Sounds from the Caribbean
SOUNDS FROM THE TROPICS | Listen Here
This eclectic playlist consists of songs from old and new Calypsonians, Soca, Zouk and Steel Pan artists from across the Caribbean. These varied styles have developed from the beat of the drum, but with the musician’s creativity and the aim to please the audience there is something unique that emerges from every sound.
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.
Soca was initially developed by Lord Shorty 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.
Zouk is a genre of dance-oriented music from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinque. Zouk was originally characterised by a fast tempo (120–145 bpm), a percussion-driven rhythm and a loud horn section.
Steelpans (also known as steel pans, steel drums or pans, and sometimes, collectively with other musicians, as a steel band or orchestra) is a musical instrument originating from Trinidad and Tobago. Steelpan musicians are called pannists. The pan is struck using a pair of straight sticks tipped with rubber; the size and type of rubber tip varies according to the class of pan being played. Some musicians use four pan sticks, holding two in each hand. This skill and performance have been conclusively shown to have grown out of Trinidad and Tobago’s early 20th-century Carnival percussion groups known as Tamboo bamboo. The pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.
These are some of the styles of music you will hear on this playlist, artist from around the Caribbean performing their music for you which I hope you enjoy.
When Aldwyn Roberts aka ‘Lord Kitchener’ arrived in Britain from Trinidad in 1948 on the The Windrush ship carrying hundreds of West Indians who were called to serve the ‘Mother Country’ and keen to create a new prosperous life for themselves, Kitchener was asked to sing this song on the Tilbury docks “London Is the Place for Me”.
Kitchener described as the “The Grand Master of Calypso” was encouraged by his father to pick up the guitar, an inspired gift that would serve him well for years to come. Orphaned at the age of 14, music became his saviour. He became a full-time musician and his first paid job was keeping the labours entertained while they laid water pipes in the San Fernando Valley. He would gain popularity with his compositions such as “Shops Close Too Early” and winning five calypso competitions in his borough. He would leave his hometown of Arima (Trinidad and Tobago) and join local bands in Port of Spain. He also gained the reputation as being an innovator with his music and becoming political with his lyrics. He would entertain the US troops and was invited to New York at the end of World War II to perform and in 1946 Kitchener won his first T&T Carnival Road March title with the song “Jump In The Line”, his popularity grew even more from this moment on.
“London Is the Place for Me” was specially composed for the moment he arrived in Britain, sang with so much hope and optimism. He would take up the invitation to perform on BBC Radio and became a voice for the growing West Indian community in the UK in the 1950’s and he became a reminder of their island left behind.
“Jamaica Farewell” sung here by Jamaican-American songwriter, activist and actor ‘Harry Belafonte’ the song is composed by American-Barbadian Irving Burgie and Belafonte.
This song is taken from his album ‘Calypso’ released in 1956 and would sell a million copies in that year, the album also included his hit song ‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’. Belafonte’s inspiration for his music is taken from West Indian folk songs. ‘Calypso’ stayed at number four on Billboard “Top 100 Album” list for having spent 31 weeks at number 1, 58 weeks in the top ten, and 99 weeks on the U.S. charts.
He starred in the film ‘Carmen Jones’ with the stunning Dorothy Dandridge, who also starred alongside him as well as James Mason, Joan Collins and Belfonte’s love interest Joan Fontaine in the movie and my favourite ‘Island in the Sun’. The film is about an interracial romance, which was a sensitive topic at the time and due to this, Fontaine and Belafonte were not allowed to kiss on screen – it caused quite a drama!
Belafonte also became a voice not only in music and film but in the Civil Rights Movement, standing alongside Martin Luther King Jr, standing up for Anti-Apartheid Movement and in the 1950s, Belafonte was a supporter of the African American Students Foundation, which in 1959 gave a grant to a Kenyan student named Barack Obama to study at the University of Hawaii. There, Obama met and married a white American named Ann Dunham and had a child who became the first black president of the United States.
Harry Belafonte born in 1927 still holds the flame of justice and in this song he conveys a moment of simpler times.
