

We’re going to enjoy our swing-out to Barbados. There aren’t too many better places to be.


M’sieu Michel won’t give you two francs

The original version of “M’sieu Michel,” a Martinican song we sing this season in our online class, tells the true tale (as far as we’re told) of a labor dispute on the island between workers and their French boss. All the workers asked for was two francs in their paycheck rather than one — was that too much to ask, M’sieu Michel?! Apparently it was, because the workers became more and more insistent. When M’sieu Michel didn’t relent, they didn’t just ask for a raise — they demanded it. In real life did the workers receive an increased wage? We don’t know. In our version, OF COURSE.