List of Caribbean music genres

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Harry Belafonte, a Jamaican-American pop-calypso singer in 1954 Harry Belafonte 1954.jpg
Harry Belafonte, a Jamaican-American pop-calypso singer in 1954

Caribbean music genres are very diverse. They are each synthesis of African, European, Arab, Asian, and Indigenous influences, largely created by descendants of African slaves (see Afro-Caribbean music), along with contributions from other communities (such as Indo-Caribbean music). Some of the styles to gain wide popularity outside the Caribbean include, bachata, merengue, palo, mambo, denbo, baithak gana, bouyon, cadence-lypso, calypso, soca, chutney, chutney-soca, compas, dancehall, jing ping, parang, pichakaree, punta, ragga, reggae, dembow, reggaeton, salsa, soca, and zouk. [1] Caribbean music is also related to Central American and South American music.


The history of Caribbean music originates from the history of the Caribbean itself. That history is one of the native land invaded by outsiders; violence, slavery, and even genocide factor in.

Following Christopher Columbus' 1492 landing, Spain claimed the entire region as its own. That didn't sit well with either the natives or Spain's European neighbors; within a few years, bloody battles raged across the islands of the Caribbean, fought by Spain, France, England, Denmark, and the Netherlands. All these battles (and diseases brought from Europe) decimated the native tribes, with entire cultures wiped out.

Thus the Caribbean was colonized as part of the various European empires. Native cultures were further eroded when the Europeans imported African slaves to work the sugar and coffee plantations on their island colonies. In many cases, native cultures (and native musics) were replaced by those imported from Africa and Europe.

At this point,[ when? ] whatever common Caribbean culture existed was splintered. Each of the European powers had imposed its own culture on the islands they had claimed. In the late 20th century, many Caribbean islands gained independence from colonial rule but the European influences can still be heard in the music of each subtly different culture.

Island-specific culture also informs the music of the Caribbean. Every island has its distinct musical styles, all inspired, to one degree or another, by the music brought over from the African slaves. As such, most Caribbean music, however unique to its own island culture, includes elements of African music - heavy use of percussion, complex rhythmic patterns, and call-and-response vocals. In many cases, the difference between one style and another comes down to the rhythms utilized in each music; every island has its own rhythmic sensibilities.

The complex deep origins of Caribbean music are best understood with a knowledge of Western Hemisphere colonial immigration patterns, human trafficking patterns, the resulting melting pot of people each of its nations and territories, and thus resulting influx of original musical influences. Colonial Caribbean ancestors were predominantly from West Africa, West Europe, and India. In the 20th and 21st centuries immigrants have also come from Taiwan, China, Indonesia/Java, and the Middle East. Neighboring Latin American and North American (particularly hip hop and pop music) countries have also naturally influenced Caribbean culture and vice versa. While there are musical commonalities among Caribbean nations and territories, the variation in immigration patterns and colonial hegemony tend to parallel the variations in musical influence. Language barriers (Spanish, Portuguese, English, Hindustani, Tamil, Telugu, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Yiddish, Yoruba, African languages, Indian languages, Amerindian languages, French, Indonesian, Javanese, and Dutch) are one of the strongest influences.

Divisions between Caribbean music genres are not always well-defined, because many of these genres share common relations, instrumentation and have influenced each other in many ways and directions. [2] For example, the Jamaican mento style has a long history of conflation with Trinidadian calypso. [3] Elements of calypso have come to be used in mento, and vice versa, while their origins lie in the Caribbean culture, each uniquely characterized by influences from the Shango and Shouters religions of Trinidad and the Kumina spiritual tradition of Jamaica. [4] Music from the Spanish-speaking areas of the Caribbean are classified as tropical music in the Latin music industry.

