Music of Antigua and Barbuda

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Music of the Anglophone Caribbean
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The music of Antigua and Barbuda is largely African in character, and has only felt a limited influence from European styles due to the population of Antigua and Barbuda descending mostly from West Africans who were made slaves by Europeans. [1]


Antigua and Barbuda is a Caribbean nation in the Lesser Antilles island chain. The country is a second home for many of the pan-Caribbean genres of popular music, and has produced stars in calypso, soca, steeldrum, zouk and reggae. Of these, steeldrum and calypso are the most integral parts of modern Antiguan popular music; both styles are imported from the music of Trinidad and Tobago.

Little to no musical research has been undertaken on Antigua and Barbuda. As a result, much knowledge on the topic derives from novels, essays and other secondary sources. [1]


String instrument
Classification String instrument (plucked.)
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.32
(Composite chordophone)
Playing range
Banjar range.png
(a standard tuned banjar)
Related instruments

Documented music in Antigua and Barbuda began only with the discovery of Antigua, then populated by Arawak and Caribs, by Christopher Columbus in 1493. The islands' early music, however, remains little studied. In the 1780s, documentation exists for African workers participating in outdoor dances accompanied by the banjar (later bangoe, perhaps related to the banjo) and toombah (later tum tum), a drum decorated with shell and tin jingles. [2] By the 1840s, sophisticated subscription balls were common, held biweekly with European-derived quadrilles accompanied by fiddle, tambourine and triangle. [3]

Colonial era churches and missionary activity displaced and otherwise influenced the music of the African slaves, who adopted elements of European-derived religious music. The brass bands of the Salvation Army are an important example. [1] In the mid- to late 19th century, a number of Portuguese indentured workers came to Antigua, bringing with them their styles of music. When most of the Portuguese left in the 1880s, Lebanese music was brought to the island by immigrants from that country. [1]

Folk music

During the period of French colonial rule, African slaves were prohibited from celebrating in Carnival; they continued to do so, secretly, at home. There, an Afro-Caribbean style of percussion, dance and song called benna developed. Later, Antiguan and Barbudan folk music became more dominated by Trinidadian calypso and steelpan.

Most forms of modern Antiguan and Barbudan music are not indigenous to the islands, and were imported from France, the United Kingdom, United States, Jamaica and Trinidad. Colonial dance styles like the highland fling and the quadrille remain popular in Africanized form. The loss of Antiguan traditions can be ascribed to the lack of a French colonial past (French islands of the Lesser Antilles retain much African-derived music and dance), the influence of the powerful Codrington family, a relatively unified African ethnic identity, the lack of African immigration after the peak of slavery importation, the British military presence at Shirley Heights and a modern history of unstable economy and government. [1]

Old Time Christmas Festival

The Old Time Christmas Festival was a culturally significant celebration, replaced in 1957 by a Trinidadian-inspired Carnival. The Antiguan Christmas Festival included several elements that have been adopted into the modern Carnival. [1]

Christmas Festival traditions include both music and dance, especially related to masquerades and iron bands. The highland fling is a common Christmas Festival dance, also played in the modern Carnival, performed by people wearing Scottish kilts, masks made of wire and bearing whips of cowhide. Dancers wearing banana leaves and animal horns took part in the John Bull, while carolers paraded with long poles covered in lanterns, called carol trees, singing with accompaniment by the concertina. Stilt dancers in robes, called the Moko jumbie , Jumpa-Ben or Long Ghosts, were also common, and were accompanied by kettle and bass drums, fife, triangle (cling-a-ching) and the boompipe, made from a plumbing joint one meter long. [1]


Benna (or bennah) is an uptempo Antiguan folk song that was introduced following the prohibition of slavery. Songs usually focused on scandalous and bawdy rumors and gossip, and were in a call-and-response form with a leader and an audience. Benna's popularity and similarity to calypso helped make the island receptive to that genre's introduction. The modern performer King Short Shirt has attempted to revive the benna in modern years, with his 1977 album Harambee an influential work that began updating benna with social and political awareness. [1]

By the beginning of the 20th century, it had become a method of folk communication, disseminating news and reports from across the island. In the 1940s and 50s, an improvisational benna singer named John "Quarkoo" Thomas sang up-to-date stories on legal scandals, and the sexual affairs of the upper-class. He was eventually imprisoned because of the lyrics to "Cocoatea", which was about the daughter of a respected citizen, and her secret pregnancy while in a convent. [4]

In other popular genres of music Antigua is best known for oldest and most successful soca band the Burning Flames, who have claimed the road march title for many years, most recently 2005. Another well-known Antiguan musician was Patrick "Johnny" Gomes, who worked for, among many others, the calypso giant Mighty Swallow. The most famous indigenous musician in Antigua and Barbuda may be Oscar Mason, whose son O'Neill is also a noted trombonist. [5] The Antigua Community Players [6] have been active for more than 52 years, performing a variety of musical productions in many styles, including the Antiguan folk song, benna. Other famous indigenous musicians from Antigua/Barbuda are Rawden Edwards (keyboards); jazz recording artists Roland Prince (guitarist), Courtney Winter (saxophonist); Wendell Richardson, a former lead vocalist/guitarist, and founder member of Osibisa; and up and coming world jazz vocalist Charmain Bailey. Country recording artists Billy Rose and Wayne Daniel were also born on the island of Antigua.

