List of Caribbean music genres

Harry Belafonte, a Jamaican-American pop-calypso singer

Caribbean music genres are diverse. They are each syntheses of African, European, Indian 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 of the Caribbean include bouyon, cadence-lypso, calypso, compas, jing ping, punta, reggae, reggaeton, soca, and zouk. Caribbean is also related to Central American and South American music.

The complex deep origins of Caribbean music are best understood if you have 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, and the Middle East. In addition, neighboring Latin American and North American (particularly hip hop and pop music) countries have naturally influenced Caribbean culture and vice versa. One must understand these influences to have a deep understanding of the resulting Caribbean music that reflects the culture of the people. Although 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, English, French, and Dutch) are one of the strongest influences.

The divisions between Caribbean music genres are not always well-defined, because many of these genres share common relations and have influenced each other in many ways and directions.[1] For example, the Jamaican mento style has a long history of conflation with Trinidadian calypso.[2] Elements of calypso have come to be used in mento, and vice versa, while their origins lie in the Afro-Caribbean culture, each uniquely characterized by influences from the Shango and Shouters religions of Trinidad and the Kumina spiritual tradition of Jamaica.[3]

Antigua and Barbuda


Main article: Benna (genre)

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.[4]








Chanté mas

Main article: 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.[5]


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.[6]


Main article: Quimbe

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.[7]


Main article: Tumba (music)

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.[8]





Main article: Shanto

Shanto is a form of Guyanese music, related to both calypso and mento,[9] 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.[10]



Main article: Music of Haiti

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.[11]


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 Bantu people 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.[12] 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.[13] Musicians perform at the Port-au-Prince International Airport and also at bars and restaurants in Pétionville.




Main article: Reggae

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.[14]


Main article: Ska

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.[14]


Main article: Mento

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.[15][16] Mento was strongly influenced by calypso, the musical traditions of the Kumina religion and Cuban music.[3] 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.[2]



Puerto Rico

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Lucia


Main article: Jwé

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.[17]


Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Big Drum and steel pan

Main article: Big Drum

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.[18]



Trinidad and Tobago


Main article: Calypso music

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.[16] Calypso uses rhythms derived from West Africa, with cut time, and features dance as an important component.[19] 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.[1] While calypso has a diverse heritage, calypso became a distinct genre when it developed in Trinidad.[15] The word caliso refers to topical songs in the dialect of Saint Lucia, and may be linguistically related to the word calypso.[1][20]


Main article: Cariso

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.[21]


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




Main article: Quelbe

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.[22]

Yucatán, Mexico


  1. 1 2 3 Daniel J. Crowley (1959). "Toward a Definition of Calypso (Part I)". Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 3, No. 2. 3 (2 (May 1959)): 57–66. doi:10.2307/924286. JSTOR 924286. and Daniel J. Crowley (1959). "Toward a Definition of Calypso (Part II)". Ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 3, No. 3. 3 (3 (Sep., 1959)): 117–124. doi:10.2307/924610. JSTOR 924610.
  2. 1 2 Garnice, Michael. "What Is Mento?". Mento Music. Retrieved October 13, 2006.
  3. 1 2 Nye, Stephen. "Trojan Calypso Box Set liner notes". Savage Jaw. Retrieved October 13, 2006.
  4. McDaniel, Lorna (1999). "Antigua and Barbuda". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Volume 2. Routledge. pp. 798–800. ISBN 0-8153-1865-0.
  5. Guilbault, Jocelyne (1999). "Dominica". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume Two: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Routledge. pp. 840–844. ISBN 0-8153-1865-0.
  6. "Culture: A Rich and Diverse Heritage". Geographica: Bonaire. Retrieved December 3, 2005.
  7. Sadie, Stanley, ed. (1995). "Dutch Antilles". New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians. London: MacMillan Publishers. p. 777. ISBN 1-56159-174-2.
  8. De Ledesma; Charles and Gene Scaramuzzo (2000). "Dance-Funk Creole-Style". In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla. World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific. Rough Guides. pp. 289–303. ISBN 1-85828-636-0.
  9. "The African Folk Music Tradition from Guyana: A Discourse and Performance" (PDF). Brown Bag Colloquium Series 2003–2004. Retrieved October 1, 2006.
  10. Seals, Ray. "The Making of Popular Guyanese Music". Retrieved October 1, 2006.
  11. Wise, Brian. "Band's Haitian Fusion Offers Fellow Immigrants a Musical Link to Home". New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  12. Eve Hayes de Kalaf. "HSG - HSG". HSG.
  13. Manuel, Peter with Kenneth Bilby, Michael Largey (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. p. 156. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  14. 1 2 "The History of Jamaican Music 1959-1973". 31 October 2000. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  15. 1 2 Rao, Shivu (May 2002). "Jolly Boys and Mento". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved October 13, 2006.
  16. 1 2 Manuel, Peter (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd edition). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-463-7.
  17. Guilbault, Jocelyne (1999). "Saint Lucia". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume Two: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Routledge. ISBN 0-8153-1865-0.
  18. "The Arts and Literature". Cultural Profiles Project. Retrieved September 27, 2005.
  19. Liverpool, Hollis Urban (Autumn 1994). "Researching Steelband and Calypso Music in the British Caribbean and the U. S. Virgin Islands". Black Music Research Journal. Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2. 14 (2): 179–201. doi:10.2307/779483. JSTOR 779483.
  20. "Calypso - The Evolution of the Calypso". Calypso Music in Trinidad and Tobago. National Heritage Library. Retrieved October 1, 2006.
  21. Samuel, Allyson (2004). "Descendants of a Sharp-Tongued Dialectic: Calypso and the Chantwell". Proudflesh: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness (3). ISSN 1543-0855. Retrieved December 9, 2006.
  22. 1 2 Sheehy, Daniel E. (1999). "The Virgin Islands". Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume Two: South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Routledge. pp. 968–974. ISBN 0-8153-1865-0.
  23. Cumbia music by country#Mexico
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