We say Calypso they say "Kaiso."
We say Steel Drum and they say "Pan."
We dance to Hot! Hot! Hot! and they "Play Mas!" to the Soca rhythm.
Exploring the Music of the Caribbean in Short
By Kris Krenz, MCC
Music is a prominent feature found in almost every culture.
Music can also capture a certain feeling or mood of various places you visit. Music is an art form not unlike a beautiful painting, carving or tapestry. The beauty of music is that it is an art form that you bring back home with minimal expense and handling. Plus you don't have to find that special place in your home to display it.
Unfortunately as our global village becomes smaller, almost anywhere you travel you will hear music for the American popular music culture. Finding deep rooted folk music seems to have become harder and harder. However nowhere like the Caribbean have I found such a diverse musical culture that is still thriving with its people proud to share it with you and the world.
My friend Anthony "Tony" Guppy and I stand in from of a statue of the late great calypsonian Aldwin Roberts (1922-2000) better known as Lord Kitchener or Grand Master -- the locals affectionately called him "Kitch." My friend Tony is a pan player (pannist) and composer. Tony has had the honor of performing with the late master on his "Ah Have It Cork" CD that was released by JW Productions in the mid 1990's
Photo by M Krenz, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Anyone who has traveled with me knows that music is on my agenda. I always question our guide about the local music and where can I purchase some. Just asking this question has brought up some great cultural conversations with our tour guide who might have otherwise just been prepared to give his coined tourist talk that he repeats day after day.
The music of the Caribbean is extremely colorful. No where on earth will you find a melting pot of cultures in such a small region. Although the Caribbean covers a vast amount of ocean the island nations that make up this region contain relatively small land masses. For example the tiny island nation of St. Lucia (27 miles long, 14 miles wide) has a population that could fit into a large sports stadium. Their culture is rich with French, British, and African influences thus their music has a French Creole flair combined with African rhythms called cadens/kadans. During our last visit to St. Lucia my quest was to find a recording of cadens and yes, after a long search I did find this music crudely recorded and transferred to a blank cassette. However, in my quest for this music Maureen and I had sparked many interesting conversations with the locals making our quest interesting, informative and fun.
This is me on a dare by fellow cruise passengers, but the Merengue Band didn't seem to mind, even with my off rhythm playing.
Photo taken by John Glasgow, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Probably the most widely known music style of the Caribbean is calypso. Calypso was made popular by Harry Belafonte, who, many an islander may tell you that, "he stol' our music and made money off of us." Needless to say Harry Belafonte is not exactly well received in the Caribbean as you would like to believe. Another extremely popular music style is reggae, a rhythm coined and made popular by the late Bob Marley. Reggae is basically an exclusive of Jamaica but because of its popularity has spread to other islands.
Calypso or Kaiso's origin is Trinidad and Tobago. These were songs for singing on the open road, pre-Lenten Carnival, Carnival dances and tents where grueling song competitions were held. The importance of calypso had always been the lyrics that were laced with social commentary and double entendre. Calypso has always made me smile and bolstered my spirits with its happy rhythms, words and melodies.
Steel Drum Music or "Pan" considered the newest accepted acoustic instrument known to modern man, was invented approximately 50 plus years ago by Winston "Spree" Simon on the island of Trinidad. Spree was trying to reshape his drum to the original tone, by hammering on its surface. He observed that he was getting different musical notes. This experiment was eagerly taken up and developed and by early 1940's Spree had produced a pan with eight notes which he called the Melody Pan. It was however during the "VE" celebrations in May 1945 that the emergence of the pan was seen. Pots, oil drums, and biscuit tins were used to introduce the first primitive melodic sounds and so the first impromptu steelband was born.
Herman Guppy Brown (Tony Guppy's older brother) finely tunes a tenor pan at his pan factory "Steel Pan Industry Limited" in Laventille, Trinidad. Laventille is the birth place of the steel drum. Herman is a very well known "tuner" in not only Trinidad but around the world.
Photo by M. Krenz
Today Pan has been refined to a "sweet" sounding instrument covering a full musical range from bass to soprano, enough to make up a complete orchestra. Some Steelpan orchestras can consist of up to a hundred players or more. Yearly competitions are held, just like our Super Bowl, to see who has the best Steelband. Pan has become the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and almost every school child is taught how to play!
