For an artist, “making it” in their hometown is a huge accomplishment but making it overseas is where the true success lies. This month, instead of picking a specific island to focus on, we will focus on them all to figure out which area of the Caribbean has the United States rocking the hardest, the history of how that style came to be and the journey it took to make it over.
Reggae originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s and quickly emerged as the country’s dominant music. By the 1970s it had become an international style that was particularly popular in Britain, the United States and Africa. It was widely perceived as a voice of the oppressed. Reggae was later embraced in the United States largely through the work of Marley—both directly and indirectly (the latter as a result of Eric Clapton’s popular cover version of Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974). The dancehall DJs of the 1980s and ’90s who refined the practice of “toasting” (rapping over instrumental tracks) were spare headers to reggae’s politicization of music. By doing so, these DJs extended the market for reggae into the African American community.
Trinidad & Tobago
Originating in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s, Soca music combines funk, soul, and calypso to create a style of music that’s both soulful and catchy. Credited with the inspiration for Soca is Trinidadian-native Garfield Blackman, who combined traditional calypso music with Indo-Caribbean music in the 1960s, a fusion that led to the Soca style nearly a decade later. The grooves migrated to the states as the people did. One person put on another and Soca became widespread.
‘Haiti’s national music,’ compas (also known by the French as compas direct and as konpa dirèk [or simply konpa] by Creole speakers. The botched spelling “kompa” is a result of a phonetic misunderstanding between French and Haitian Creole). Often described as a “modern merengue,” compas is wildly popular throughout the entirety of the Caribbean; though because of Nemours Jean Baptiste’s musical contributions to the genre, compas direct is normally seen as rooted in Haiti. Today, kompa’s impact is far-reaching and felt all throughout both the Caribbean nations and the rest of the world.
Calypso music’s history traces all the way back to the 1700s and continues to be seen as a way of projecting the voice of African, French, and Caribbean peoples around the world. The Calypso style of music incorporates many different instruments as well as vocals to create a harmonized melody, with soulful intonations similar to those of the African spirituals sung during the days of African slavery. In fact, along with Reggae, Calypso music has always been identified as the music of the oppressed – in the 18th century, it was performed by the slaves of French planters in the French Antilles.
Which of the following Caribbean grooves do you move to? Did you know its origin?