CALYPSO is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in T&T during the early to mid 20th century. The music, which drew upon African and French influences, became the voice of the people, and was characterized by highly rhythmic and harmonic vocals, which were most often sung in a French Creole, led by a Griot. As English replaced Patois as the dominant language, Calypso migrated into English, and allowed the masses to challenge the doings of the powers that be, playing an important role in political expression, and also serving to document the history of T&T. When the French brought the Carnival to Trinidad, Calypso competitions at Carnival grew in popularity, especially after the abolition of slavery in 1834. In everyday life, Calypso evolved into a way of seamlessly spreading news around Trinidad. Politicians, journalists and public figures often debated the content of each song, and to this day, many islanders consider these songs the most reliable news source. Calypsonians pushed the boundaries of free speech as their lyrics spread news of any topic relevant to island life, including speaking out against political corruption. Sex, scandal, gossip, innuendo, politics, local news, bravado and insulting other calypsonians were the order of the day in classical calypso, just as it is today with classic Hip-Hop. And just as the Hip-Hop of today, the music sparked shock and outrage in the moral sections of society.
SOCA is a style of Caribbean music originating in Trinidad & Tobago. Soca originally combined the melodic lilting sound of Calypso with insistent cadence percussion, often electronic in recent music, and Indian instruments like the Dholak, Tabla and Dhantal, as demonstrated in Shorty’s classic compositions “Indrani” and “Shanti Om”. The Godfather of Soca is Garfield Blackman, who rose to fame as Lord Shorty, with his 1963 hit, “Clock and Dagger” and took on the name Ras Shorty. 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. Shorty also added Indian instruments, including the dholak, tabla and dhantal. A prolific musician, composer and innovator, he experimented with fusing Calypso and the other Indian inspired music, including Chutney music, for nearly a decade before unleashing “the Soul of Calypso,” or Soca music. Soca’s history is as mufti-faceted as the music is infectious. Soca remains a vibrant style, often coopted by other musical genres and artists. It has grown since its inception to incorporate elements of Disco, Rap, Reggae, R&B, House Muzik,
Zouk, and dance music genres, as it continues to blend-in contemporary music styles and trends.
STEELPAN is a musical instrument that has its origins in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago. Steel pan musicians are called “Pannists”, or sometimes, collectively with other musicians, as a “Steel Band”. The modern pan is a chromatically pitched percussion instrument mostly made from 55 gallon oil drums. Steelpans are built using sheet metal with a thickness between 0.8 mm and 1.5 mm. Traditionally, steelpans have been built from used oil barrels. Nowadays, many instrument makers do not rely on used steel containers and get the resonance bodies manufactured according to their preferences and technical specifications. The pan is played 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 pansticks, holding two in each hand. This skill and performance has been conclusively shown to have grown out of Trinidad & Tobago’s early 20th century carnival-percussion groups, known as Tamboo Bamboo, and the pan is the national instrument of T&T. Worth mentioning here is the fact that since the time Pythagoras calculated the formula for the musical cycle of the fourths and fifths, Steel Pans are the only instruments that are made to follow this configuration.
CHUTNEY is a contemporary fusion of music genres created by Indo-Caribbean people whose ancestors came from what today is known as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and the South Indian region around the then Madras Presidency, who were taken as indentured servants by the British to replace slave labor on sugar plantations after emancipation. Chutney music surfaced first in the 1940s within temples, wedding houses, and the cane-fields of the Indo-Caribbean.
Although Chutney songs were religious, they had a dance vibe throughout every track, and for the first time, Indo-Caribbeans had music that spoke to them and was not straitjacketed classical Indian, or European/American in style. Ramdew Chaitoe of Suriname is credited with popularizing this genre for the first ever time in 1958, and several followed in his footsteps, innovating and evolving Chutney further. Next came the female singer Dropati, with her album “Let’s Sing & Dance”, a collection of ‘chutnified’ traditional wedding songs. They become a rage with the East Indian Caribbean community, getting ubiquitous recognition for Chutney as a legitimate form and united East Indians, regardless of their birthplace. Sundar Popo came along, and modernized it further by adding western guitars and early electronics, to ultimately get crowned the “King of Chutney”. Several other artists, like Sam Boodram, follow in his footsteps by adding new modern instrumentation to their music.
The 1980s and 90s saw further evolution within the genre, with artists beginng to fuse Calypso, Soca and American Rhythm & Blues, naming their music “Indian Soca” … and, Chutney hits Bollywood. Today, Chutney lyrics are written in Hindi, Bhojpuri and English, and then laid over beats derived from the Indian Dholak mixed with the Soca beat. Chutney is an uptempo song, often accompanied by electric guitar, synthesizer, Dholak, harmonium, and Dhantal, tassa drums played in rhythms imported from filmi, Calypso or Soca. The nature of current chutney songs are simple. They speak about life and love for many things, whether for a significant other, or for an object of possession, and some chutney songs favor the topic of food or drink. However, like most West Indian music, there can be a hidden message found in the song if you read between the lines.
LIMBO is a unique dance also known as the “Under The Stick Dance”. It was originally a ritual performed at ‘wakes’ (a funeral dance) in Trinidad from the mid or late 19th century. It is believed that the people of Trinidad during this dance portrayed the going down into the hold of a slave ship which carried them off into slavery.
No matter how they twist or turn, squirmed or arched, they would go deeper and deeper, and some would make it, some would not. The dexterous position had to be retained because the space between the upper deck and floor was narrow, designed for packing and not standing, hence it basically conveys that they were going into Limbo. Today limbo refers to a dancer moving to a rhythm and dancing under a stick held up by a person on each end of the stick or a stand, without knocking or touching the stick. If the dancer is successful he/she must repeat this again and again with the bar being lowered another “notch” each time. Each dancer does this until there is only one left standing who has not touched the bar, fallen down, laid on the floor or used his/her hands to keep balance. On-lookers as well as other dancers would clap and cheer (or egg on) and sing while the dancer tries to go under the stick.