Soca music also born in Trinidad is supposed to be a combination of soul and calypso with a disco like back beat. Soca music is extremely energetic and has become popular going head to head with calypso. Soca lyrics are usually short and inconsequential unlike the wordy text of Calypso. The usual theme of soca is to party and dance. The dancers are called to respond to the singers exhortations to jump up, wave a rag or wining(revolving of ones waist). One of the most popular soca tunes is "Hot Hot Hot" recorded by Buster Poindexter, again were looking at a non Trinidadian making a Caribbean music style popular. Soca was invented by a Trinadadian named Ras Shorty I, formerly Lord Shorty.
Me forging a pan with Herman Guppy Brown's son on the grounds of "Steel Pan Industry Limited."
Photo by M Krenz, Laventille, Trinidad
Keep in mind that there are many different music styles originating in the Caribbean. I have only mention and barley scratched the surface of the most popular styles. To follow is as list of some of the Caribbean island nations and the musical style that is the most prominent. Also should you wish to purchase these I will suggest a reputable source for your guidance and purchase of Caribbean Music.
Bahamas - Junkanoo
Cuba - Salsa/Rumba/Guaracha/Danzon/Mambo/Son
Dominican Republic - Merengue
Haiti - Konpa/Compas/vodou-jazz/Meringue
Jamaica - Reggae/Dancehall/Ska/Ragga/Kumina/Dub/Etu
Puerto Rico - Salsa/Plena/Bomba/Guaracha/Danza
Guadeloupe - Zouk/Creole/Biguine
Martinique - Zouk/Creole/Biguine
Dominica - Jing Ping/Cadence
Trinidad - Calypso/Soca/Steelpan/Tassa Drumming/Parang/Chutney/Rapso
Big tourist tip: If you show genuine interest in your taxi driver or tour guides homeland and culture, special doors could be opened up that will make your visit extra special. If your driver/guide does this for you make sure you thank his favor with a nice gratuity. Maureen and I have turned a 4 hour tour into a 6 hour special tour that will never be forgotten. All that's required of you is to be friendly, spontaneous and go with the flow. Hey, isn't this what exploring different places and cultures all about.
WARNING:Don't be suckered into buying the canned "touristy" garbage music that is pushed in many tourist shops.
To Visit Anthony "Tony" Guppy and hear samples of his music:
To purchase some "REAL" authentic Caribbean music visit:
Be sure and tell them Kris from PAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours sent you!
Or better yet purchase a cruise vacation fromPAK-N-GO Cruises and Tours and pick your music up in person, we will point out where to shop.
Below are Kris's picks for the novice who would like a nice selection of Caribbean Music:
Raw Kaiso 1 or Raw Kaiso 2 --Both cd's are recorded live and come with lyrics, glossary and explanation of songs.
Kaiso Gems from Kitchener's Calypso Revue -There are a hand full of cd's in this series. Recorded in the ambience of the authentic Calypso tent. These current recordings are from well known current calypsonians and are mostly commentary calypsos. Most songs my not be easily understood if you are not familiar with current political events in the Caribbean.
Classic Calypso- Look for Titles and re-realeases by Lord Kitchener, Roaring Lion, Might Sparrow or ask Parrot Fish Music for their suggestions.
My favorite Calypso Recording artist is David Rudder - He really got me excited back in the 1980's with his song "The Hammer" he recorded with Charlie Roots.
There are so many new wonderful calypsonians Crazy, Shadow, Sugar Aloes, Chalk Dust, etc.
My all time favorite is a recent Recording of Phase II titled "The Sweet Groove of Phase II Steelband" -- Parrot Fish I know may carry this hard to get recording.
For Classical Steel Orchestra -- any of the World Steelband Festival recording titled Pan is Beautiful make a find addition to any collection. Pan is Beautiful V features a spectacular arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue by Phase II Pan Groove (Featuring the spectacular arrangements of Len "Boogsie" Sharp -- I've heard Trinidadians refer to him as the best pan player in the world)
Other great steel bands and Orchestras are: Amoco Renagades, Witco Desperadoes, Exodus, Pamberi Steel Orchestra, The Samaroo Jets (Featuring Jit Samaroo a well known steel band arranger, his family and Tony's other Brother Kenneth Guppy), Scherzando, Angel Harps, Carib Tokyo, Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars, Rising Stars to name a few.
Soca is the rage in the Caribbean during carnival - There are so may artist to choose from my favorites are collections titled: Soca Carnival 1996, 1997, etc. or Caribbean Soca Party sold in Volumes. My favoite artists are Super Blue, Atlantic, Xtatic, Traffik, Iwer george -- Visit Triniradio.com for the latest carnival tunes. If you are looking for a cd for your next party Byron Lee and the Dragonaires' "Soca Butterfly" will get people dancing non-stop!
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