Calypso Culture diaspora Ethnomusicology Festivals Music Steel Pan

Carnival, Calypso and Steel Pan:

A Bibliographic Guide to Popular Music of the
English-speaking Caribbean and its Diaspora

By John Gray

A companion to the author’s earlier volume Jamaican Popular Music, this landmark new work helps fill a major gap in the reference literature. For the first time ever it offers students and researchers an in-depth guide to the large body of materials available on masquerade and popular music traditions of the English-speaking Caribbean. Comprised of some 3400 annotated entries it documents a literature, both popular and scholarly, that now spans more than 85 years and ranges across disciplines as diverse as social and cultural history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, literature and economics.

The book’s main focus is on three tightly intertwined topics—Carnival, calypso and steel pan—and how each has evolved, both inside of Trinidad, their most important hub, and abroad in the large West Indian enclaves of New York, London and Toronto. The Carnival side of this trinity, a critical showcase for the region’s music and dance styles, is treated comprehensively. This includes an unprecedented level of detail on each of the four major Caribbean Carnivals—Trinidad Carnival, Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival, London’s Notting Hill Carnival, and Toronto’s Caribana—as well as important precursors such as Harlem’s West Indian Day Parades of the 1940s and ’50s and the early London Carnivals organized by Claudia Jones. Carnival’s musical aspects, both calypso and steel pan, are also covered in depth. In the case of calypso that encompasses all of its various forms, from its antecedents in kalinda stick-fighting to the “jump and wave” soca of today. A multitude of contemporary offshoots, e.g., binghi, chutney soca, ragga soca, ringbang, and gospelypso, are also documented in full. Numerous other sources help illuminate calypso’s central role as a vehicle for social and political commentary and its perspective on issues as diverse as immigration, race and gender relations, and national identity. Steel pan, calypso’s cousin, is discussed from the music’s introduction on the regional and international scene in the 1950s to its more recent role in the music programs of North America and Great Britain. A substantial Biographical and Critical Studies section documents the contributions made to these traditions by almost 600 individual performers and ensembles.

Citations span from 1852 to 2012, with the bulk having been published between the 1930s and 2012. They encompass musical and cultural analyses, ethnographies, oral histories, popular histories and reportage along with a wealth of archival, audio-visual, and electronic resources. The book concludes with an extensive reference section that includes a list of Sources Consulted, a guide to relevant Libraries and Archives, two appendices, and separate Author and Subject Indexes.

for more information

Culture diaspora Music

Author of Blues People Dies.

Amiri Baraka, playwright, poet, activist, and author of Blues People, died on Thursday 9th January in Newark, New Jersey. He was 79 years old. May he Rest in Peace.

BarakaAmiri Baraka and his wife, Amina, at the 2012 concert of the Cicely Tyson School of the Performing Arts Jazz Band. Photo courtesy Ken Archer

See the following report: Amiri Baraka Dies

Culture diaspora Festivals Mask Music

Cambridge Carnival: A Caribbean Connection.

The 21st installment of the Cambridge Carnival took place on Sunday, September 8, 2013. The following is a gallery of images from the festive event.

Community Organizations Culture diaspora History

Caribbean-American History: The Manhattan-based Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society

The following article was written by Jared MacCallister and published in the New York Daily News, Sept. 14, 2013.

AntBarbThe national flag flies proudly outside the Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society’s Harlem headquarters, purchased in 1964. Picture by Jared MacCallister.

Those who think Caribbean immigrants are newcomers to New York really need to think again. The 79-year-old Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society shatters that untruth.

The Manhattan-based organization will have its history and decades-long dedication to Caribbean culture and Harlem, and some of its artifacts, touted in “A Lighthouse in New York: Opening Reception; Panel Discussion,” a free exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Blvd. (at W. 135th St.), from 6 p.m to 9 p.m., in Manhattan, on Sept. 27.

“Everything is going very, very well,” society spokeswoman Mona Wyre Manigo said of the exhibition, which reflects the trials and tribulations of Caribbean peoples — here and abroad — over the organization’s first 50 years of exsistence. “It’s going to be an exciting moment for Antigua and Barbuda. I’ve looked at the documents and every time I think about it, I get chills.”

For example, said Manigo, there are documents about an urgent meeting calling “all Caribbean people in Harlem” to support a letter to Britain, demanding that the head of colonial Antigua be removed from office for mistreating island residents. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence from Britain in 1981.

The donated materials also contain historic correspondence from institutions and individuals, such as Antigua Trades and Labour Union President V.C. Bird, before he became Antigua and Barbuda’s first prime minister.

Donated in 2011, the historic records provide a detailed glimpse into migration to New York and the life and pursuits of new arrvials. The records will later be available for researchers.

