Caribbean Music and Culture


The Caribbean Islands are legendary for its laid back tropical vibes and cruizy atmosphere, where the cuisine is delicious, the people are super friendly, and the breathtaking beauty pulses through the rhythms of nature – all reinforced with the vivid and vibrant flow of Caribbean music and culture. When you visit here it gets into your soul and stirs up something remarkably magic. Especially when you come from most of the areas in the West where the culture is, let’s be honest here, pretty rigid and left-brain dominant, the experience of the Caribbean islands feels like you’ve found paradise. You find yourself relaxing into the groove and opening up your heart and mind to joy and abundance. The environment inspires (if not directly creates) the cultural operating system and its artistic expressions, so it’s no small wonder that a world as gorgeous as the Caribbean with its palm fringed beaches and warm turquoise waters creates a culture and music scene that is free-flowing and easy living. It’s an excellent (indeed necessary for many of us) experience in appreciating another way to live, truly free and uninhibited to express ourselves in the flow state that comes so naturally to the people of the Caribbean.

Caribbean Music

The musical stylings synonymous with the Caribbean islands are diverse yet similarly groovy. They represent a synthesis of African, European, Indian, and Indigenous influences, as the Caribbean has historically been a melting pot of all these elements throughout its history. Largely, though, it is rooted in the artistic expressions of African slaves brought over with European colonization to work the lands. The descendants of these slaves today are leading the charge in creating some outstanding music that resonates with the feel of the islands themselves. Genres that stemmed here have since spread all over the world in popularity, including calypso, reggae, and soca (and their derivations of reggaeton, dancehall, dubstep, et al.) and less world famous yet equally impressive styles of bouyon, cadence-lypso, compas, punta, and zouk. Many of these genres tend to blend together, espeically contemporary stylings, fusing elements of each in the delicious stew that is Caribbean culture. Of course each island is proudly rooted in its own take on this general culture, as is the musical expression an extension of the spirit of the people.

The most popular in the West is the Jamaican style of music, namely reggae and ska. Ska was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae in the 50s, combining elements of mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. You know it as the walking bass line with accented rhythms on the upbeat, which influenced punk rock and reggae. All of these genres are influenced by the other Jamaican genre of note, mento, which is a form of Jamaican folk music that uses topical lyrics of a socially aware and political bent, often using humour and sexual innuendos to lighten the serious issues in context. Anywhere you go in Jamaica you’re sure to find bars playing live local music, and it’s highly recommended to visit an authentic Jamaican joint where the locals go to chill.

Saint Lucia is known for its mountainous volcanic terrain and thus it has developed its own undulating style of rural music, expressing the physical contrasts of the islands in its (often French) lyrics and style by using lang dévivé, where the singer says the opposite of his true meaning.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines style is largely focused on big drum and steel pan percussion driven music. The drums are traditionally made from tree trunks although rum kegs are also common to drive the beat behind satirical and political lyrics.

Virgin Islands do a careso style in folkloric ensembles, similar to the other VI style of quelbe with scratch bands, in an African melodic style of call and response lyrics.

Caribbean Culture

As alternative contemporary philosopher, Terence McKenna, defined culture, it’s the operating system of a people. This includes all the artistic, culinary, political, religious and social elements that constitute a nation. Caribbean culture as a whole is largely defined by its multicultural roots of African tribalism mixed with European traditions – and focused through the filter of the unique environments and natural atmospheres of the islands and the life they inspire. Its also influenced today by the United States and South American influences. Being a collection of settler nations, the Caribbean is defined by several waves of movements, much like those rushing ocean waves washing up on the white sand beaches. The customs, cuisine, and traditions all merge to form something remarkably vibrant and unique that must be experienced.

Much of the culture has resulted from tension and conflict, the contrast between the oppressed and the dominant cultures. While many other nations around the world are still heavily rooted in the native populations, the interactions with the indigenous people of the Caribbean were short-lived, as germs and guns wiped the vast majority of them out. There are still small sectors looking to revitalize the ancient traditions but in general its been all but fully replaced with the melting pot of Euro-African influence. As such, multiculturalism is a major aspect of life in the islands and the cultural norm, using diversity as a force to unite the lands. Many of the islands have passed hands between French, Spanish, English, and Portuguese, and all these elements have helped create the current cultural expression that is the Caribbean operating system. Humour is a key aspect as the easy-going people love to laugh and have fun, and Caribbean people are known to have one of the best senses of humour in the world. Sport is largely influenced by the European culture, and football and cricket are big here. Basically it’s an amazing cultural world that you should be excited to come experience for yourself. Get outside the resort and tourist zones and experience the real thing.

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