Basil Hill, owner of King Midas Records in New York, built a large international nightclub called the Atmosphere in 1978, creating a direct outlet for Antigua and Barbudan singers and bands.

Elements of non-Antiguan and Barbudan music have continued to be imported to the islands in the latter 20th century, including the electronic gospel music of the American Baptist church, and the Afro-Jamaican drumming of Rastafarian music.


See full article: Antigua Carnival

The Antiguan Carnival is a celebration of music and dance held annually from the end of July to the first Tuesday in August. The most important day is that of the j'ouvert (or juvé), in which brass and steel bands perform for much of the island's population. Barbuda's Carnival in June, and is known as Caribana. [7] The Antiguan and Barbudan Carnivals replaced the Old Time Christmas Festival in 1957, with hopes of inspiring tourism in Antigua and Barbuda. Some elements of the Christmas Festival remain in the modern Carnival celebrations, which are otherwise largely based on the Trinidadian Carnival. [1] The author Frank Manning has argued that this change, from indigenous traditions to tourist-oriented elements, has reduced Antiguans to "positions as service personnel and 'mimic men', robbing the culture of its natural integrity and cultural history". [8]

Music festival

The Antigua and Barbuda international music festival, Romantic Rhythms, is a new addition to the summer line-up that peaks in August at the notorious Carnival celebrations. Geared to becoming a competing counterpart to the Carnival, the festival could eventually become the leading musical event in the entire Caribbean region. In its first year of establishment, the music festival already had some of the world's top artists perform. [9]


The steelpan comes in many different forms, and put together is called a steel orchestra. Steel bands traditionally are made up of old pieces of metal such as old irons, tire rims, or steel pipes. Antigua's steel orchestras and iron bands can be found in churches and in many villages, and have been popular since their introduction. Every Carnival there is a competition to dub the best band of the island. Antigua's largest and oldest steel orchestra that still competes is Hell's Gate. It is said that the Brute Force Steel Band was the first steelpan band to record an album.

Steel orchestras have evolved to using highly technical instruments costing up to US$1500 for one instrument. These pans are meticulously honed out of the steel drum, sunken and burned over a hot fire, chromed and tuned. This process was perfected in Trinidad and Tobago and exported to Antigua and Barbuda through various collaborations between several of the bands in both island-nations.


Calypso was sung throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, and was used by the poor as a platform for social and political commentary, using complex metaphors and folkloric references to obscure their meaning to outsiders. Later, beginning in the 1960s, a popularized kind of calypso was developed for use in tourist hotels. The first hotel calypsonians were Black Shirt, Skeetch and Dadian, who were accompanied by a string ensemble of two guitars and a bass guitar (created out of an oil drum). The Antigua Carnival, and the Antiguan Calypso King competition, began in 1957; the King that year was Styler. This era also saw a growth in patriotic calypsos, focused on an emerging sense of victorious nationalism in the wake of growing autonomy. By the middle of the 1960s, two rival calypsonians dominated the Antiguan scene, Zemaki and Lord Canary. Their conflict was perpetuated as the King Short Shirt and Swallow rivalry during the 1970s and 1980s. In the middle of the 1980s, the Burning Flames emerged, winning the road march with "Styley Tight" in 1985. They achieved pan-Caribbean acclaim. [10]

It is clear that the genre of music now called calypso had strong roots in Trinidad and Tobago, but it would be inaccurate to suggest that this music started in any one island. Every island in the Caribbean has a form of music that resembles "kaiso", more commonly referred to as calypso. It is inaccurate to attribute the origin of calypso to any island. In Belize, they call their variation punta . In Antigua they call theirs benna.

Particularly in the English-speaking islands and Belize, African cultural roots have greatly influenced the beats and form of the music. All these musical forms borrow beats from West African highlife music and have fused North American pop and R&B with the Latin beats of central and South America and Cuba to form distinct musical genres which have significant variations in islands that were influenced by the French. Zouk and cadence are other popular variations. [11]


The defining staccato bass was the creation of the late Lord Shorty from Barrackpore, Trinidad and Tobago, and rose to fame as Lord Shorty with his 1963 hit "Clock and Dagger". He started out writing songs and performing in the calypso genre. In the 1970s, he began experimenting with calypso by blending it with the local chutney — the music of Trinidad's East Indian population — using instruments such as the sitar and tabla. The style was dubbed "soca".