‘Buena Vista Social Club’ performs “Candela” released in 1997. Cuban music encompasses of an array of influences taken from Latin America, Caribbean, West Africa and Europe. There are different genres to include as well for example Rhumba, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Salsa and Soukous, it is a real fusion of music to choose from.
It is 1996 and American guitarist Ry Cooder takes up the invitation to visit Havana by British producer Nick Gold of World Circuit Records and the task was to record a musical collaboration with Mali and Cuban musicians. Unfortunately, the two musicians from Mali did not receive their visas and could not travel to Havana, so plans had to be changed and ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ was born. A search started for local musicians in Havana and due to the wonderful talent, it was an easy task, taking only three days to pull together the singers and musicians, and six days to record a fourteen-track album. Once the album was released it receive many accolades and it was included in the book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’. The album was awarded the 1998 Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album and Tropical/Salsa. It sure is an album worth owning and there is a documentary of the same name which is worth watching too!
In 2019 the female Calypsonian ‘Calypso Rose’ performed at the Coachella festival for the first time at the tender age of 78 years old. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California brings diverse musical genres to the world stage and is well known as a celebrity annual gathering. It was now the turn of Trinidadian ‘Calypso Rose’. Her moment captured here by Randall Roberts journalist from the Los Angeles Times, “Her set before sundown was a testament to the power of music to bridge decades divides….her set prompted a multigenerational, multinational dance party.” Calypso Rose would also proclaim “Now I am the queen of Coachella”, taking the crown from Beyoncé who had performed the year before.
She sings here her song “Calypso Queen” taken from her album ‘Far from Home’ release in 2016, composed by Drew Gonsalves, Alan Thomas & Manu Chao. She declares her long reign as the queen of calypso which should be respected by the male dominated world of Calypso: “They say that I reign too long, forgetting that my constitution is strong. Instead of respecting my long reign, they’re making plot to take down my name.”
Linda McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis A.K.A ‘Calypso Rose’ started writing songs at the age of 13 and went onto compose more than 1000 songs with more than 20 albums under her belt taking her thorn in this male dominated industry. She continues to break down walls not only on stage but in her personal life as well by announcing that she was a lesbian at tender age of 72 years and had been in a relationship with a woman for 17 years and who she is now happily married too. Calypso Rose is a true veteran and still holds the crown.
“Hot Hot Hot” performed here by ‘Arrow’, born Alphonsus Celestine Edmund Cassell on
the island of Montserrat in 1949.
I am sure you have heard this song many times, but did you know that this is the biggest selling Soca hit of all time and when Arrow’s menswear store was destroyed in the Montserrat volcano eruption, he packed and moved to Antigua and in 1996 and organised a calypso festival to raise money for the people of the island.
‘Arrow’ received much criticism for combining the different musical genres such as Zouk, R&B and Salsa to the traditional calypso sound of Montserrat, but others felt it was enticing a new audience to their island’s music tradition. “Hot Hot Hot” became a big hit around the globe and a song most people recognise as happy times, with a rum punch in hand in the heat of the sun.
‘Kassav’ are the French Caribbean band formed in Guadeloupe in 1979. Their name is taken from the Antillean Creole local dish made from the cassava root. “Ou lé” is a track taken from their 1989 album ‘Majestik Zouk’. Kassav is one of the most successful bands in the region and have fans in France, Latin America, Africa and the US. They and have released over 20 albums and some of the band members have released 12 solo albums between them. Their music is a fusion of Zouk, a fast tempo, which the band popularised in the 1980’s, Cadence-lypso which is a fusion of Haitian Cadence Rampa and calypso from Trinidad & Tobago.
When a DJ plays a song by ‘Kassav’ in St Lucia the dance floor is filled and when they play live, the five-piece band are accompanied by choreographed dancers who inspire the audience to get up from their seats and start dancing, it’s an infectious sound that makes it hard to hold back.
In 2000, the group received the Martinique Music Award for its anniversary concert, and (keyboard player) Patrick Saint Eloi won the SACEM award for Best Artist from Guadeloupe. If ever they come to a theatre near you it’s worth going to enjoy an evening of great music and a whole lot of fun.
