Most of the islands had slave-based plantation economies well into the 19th century, and most continued to be primary-commodity producers after slavery ended --so they were tied into export trade, and linked in various ways (including migration streams and cultural connections) to metropolitan centers outside the Caribbean. A few islands developed large urban centers (Kingston Jamaica, Port-au-Prince Haiti, Port-of-Spain Trinidad), but most of the populations of most islands were predominantly rural until quite recently.
Some of the types of music associated with particular places in the Caribbean are widely known --Reggae, Calypso-- and others have been in vogue in the past, often as specific dances and/or rhythms --Rumba, Meringue, Cha Cha Cha, Salsa. Each such name represents a florescence, and an evolution from earlier styles. The musical landscape is exceedingly complex, and has been very influential on musics in far-away places (thus, Cuban music greatly influenced the development of Congolese pop music; and Reggae fed into developments in several European countries... and influences went back and forth between New Orleans and several Caribbean islands). And it could be said that Reggae is the most influential music of the Caribbean... and that music is and has long been an important export commodity for the Caribbean.
Many of the musical forms are examples of Creolization, a term most often used for linguistic evolution (but equally applicable to other syncretic genres, including musical...) as a consequence of prolonged encounter of two (or more...) civilizations. And here's a course I'd love to take: Routes, Rap, Reggae: Hearing the Histories of Hip-hop and Reggae Together...
To which of the many musics should we direct our attention? I've put together a collection of 25+ musical examples (W&L access only), to which I could easily add at least as many again, without being in any danger of running short... and here are some considerations on various genres and resources.
Can you doubt that music has solvent powers? Not after you read this passage:
It ought to be clear that modern Cuba was not born on May 20, 1902, when the interventionist flag of the United States was lowered; the twentieth century in Cuba began two decades later, when the Africanized music of the sones played by the Trío Matamoros and the Sexteto Habanero took Havana by storm, linking Cuba together with the horns of the Victrola and the first radio receivers. Furthermore, the Victrola and the radio made it possible for the compositions, songs, and rhythms of black people to be listened to and danced to in white peoples' homes. Because of these new developments, black people found an unexpected place of coexistence with whites within popular music, a space where instead of being marginalized they were recognized and acclaimed...
(Benitez-Rojo "The role of music in the emergence of Afro-Cuban culture", in The African Diaspora, pg 198 [E29 .N3 A49 1999])
His recently celebrated 60th birthday anniversary is reason enough to spend some time on Bob Marley, "the most influential musician of the second half of the 20th century", in the recent opinion of the New York Times
from The Guardian: Roots, rock and reggae (As Africa prepares to celebrate the legacy of Bob Marley with an anniversary concert, Robin Denselow considers the impact the continent and Marley had on each other), Tek A Picture A' Dis (In pictures: Life of Bob Marley), Special Report: Bob Marley, and Gary Younge inferior audio, good contentThere are many varieties of "Jamaican music", some of them associated with subpopulations (Maroons, adherents of the African-derived Kumina religion, Revivalists, quite a few others) and with specific eras (mento preceded ska, which came before rock steady, etc.). The recent story is taken up in The History of Jamaican Music 1959-1973
from Annie:AUTHOR Marley, Bob.
TITLE Natty dread [sound recording] / Bob Marley & The Wailers.
IMPRINT New York : Universal-Island Records, p2001.
CALL NO. CDS 1259.
AUTHOR Marley, Bob.
TITLE Legend [sound recording] : the best of Bob Marley and the Wailers.
IMPRINT New York, NY : Tuff Gong ; Distributed by Island Records, 1984.
CALL NO. CDS 997.
AUTHOR Marley, Bob.
TITLE Uprising [sound recording] / Bob Marley & the Wailers.
IMPRINT [S.l.] : Island Records, 1980.
CALL NO. CDS 1002.
AUTHOR White, Timothy.
TITLE Catch a fire : the life of Bob Marley / Timothy White.
IMPRINT New York : Holt, c1991.
CALL NO. ML420.M3313 W5 1991.
AUTHOR Davis, Stephen, 1947-
TITLE Bob Marley / by Stephen Davis.
IMPRINT Rochester, Vt. : Schenkman Books, 1990.
CALL NO. ML420.M3313 D4 1990.
...and if you're not familiar with Bob Marley's work, listen to some or all of these, from the 1974 Natty Dred album (W&L only):
I Shot the Sheriff
Them Belly Full (but we hungry)
Get Up Stand Up
No Woman No Cry
Rebel music (3 o'clock road block)
...and this evening I found Gilberto Gil covers of two Marley songs
Another portal is provided by The Harder They Come --the film, and the lyrics (Rolling Stone has the song as 341 of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time). See NPR page for film clips and an interesting 7-minute audio presentation. See also Story of Reggae: Toasting & MCs from BBC Reggae pages.
Location is everything... Kingston is close enough to both New Orleans and Miami to pick up AM radio signals: "...Jamaica's late-60s rocksteady heyday. The essential link between ska and reggae, the sub-genre -- spawned when New Orleans R&B reached Jamaican musicians via radio airwaves -- features treasured ditties about good times, romance and the politics of freedom..." (http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2002-04-30/cover_story.html). See from Reggae Bloodlines and note sidebar links to other relevant texts. Sez Toots Hibbert (of Toots and the Maytals):
Reggae means comin' from the people, y'know? Like a everyday thing. Like from the ghetto. From majority. Everyday thing that people use like food, we just put music to it and make a dance out of it. reggae mean regular people who are suffering, and don't have what they want.Other elements are religious: Kumina, Revival, and Rastafari. Kumina is very African, "a living cultural tradition with strong roots in the Congo-Angola region of Central Africa... The ritual language used in the invocation of ancestors and in some songs is largely derived from Kikongo... The ceremonial dance music is closely related to a Kongo drumming style in Africa known as "Kumunu"... (from liner notes accompanying From Kongo to Zion [Heartbeat Records 17]).
Discovery: Scratch Radio "...dub, reggae, rocksteady & ska..." --which links to (among others) Eight for Eight Music "Specializing in music and materials related to the Mighty Upsetter, Lee "Scratch" Perry." ...and Versionist "a website dedicated to the development of progressive Reggae music. But more importantly, this is a project that aims to encourage everyone to make Reggae music."
Peter Manuel's Caribbean Currents: Caribbean music from rumba to reggae (ML3565 .M36 1995) has some very interesting things to say about histories and connections, and I'll transcribe a few of them here:
North American devotees of what is now called the "classic" reggae sound of the 1970s may praise the music played by an old-style, US-based Rastafarian band, with no following in Jamaica, as "roots reggae" while dismissing the new ragga sound as a homogenized, commercial form of techno-pop that has strayed from the "roots". But part of what makes this ragga style less palatable to such listeners is the decreasing prominence of those elements of reggae that actually owe more to European and North American sources (and thus sound more familiar to foreign ears) --vocal and instrumental melodies and harmonies that stem largely from the Western tradion, for instance-- in favor of an aesthetic that leans more toward the African side of Jamaica's musical heritage. The fact is that much of the new ragga music is more firmly rooted in local soil than ever. (177-178)
As young, downtown deejays have reclaimed Jamaica's indigenous popular music from the pretensions of international marketers aiming to please cosmopoloitan audiences, it has become harder for foreign consumers of that music to romanticize the experience from which it springs or to see in it an entirely "progressive" response to social injustice. (178)
Jamaica, after all, is reputed to have the highest per capita output of records of any country in the world. An estimated 200 new singles are released in Kingston every week, most of which never leave the island. No wonder Jamaica continues dancing to its own beat, hoping that the world will follow. So far, producers searching for new sounds have known where to look. Here, in the place that gave the world reggae, uptown with its international connections may call the shots, but the greatest hope still lies with downtown. (180)
Others via [streams] electronic-music.net
I'm still hoping to find a diagram that connects up all the various genres that have something to do with one another... this one is a good start, but I want one with hyperlinks...
Smithsonian Folkways has a pretty big catalog of Jamaican recordings, with short samples available for free: Jamaican Cult Music (1954), Bongo, Backra & Coolie: Jamaican Roots, Vol. 1 (1975), Bongo, Backra & Coolie: Jamaican Roots, Vol. 2 (1975), Music of the Maroons (1981), John Crow Say..: Jamaican Music of Faith, Work and Play (1981), Drums of Defiance: Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of Jamaica (1992)
Calypso has a long genealogy, certainly more than 200 years, ably traced in Manuel's book, and replete with administrative banning of stick-fighting and drumming, and (later) attempts to control the lyrics of Carnival-time calypso singers:
The subject matter of calypoes broadened accordingly, encompassing commentary on current events, picaresque tales, and lewd double entendres, as well as boasts and insults. Ribaldry and sarcasm remained the genre's mainstay, and the lyrics continued to show delight in mocking pretensions, exposing elite scandals, and ridiculing upper-class women. (Manuel 188)
Censorship of calypsoes reached a peak during the 1930s. Any song criticizing the state or dealing with Afro-Trinidadian culture or religion was subject, however unpredictably, to banning. Calypsonians were required to submit their lyrics to censorship offices before singing them, and policemen were posted in tents to monitor performances. Tents hosting objectionable songs could be shut down and singers' licenses revoked. Shipments of allegedly subversive records pressed in New York were dumped in the sea, and in general, calypso's role as a mouthpice of popular sentiment was severely curbed. (190)