Antigua and Barbuda

By the mid-20th century Antigua and Barbuda boasted lively calypso and steelpan scenes as part of its annual Carnival celebration. Hell’s Gate, along with Brute Force and the Big Shell Steelband, were the first Caribbean steelbands to be recorded and featured on commercial records thanks to the efforts of the American record producer Emory Cook. [5] Short Shirt, Swallow, and Obstinate were among the most popular calypsonians who competed in the island's annual calypso competition. [6]


Benna is an uptempo Antiguan folk song, also spelled bennah and known as ditti. It is characterized by lyrics that focus on scandalous gossip, performed in a call and response style. It has also been a means of folk communication, spreading news and political commentary across the island. [7] Other genres include:







Chanté mas

Chanté mas (masquerade song) is a tradition from the music of Dominica, based in Carnival celebrations and performed by groups of masquerading partygoers. They use the call-and-response format, and lyrics are often light-hearted insulting, and discuss local scandals and rumors. [8] Other genres include:

soca music

Dominican Republic

Dutch West Indies

Bari is a festival, dance, drum and song type from the Dutch Antillean island of Bonaire. It is led by a single singer, who improvises. Lyrics often concern local figures and events of importance. [9]

Quimbe is a topical song form from the Dutch Antillean St Maarten. It traditionally accompanies the ponum dance and drumming, but is now often performed without accompaniment. Lyrics include gossip, news and social criticism, and use clever puns and rhymes. Performance is often competitive in nature. [10]

Tumba is a style of Curaçao music, strongly African in origin, despite the name's origin in a 17th-century Spanish dance. Traditional tumba is characterized by scandalous, gossiping and accusatory lyrics, but modern tumba often eschews such topics. It is well known abroad, and dates to the early 19th century. It is now a part of the Carnival Road March. [11]

Other genres include:



Shanto is a form of Guyanese music, related to both calypso and mento, [12] and became a major part of early popular music through its use in Guyanese vaudeville shows; songs are topical and light-hearted, often accompanied by a guitar. [13] Other genres include:


Compas / kompa

Compas, short for compas direct, is the modern méringue (mereng in creole) that was popularized in the mid-1950s by the sax and guitar player Nemours Jean-Baptiste. His méringue soon became popular throughout the Antilles, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Webert Sicot and Nemours Jean-Baptiste became the two leaders in the group. Sicot then left and formed a new group and an intense rivalry developed, though they remained good friends. To differentiate himself from Nemours, Sicot called his modern méringue, Cadence rampa.

In Creole, it is spelled as konpa dirèk or simply konpa. It is commonly spelled as it is pronounced as kompa. [14]


Evolving in Haiti during the mid-1800s, the Haitian méringue (known as the mereng in creole) is regarded as the oldest surviving form of its kind performed today and is its national symbol. According to Jean Fouchard, mereng evolved from the fusion of slave music genres (such as the chica and calenda) with ballroom forms related to the French-Haitian contredanse ( kontradans in creole). Mereng's name, he says, derives from the mouringue music of the Bara, a tribe of Madagascar. That few Malagasies came to the Americas casts doubt on this etymology, but it is significant because it emphasizes what Fouchard (and most Haitians) consider the African-derived nature of their music and national identity. Méringue has lost popularity to konpa.

Mizik rasin

Mizik rasin is a musical movement that began in Haïti in 1987 when musicians began combining elements of traditional Haitian Vodou ceremonial and folkloric music with rock and roll. This style of modern music reaching back to the roots of Vodou tradition came to be called mizik rasin ("roots music") in Haitian Creole or musique racine in French. In context, the movement is often referred to simply as rasin or racine.

Starting in the late 1970s (with discontent surrounding the increasing opulence of the Duvalier dictatorship), youth from Port-au-Prince (and to a lesser extent Cap-Haïtien and other urban areas) began experimenting with new types of life. François Duvalier's appropriation of Vodou images as a terror technique, the increase in U.S. assembly and large-scale export agriculture, the popularity of disco, and Jean-Claude Duvalier's appreciation of konpa and chanson française disillusioned many youth and love.

To question the dictatorship's notion of "the Haitian nation" (and thus the dictatorship itself), several men began trying a new way of living, embodied in the Sanba Movement. They drew upon global trends in black power, Bob Marley, "Hippie"-dom, as well as prominently from rural life in Haiti. They dressed in the traditional blue denim (karoko) of peasants, eschewed the commercialized and processed life offered by global capitalism, and celebrated the values of communal living. Later, they adopted matted hair which resembled dreadlocks, but identified the style as something which existed in Haiti with the term cheve simbi, referring to water spirits.

In the 1990s, commercial success came to the musical genre that came to be known as mizik rasin , or "roots music". Musicians like Boukman Eksperyans, and Boukan Ginen, and to a lesser extent RAM, incorporated reggae, rock and funk rhythms into traditional forms and instrumentation, including rara, music from kanaval, or traditional spiritual music from the rural hamlets called lakous, like Lakou Souvnans, Lakou Badjo, Lakou Soukri, or Lakou Dereyal.