“Hello” by the Soca group ‘Kes The Band’ released in 2018 became one of the most streamed Soca songs of all time with 70 million views and growing. The Kes band are made up of brothers Kes, Hans, Jon Dieffenthaller and long-time friend Riad Boochoon, hailing from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, they have become household names in their home country and are very popular in the Caribbean region and beyond. Their music is a blend of Calypso, Soca, Reggae and a little rock guitar thrown in. ‘Kes The Band’ are the new kids on the block with already six albums in their catalogue of music and are starting to make waves internationally as well, not forgetting their popularity on the Carnival scene. With their lead singer Kes up front with his dynamic performances and the outstanding musicianship of the band, I think you will be hearing a lot more from them.
‘Machel Montano’ started in the industry at the age of 11 years old and had a hit with his song “Too young to Soca” and in 1987 he took part in the National Song Writer Festival in Trinidad and Tobago and won the second prize with his song “Dream Girl”. Later he won the Caribbean Song Festival in Barbados becoming the youngest contestant to win this competition. So, from an early age he was destined to be a song writer, singer and performer on the world stage.
He has gained the reputation as the most popular Soca artist in the world to date. He is known all over Caribbean and has already performed at Madison Square Gardens many times over and has become the International Soca Monarch six times. This prestigious event is where the Soca stars of the moment compete and Montano has won it across the board.
This track “Fast Wine” is his single released in 2016 written by Machel Montano, Jelani Shaw & Kasey Phillips. This song is one of his slower tempo tracks, he is renowned for his uptempo high energy compositions. “Fast Wine” is a term used not to describe fast drinking, far from it, but if you are keen to know ask one of the Body Holiday staff members I’m sure they will be able to explain for you and show you, They will know ‘Machel Montano’ and this song very well….
This instrumental track is by Trinidadian Pannist artist ‘Ray Holman’ “Red Beans and Rice” is a track taken from his album, ‘In Touch’, released in 2003.
Ray Holman started playing steelpan at the age of 13 years old and would compose his first pan piece called “Ray’s Saga” for the Invaders Steel Orchestra. He would later work with some of the great calypsonians such as Sparrow and Kitchener and has also arranged and recorded with steel bands and artists in the US, Canada, Latin America, Japan and Europe, including televised performances with the WDR Big Band (conducted by Vince Mendoza) which showcased his compositions. He composed the highly acclaimed score for Black Orpheus, staged by Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey in 1991, and has been a featured performer in film, television and at venues such as Madison Square Garden, the Super Bowl and our St Lucia Jazz Festival. Holman has won many prestigious musical awards, including the Hummingbird Medal of Merit (Silver) from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and a Pan Legend Award from the New York Folk Arts Institute and the U.S. Congress. He was recognised for his musical contribution by the Republic Pan Fiesta in 2003 – a Tribute to Ray Holman, a Pannist who has upheld tradition and history of the beauty of the Steelpan sound.
The descendants of free slaves took part in The Canboulay Riots which broke out in Port of Spain Trinidad in 1881. Their fight was against the British police who wanted to crack down on the celebration of Carnival. With their fighting spirit and creativity of the now free men and women Carnival celebrations would reappear with instruments made of frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums which is now a major part of the Steelpan orchestra and still today there is a music contest in honour of the tragic event of 1881
“Calypso Music” by David Rudder released in 1993.
After leaving the band ‘Charlie’s Roots’ after nine years, Rudder stepped into the arena as a solo artist in 1986 and there was no turning back. Keeping his fans happy with his newfound fame in the US, London and Tokyo where his lyrics were translated in Japanese. His original day job was as an accountant for the Trinidad Bus Company and with this song he captures his passion for Calypso music.
St Lucia’s Teddyson John sings “Allez” released in 2015.