See also

Related Research Articles

Soca music 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 USA. Soca is an offshoot of Kaiso/Calypso, with influences from Latin,and Cadence.

Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid-19th century and spread to the rest of the Caribbean Antilles and Venezuela by the mid-20th century. Its rhythms can be traced back to West African Kaiso and the arrival of French planters and their slaves from the French Antilles in the 18th century.

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.

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.

Steelpan musical instrument originating from Trinidad and Tobago

Steelpans is a musical instrument originating from Trinidad and Tobago. Steelpan musicians are called pannists.

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.

Index of Antigua and Barbuda-related articles Wikipedia list article

The following is an alphabetical list of topics related to the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

The music of Bermuda is often treated as part of the Caribbean music area. Its musical output includes pop singer Heather Nova, and her brother Mishka. Collie Buddz has also gained international success with reggae hits in the US and the UK.

The music of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines includes thriving music scenes based on Big Drum, calypso, soca, steelpan and also reggae. String band music, quadrille, bélé music and traditional storytelling are also popular.

Music of Saint Kitts and Nevis

The music of Saint Kitts and Nevis is known for a number of musical celebrations including Carnival. The last week in June features the St Kitts Music Festival, while the week-long Culturama on Nevis lasts from the end of July into early August.

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival Annual event held in Trinidad and Tobago

The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is an annual event held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in Trinidad and Tobago. The event is well known for participants' colorful costumes and exuberant celebrations. There are numerous cultural events such as "band launch fetes" running in the lead up to the street parade on Carnival Monday and Tuesday. It is said that if the islanders are not celebrating it, then they are preparing for it, while reminiscing about the past year's festival. Traditionally, the festival is associated with calypso music, with its origins formulated in the midst of hardship for enslaved West and Central Africans; however, recently Soca music has replaced calypso as the most celebrated type of music. Costumes, stick-fighting and limbo competitions are also important components of the festival.

Culture of Dominica pattern of human activity and symbolism associated with Dominica and its people

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, the Taíno and Island Caribs (Kalinago) tribes 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 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.

Antigua Carnival

The Antiguan Carnival is a celebration of the emancipation of slavery in the country held annually from the end of July to the first Tuesday in August. The most important day is that of the j'ouvert, in which brass and steel bands perform for much of the island's population. Barbuda's Carnival, held in June, is known as Caribana. The Antiguan and Barbudan Carnivals replaced the Old Time Christmas Festival in 1957, with hopes of inspiring tourism in Antigua and Barbuda. Some elements of the Christmas Festival remain in the modern Carnival celebrations.

Culture of Martinique

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. Following French custom, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. 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.

Chanté mas and Lapo kabrit is a form of Carnival music of Dominica. It is performed by masquerading partygoers in a two-day parade, with a lead vocalist (chantwèl), who is followed by the responsorial chorus (lavwa), with drummers and dancers dancing backwards in front of the drummer on a tambou lélé. The Carnival has African and French roots and is otherwise known as Mas Dominik, the most original Carnival in the Caribbean.

Benna is a genre of Antiguan and Barbudan music.

El-A-Kru is an Antiguan soca band. The name derives from "Little Antigua Crew".

Duckunoo or duckanoo, also referred to as tie-a-leaf and blue drawers (draws), called Dokonon, is a dessert in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, French Guiana and some other Lesser Antilles. It is a variation on the dish ducana which originated in Africa. The Caribbean cuisine dish is made from batata, sweet potato, coconut, spices and brown sugar, all tied up in a banana leaf. It is then cooked in boiling water.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 McDaniel, pp. 798-800
  2. Luffman, John (1788). A Brief Account of the Island of Antigua. London. cited in McDaniel, pp 798-800
  3. Lanigan, Mrs. (1844). Antigua and the Antiguans. London. cited in McDaniel, pp 798-800
  4. Antigua and Barbuda's Cultural Heritage Archived 2005-10-26 at the Wayback Machine and McDaniel, pp 798-800
  5. De Ledesma and Popplewell, pg. 520
  6. "Antigua Community Players". Archived from the original on 2005-01-06. Retrieved 2005-05-21.
  7. Cameron, pg. 480
  8. Quote from McDaniel, pp 798–800, describing Manning, Frank (1977). Sally F. Moore; Barbara G. Myerhoff (eds.). "Cup March and Carnival: Secular Rites of Revitalization in Decolonizing Tourist-Oriented Societies". Secular Ritual. Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum: 265–281.
  9. "Antigua and Barbuda Music Festival".
  10. Antigua and Barbuda's Cultural Heritage Archived 2005-10-26 at the Wayback Machine
  11. Thompson, Dave (2002). Reggae & Caribbean Music, Backbeat Books, ISBN   0-87930-655-6, p. 225