Twoubadou is another form of folk music played by peripatetic troubadours playing some combination of acoustic, guitar, beat box and accordion instruments singing ballads of Haitian, French or Caribbean origin. [15] It is in some ways similar to Son Cubano from Cuba as a result of Haitian migrant laborers who went to work on Cuban sugar plantations at the turn of the century[ clarification needed ]. [16] Musicians perform at the Port-au-Prince International Airport and also at bars and restaurants in Pétion-Ville.



The music of Honduras is varied. Punta is the main "ritmo" of Honduras, with similar sounds such as Caribbean salsa, merengue, reggae, reggaeton, And kompa all widely heard especially in the North, to Mexican rancheras heard in the interior rural part of the country. Honduras' capital Tegucigalpa is an important center for modern Honduran music, and is home to the College for Fine Arts.

Folk music is played with guitar, marimba and other instruments. Popular folk songs include La ceiba and Candú.

Other genres include:


Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady . [17]

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. [17]

Mento is a form of Jamaican folk music that uses topical lyrics with a humorous slant, commenting on poverty and other social issues. Sexual innuendos are also common. [18] [19] Mento was strongly influenced by calypso, the musical traditions of the Kumina religion and Cuban music. [4] During the mid-20th century, mento was conflated with calypso, and mento was frequently referred to as calypso, kalypso and mento calypso; mento singers frequently used calypso songs and techniques. [3]

Other genres include:


Puerto Rico

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Lucia

Jwé is a kind of rural music from Saint Lucia, performed informally at wakes, beach parties, full moon gatherings and other events, including débòt dances. Jwé uses raunchy lyrics and innuendos to show off verbal skills, and to express political and comedic commentaries on current events and well-known individuals. One well-known technique that has entered Lucian culture is lang dévivé, which is when the singer says the opposite of his true meaning. [20] Other genres include:

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Big Drum is a style found in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and elsewhere in the Windward Islands, especially Carriacou. It is accompanied by drums traditionally made from tree trunks, though rum kegs are now more common. Satirical and political lyrics are common, performed by a female singer called a chantwell and accompanied by colorfully costumed dancers. Big Drum is performed at celebrations like weddings and the launchings of new boats. [21] Chutney-soca is another genre.


Kaseko is a music genre that originated in Suriname. The term Kaseko is probably derived from the French expression casser le corps (break the body), which was used during slavery to indicate a very swift dance. It is a fusion of numerous popular and folk styles. It is rhythmically complex, with percussion instruments including skratji (a very large bass drum). Songs are typically call-and-response.

Other genres include:

Trinidad and Tobago


Calypso is a Trinidadian music, which traditionally uses a slow tempo to accompany vocalist-composers, or calypsonians . Songs are often improvised and humorous, with sexual innuendo, political and social commentary, and picong , a style of lyricism that teases people in a light-hearted way. Calypso is competitively performed in calypso tents at Carnival. [19] Calypso uses rhythms derived from West Africa, with cut time, and features dance as an important component. [22] Calypso's roots were frequently ascribed to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Bermuda or the Virgin Islands. Calypso can be traced back to at least 1859, when a visiting ornithologist in Trinidad ascribed calypso's origins in British ballads. [2] While calypso has a diverse heritage, calypso became a distinct genre when it developed in Trinidad. [18] The word caliso refers to topical songs in the dialect of Saint Lucia, and may be linguistically related to the word calypso. [2] [23]


Cariso is a kind of Trinidadian folk music, and an important ancestor of calypso music. It is lyrically topical, and frequently sarcastic or mocking in the picong tradition, and is sung primarily in French creole by singers called chantwells . Cariso may come from carieto, a Carib word meaning joyous song, and can also be used synonymously with careso. [24]


Chutney is a form indigenous to the southern Caribbean, popular in Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Suriname. It derives elements from traditional Indian music and popular Trinidadian Soca music.


Soca is a style of Caribbean music originating in Trinidad and Tobago.

Soca originally combined the melodic lilting sound of calypso with insistent cadence percussion (which is often electronic in recent music), and Indian musical instruments—particularly the dholak, tabla and dhantal—as demonstrated in Shorty's classic compositions "Ïndrani" and "Shanti Om". During the 80's, the influence of zouk as popularized by the French Antillean band Kassav' had a major impact on the development of modern soca music.



Virgin Islands




Quelbe is a form of Virgin Islander folk music that originated on St. Croix, now most commonly performed by groups called scratch bands. Traditionally, however, quelbe was performed informally by solo singers at festivals and other celebrations. Hidden meanings and sexual innuendos were common, and lyrics focused on political events like boycotts. [25]

Yucatán, Mexico


Related Research Articles

The music of Latin America refers to music originating from Latin America, namely the Romance-speaking regions of the Americas south of the United States. Latin American music also incorporates African music from enslaved African people who were transported from West and Central Africa to the Americas by European settlers, as well as music from the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Due to its highly syncretic nature, Latin American music encompasses a wide variety of styles, including influential genres such as cumbia, bachata, bossa nova, merengue, rumba, salsa, samba, son, and tango. During the 20th century, many styles were influenced by the music of the United States giving rise to genres such as Latin pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, and reggaeton.

Soca music is a genre of music defined by Lord Shorty, its inventor, as the "Soul of Calypso", which has influences of African and East Indian rhythms. It was originally spelt "sokah" by its inventor but through an error in a local newspaper when reporting on the new music it was erroneously spelt "soca"; Lord Shorty confirmed the error but chose to leave it that way to avoid confusion. It is a genre of music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1970s and developed into a range of styles during the 1980s and after. Soca was initially developed by Lord Shorty in an effort to revive traditional calypso, the popularity of which had been flagging amongst younger generations in Trinidad due to the rise in popularity of reggae from Jamaica and soul and funk from the United States. Soca is an offshoot of Calypso/Kaiso, with influences from East Indian rhythms and hooks.

The music of Jamaica includes Jamaican folk music and many popular genres, such as mento, ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub music, dancehall, reggae fusion and related styles.

The music of Trinidad and Tobago is best known for its calypso music, soca music, chutney music, and steelpan. Calypso's internationally noted performances in the 1950s from native artists such as Lord Melody, Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow. The art form was most popularised at that time by Harry Belafonte. Along with folk songs and African- and Indian-based classical forms, cross-cultural interactions have produced other indigenous forms of music including soca, rapso, parang, chutney, and other derivative and fusion styles. There are also local communities which practice and experiment with international classical and pop music, often fusing them with local steelpan instruments.

The music of Haiti combines a wide range of influences drawn from the many people who have settled on this Caribbean island. It reflects French, African rhythms, Spanish elements and others who have inhabited the island of Hispaniola and minor native Taino influences. Styles of music unique to the nation of Haiti include music derived from rara parading music, twoubadou ballads, mini-jazz rock bands, rasin movement, hip hop Creòle, the wildly popular compas, and méringue as its basic rhythm. Haiti did not have recorded music until 1937 when Jazz Guignard was recorded non-commercially. One of the most current popular Haitian artists is Wyclef Jean. His music is somewhat hip hop mixed with worldbeat. Haitian music is influenced mostly by European colonial ties and African migration. In the case of European colonization, musical influence has derived primarily from the French.

The music of Martinique has a heritage which is intertwined with that of its sister island, Guadeloupe. Despite their small size, the islands have created a large popular music industry, which gained in international renown after the success of zouk music in the later 20th century. Zouk's popularity was particularly intense in France, where the genre became an important symbol of identity for Martinique and Guadeloupe. Zouk's origins are in the folk music of Martinique and Guadeloupe, especially Martinican chouval bwa, and Guadeloupan gwo ka. There's also notable influence of the pan-Caribbean calypso tradition and Haitian kompa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Music of Dominica</span> Music of Dominica

The music of Dominica includes a variety of genres including all the popular genres of the world. Popular music is widespread, with a number of native Dominican performers gaining national fame in imported genres such as calypso, reggae, soca, kompa, zouk and rock and roll. Dominica's own popular music industry has created a form called bouyon, which combines elements from several styles and has achieved a wide fanbase in Dominica. Groups include WCK, Native musicians in various forms, such as reggae, kadans (Ophelia Marie, and calypso, have also become stars at home and abroad.