Castries born John was raised on Gospel music and in 2007 he made the decision to start creating Soca music which has now earned him International recognition. In his home country he has won the 2007 very first Groovy Soca Monarch competition and in 2016 John became a finalist at the International Soca Monarch hosted in Trinidad and Tobago, a platform he always dreamed of gracing, and in the same year was award the Best Calypso and Soca Entertainer at the International Reggae and World Music Awards. There is no stopping this fine musician whose passion and desire to share his Soca music and hold no bounds.
“Allez” means ‘Go’/‘Go Ahead’. This upbeat creole titled Soca song is asking us to leave our problems behind and step forward into a positive way of being.
‘Nadia Batson’ songwriter, producer and background vocalist spent many years behind the scenes working with other artist creating hits. Batson is another great artist from the land of Calypso, Trinidad and Tobago. She started composing songs from the age of 8 years old and would join a girl group called the ‘Silhouette’s’ in her teens, who would become a prize winner on the popular prime time talent show ’Party Time’. She would later become a backing vocalist for ‘Kes The Band’ featured on this playlist and decided to leave the band in 2011 to form the all-female band ‘SASS Nation’ which is one of the established female Soca bands in Trinidad and Tobago. “So Long” is a solo track written by Darryl Henry, Michael Hulsmeier, Scott Galt, Nadia Batson & Erikkson George. Batson’s ancestry also hails from our fair isles of St Lucia, so let’s just hope she doesn’t leave it too long before we see her performing here in her other home town.
We now go back to old school Calypso with ‘Slinger Francisco’, best known as the ‘Mighty Sparrow’. This Grenadian born calypsonian is also hailed as the “Calypso King of the World” with his humorous topics and his political viewpoints. It is a well-deserved title. He has won the Trinidad Carnival Road March eight times and placed the crown on his head as the Calypso King of Kings twice.
You may wonder how his stage name came about “Your calypso name is given to you by your peers, based on your style. In the old days they tried to emulate British royalty. There was Lord Kitchener, Lord Nelson and Duke. When I started singing, the bands were still using acoustic instruments and the singers would stand flat footed, making a point or accusing someone in the crowd with the pointing of a finger, but mostly they stood motionless. When I sing, I get excited and move around, much like James Brown, and this was new to them. The older singers said, “Why don’t you just sing instead of moving around like a little Sparrow.” It was said as a joke, but the name stuck.”
— Mighty Sparrow
I’m going to share two tracks of the ‘Might Sparrow’ with you because as a fan I think he captures a moment so well with his lyrics. This 1956 hit “Jean and Dinah” became an international hit and his commentary is regarding the closing of the U.S. naval base in Trinidad and how it affected the ‘oldest job in town’ and the plan of action that needs to be taken.
Again by the Mighty Sparrow called “Mother-In-Law” it’s a humorous song about the plight of a husband who’s nosey mother-in-law won’t go home.
Both his tracks are taken from the 2011 album, ‘Soca Anthology: Dr. Bird – The Mighty Sparrow’. This album is jam packed with his great songs.
Calypsonians can express their upset about social political issues on behalf of those that do not have a voice of their own. It calls for freedom and empowerment for the people without getting into too much trouble for telling the truth.
In the intro to the song ‘Calypso Rose’ shares her thoughts on why calypsonians are so important in the Caribbean community, then and now.
“Rhum and Coca-Cola” covered by ‘Calypso Rose’ is taken from her album ‘The Queen of Trinidad’. This song was written in 1944 by Lord Invader and was covered by many artists including the American female harmony group, the Andrew Sisters, which he was not happy about. Lord Invader went to New York and took legal action regarding the theft of his song and would win by receiving $150,000 in owed royalties.
Chaguaramas lies in the North West Peninsula of Trinidad west of Port of Spain, mentioned in this song, was home to the U.S. Army and with boys away from home in Trinidad. With lots of American Dollars in their pockets and not much to do other than having a good time, they became loved by the Trinidadian girls and the local boys wanted to be them. When the American base was closing, that affected all those who depended on the ‘yanky dollar’, and it’s a humorous take on a serious issue for some … Enjoy!
Track list created by Pepsi Demacque-Crockett. Details compiled from various online references including Wikipedia.
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