In 1934, James Roberts and 22 other Antiguan immigrants started the Antigua Progressive Society, which was incorporated the following year with the goals of promoting their culture, aiding members and their families in times of sickness and death, aiding their Caribbean homeland and encouraging “educational excellence” among youth.

The Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society was created through a 2010 bylaw change designed to incorporate Barbudian New Yorkers who were served by the now-defunct Barbuda Benevolent Society of America. The Barbuda group was established in 1915 and lasted 62 years.

Today, Antigua and Barbuda Progressive Society members continue to work hard at maintining cultural — and many civic — commitments under a board of directors, including President M. Roz. Olatunji. The group meets monthly at society headquarters, the Antigua and Barbuda House on W. 122nd St. in Harlem.

In addition to aiding Antiguan and Barbudian nationals, the children in the Harlem and other projects, the group fulfills its civic responsibility by participating in the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, Central Harlem’s Community Board 10 and the 28th Precinct Community Council.

In October, the society will commemorate its birthday with a 79th Anniversary Celebration and Awards Banquet, “Honoring Our Past and Embracing Our Future.” The event will be held Oct. 19 in the faculty dining hall of the City College Of New York, 160 Covent Ave., from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Donation is $75 and proceeds will aid the organization’s building renovation fund.

Read more: NYDailyNews

Calypso Culture Festivals Music

In Memory of the Reincarnation of O’Cangaceiro

Satelite Robber from Ken Archer on Vimeo.

May 17th 2018 marks the 8th anniversary of the death of Brian Honore
, who was known in the calypso world as Commentor and in traditional mas’ circles as the Reincarnation of the O’Cangaceiro, Midnight Robber. Brian dedicated his life to the defense and upliftment of the rich cultural traditions of the people of the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large.

Drop Your Keys and Bow Your Knees

Calypso Culture Festivals History Mask Music

“Rituals of Power and Rebellion”

The following article appears in Repeating Islands, Feb. 10, 2013.

Hollis Liverpool just released his book, Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962), at the John S Donaldson, UTT?Port-of-Spain Campus, last Wednesday, as Michelle Loubon reports in this article for The Guardian.

Strumming his guitar, veteran calypsonian/University of T&T professor Hollis Liverpool sang snatches of his comrade Slinger Francisco’s classic Congo Man. The setting was a canefield. It was captured in black and white film during a presentation by retired Alaskan judge and honorary distinguished fellow Ray Funk at the launch of Liverpool’s Rituals of Power and Rebellion The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962). It took place at John S Donaldson, UTT Port-of-Spain Campus, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, on Wednesday.

A blurb in the UTT pamphlet said Liverpool had successfully managed to put into context the political, economic and cultural forces which inadvertently come together to create Carnival. It also noted that what appeared to be simply a musical bacchanal was in fact the struggle of the oppressed people to maintain their cultural identity in a land of foreign domination and class struggle. During the author’s oral abstract, Liverpool lamented he had to go to Michigan, USA, to do his PhD, owing to the paucity of research material on Carnival locally.

Asked about his magnum opus, Liverpool said, “Besides historical sources I used oral sources. I depended on calypsonians, masmen, writers, masqueraders and boismen. The people whom I interviewed the majority have gone to the great beyond.” Zeroing on the themes of Rituals and Rebellion, Liverpool added, “To a large extent many of the songs, events and masquerades in Carnival are rituals of rebellion. The kalinda and calypso are rituals. We show our resistance at Dimanche Gras. It is a ritual of rebellion. Even the steelband. The Chinese man who was beating pan to attract people to his church. It was the first time we saw pan being played. It is in the newspapers. J’Ouvert represents the real African traditions of the Carnival. It is what Dr Kim Johnson (senior research fellow) called the African impulse. The soucouyant, La Diablesse and cow horns, bats and devils are in J’Ouvert.”

Asked if he felt there was an improvement in the corpus of Carnival literature, Liverpool said, “I don’t know. But the book is going to be an addition to the archives. The book captures all the documentation and historical development of Carnival over time. “It is intended to impart knowledge on the complex nature of Carnival and the different people who have contributed to its development. To a large extent the Carnival defines our personality and our cultural identity.”

Tributes to Liverpool

While preparing to vie for the C2k13 calypso monarch crown Liverpool heard superlatives about his scholarship. His songs were Prodigal Son and Virginia’s Alzheimer. In the background, traditional mas characters like a moko jumbie and midnight robber milled around. Playing Midnight Robber was Damien Whiskey, a student in Liverpool’s MA in Carnival Arts class. Liverpool had pioneered it. Apart from being an academic, