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Reggae, Soca, Calypso & More - How Caribbean Music Shaped Modern Pop

The cultural mixture of the islands of the Caribbean stem from the historic blend of influences that came to shape this stunning corner of the globe. When we think of the Caribbean lifestyle, what springs to mind is the dancing, the love of life and most of all the music that so completely defines this wonderful place.


If you turn back the pages of history, you'll find that a lot of the classics and fresh hits that we listen to today owe their dues to Caribbean music, which itself rose up from the spirit and heart of the people. Read on to find out just how much of what we listen to today has its roots in Caribbean culture.


Think Jamaica, think reggae

When you think of Jamaica, you can't help but think of Bob Marley's most famous and influential music genre, which is reggae. That genre of music, soulful in lyrical content and impactful in its unique form of beat and rhythm, gave a voice to Jamaican and Caribbean artists. Not only did they sing of lovelorn wishes, but also equality, cultural ideals and political intentions.

Reggae struck a huge chord with the world, galvanised particularly by the large Jamaican expatriate population of London during the 50s and 60s. Bringing their beloved reggae music with them, these individuals, including Prince Buster, played in nightclubs within and beyond the English capital.

The counter-culture message of much of the music resonated with many disenfranchised people in working class communities, leading to reggae influencing artists as diverse as Eric Clapton, The Clash and the entire punk rock movement. In the 1980s, UB40 took on the mantle of reggae for their own, further influencing acts that would follow.

Reggae also massively influenced hip-hop music, and if you watch the rap stars of today, you'll find that many of them draw their cues from the reggae greats of years gone by. And lots of the most influential rappers have Jamaican heritage themselves.

Calypso and Soca from Trinidad

Trinidad and neighbouring Tobago are regarded as the birthplaces of Calypso music, made famous by acts such as Harry Belafonte. Using horn, drums, guitars and a wicked sense of humour, calypso tunes were often as satirical as they were heartfelt. They were used as a means by which Caribbean artists could poke fun at political gambits, social injustices or simply the latest antics of the local town's trickster.

The lilting style of calypso was blended with the soul music emerging in America in the latter half of the 20th century to form Soca, which is a more upbeat Caribbean music style. Soca had much to do with the emergence of disco, which itself has gone on to define a wide section of modern music today.

Salsa and the Cuban connection

Much of Caribbean history ties in with Latin spirit, and that's particularly true of Cuba. Salsa music is known for its blaring horns, enticing dance moves and overall sense of energy and vitality. Those influences are pretty clear to see in a lot of jazz music, funk and soul from the 70s and 1980s, as well as modern music that takes its cues from that style.

Take a look at rap artist Pitbull, himself a Cuban individual whose lyrics – thankfully tamer these days – can dance between English and Spanish. The music that backs up his lyrics often goes back to his Cuban roots, with blasts of horn and fast-paced rhythms that blend the classic and the contemporary to catchy effect.

Look in the right places, and you'll find a host of influences lingering in modern music that call back to Caribbean roots. Take the time to listen when you're basking on the beach with your cocktail, and think about where you found those secret rhythms and rhymes shining through.

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