Music Legends of The Caribbean: Calypso

by jitze

As you might know already from my previous post, I have decided to dedicate some articles to the wonderful music of the Caribbean. This time i will concentrate on the more danceable side of Caribbean music and try to talk a little bit about the calypso music, probably the second most popular music genre after reggae – Caribbean people might contradict me on this though, as reggae is has become quite an international genre, while calypso is still deeply rooted into the tradition of the Caribbean. So with a little bit of history about the African heritage and the famous Trinidad and Tobago carnival, now’s the time for my second stop in the search for music legends in the Caribbean: calypso.

Calypso and Africa

Calypso music is obviously and undeniably African: it was developed by the first African slaves who were brought to work on the Caribbean plantations, and has taken much of this rhythm and melodicism from the kaiso music of Africa. For those with scholarly preoccupations, the term calypso might be misleading: it was actually introduced by the Europeans who misunderstood the term kaiso for the name of the Greek deity Calypso. One very important thing to remember about Calypso it that at the beginning this music was often used as a political commentary: musicians used as a semi-disguised weapon against inequality, slavery and colonialism.

The kings and queens of calypso

by sfmission

There were many musicians attracted by Calypso, and even more those who were influenced by their lively music. Harry Belafonte, Lord Kitchner and mighty sparrow are some very popular names associated with calypso. Calypso rose was a very popular female musician who interpreted and composed this type of music – listening to her songs will give you an idea about what calypso really stands for.

Calypso and the Carnival

The islands of Trinidad and Tobago are considered as the birth place of Calypso. This is where the first calypso bands and singers started to become popular in the 1930s, and the style soon extended to other Caribbean countries and the USA. Calypso is also closely associated with the Trinidad and Tobago carnival, one of the biggest and most famous open air celebrations in the Americas.


by sfmission

Just like it had its time of glory, calypso had to witness its decreasing popularity. By the early 80s, calypso had almost entirely given up its no. one position to soca. Soca has a very alert drum rhythm which makes it very suitable for dancing. Today, soca is probably the most popular genre at Caribbean parties and Caribbean carnivals.


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