The music of the Lesser Antilles encompasses the music of this chain of small islands making up the eastern and southern portion of the West Indies. Lesser Antillean music is part of the broader category of Caribbean music; much of the folk and popular music is also a part of the Afro-American musical complex, being a mixture of African, European and indigenous American elements. The Lesser Antilles' musical cultures are largely based on the music of African slaves brought by European traders and colonizers. The African musical elements are a hybrid of instruments and styles from numerous West African tribes, while the European slaveholders added their own musics into the mix, as did immigrants from India. In many ways, the Lesser Antilles can be musically divided based on which nation colonized them.

Panama is a Central American country, inhabited mostly by mestizos. The music of Panama is heavily based on the folk music of Spain, particularly that of Andalusia and was influenced first by the indigenous populations of Kunas, Teribes, Ngobe Bugle and others, and then by the black population who were brought over, first as slaves from Africa, between the 16th century and the 19th century, and then voluntarily to work on the Panamanian Railroad and Canal projects between the 1840s and 1914.

Black music is a sound created, produced, or inspired by black people, people of African descent, including African music traditions and African popular music as well as the music genres of the African diaspora, including Caribbean music, Latin music, Brazilian music and African-American music. These genres include spiritual, gospel, rumba, blues, bomba, rock and roll, rock, jazz, salsa, R&B, samba, calypso, soca, soul, kwaito, cumbia, funk, ska, reggae, dub reggae, house, Detroit techno, amapiano, hip hop, pop, gqom, afrobeat, and others.

Chutney music is a fusion genre of Indian folk music, specifically Bhojpuri folk music, with local Caribbean calypso and soca music, and later on Bollywood music. This genre of music that developed in Trinidad and Tobago is popular in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, other parts of the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, and South Africa. Chutney music emerged mid-20th century and reached a peak of popularity during the 1980s. Several sub-genres have developed.

There are several subgenres of reggae music including various predecessors to the form.

Afro-Caribbean music is a broad term for music styles originating in the Caribbean from the African diaspora. These types of music usually have West African/Central African influence because of the presence and history of African people and their descendants living in the Caribbean, as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. These distinctive musical art forms came about from the cultural mingling of African, Indigenous, and European inhabitants. Characteristically, Afro-Caribbean music incorporates components, instruments and influences from a variety of African cultures, as well as Indigenous and European cultures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Culture of Dominica</span>

The culture of Dominica is formed by the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Dominica. Dominica is home to a wide range of people. Although it was historically occupied by several native tribes, it was the Taíno and Island Caribs (Kalinago) tribes that remained by the time European settlers reached the island. "Massacre" is a name of a river dedicated to the murders of the native villagers by both French and British settlers, because the river "ran red with blood for days." Each claimed the island and imported slaves from Africa. The remaining Caribs now live on a 3,700-acre (15 km2) Carib Territory on the east coast of the island. They elect their own chief.

Méringue, also called méringue lente or méringue de salon, is a dance music and national symbol in Haiti. It is a string-based style played on the lute, guitar, horn section, piano, and other string instruments unlike the accordion-based merengue, and is generally sung in Haitian Creole and French, as well as in English and Spanish.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Culture of Martinique</span>

As an overseas départment of France, Martinique's culture is French and Caribbean. Its former capital, Saint-Pierre, was often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. The official language is French, although many Martinicans speak a Creole patois. Based in French, Martinique's Creole also incorporates elements of English, Spanish, Portuguese, and African languages. Originally passed down through oral storytelling traditions, it continues to be used more often in speech than in writing.

Music of the African diaspora was mostly refined and developed during the period of slavery. Slaves did not have easy access to instruments, so vocal work took on new significance. Through chants and work songs people of African descent preserved elements of their African heritage while inventing new genres of music. The culmination of this great sublimation of musical energy into vocal work can be seen in genres as disparate as Gospel Music and Hip-Hop. The music of the African diaspora makes frequent use of ostinato, a motif or phrase which is persistently repeated at the same pitch. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody. The banjo is a direct descendant of the Akonting created by the Jola people, found in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. Hence, the melodic traditions of the African diaspora are probably most alive in Blues and Jazz.

Antilliaanse Feesten is a Caribbean music festival that takes place in every second weekend of August in Hoogstraten, Belgium. It had 38,000 attendees in 2016. The festival was first held in 1983, and has been repeated every year except 2000.


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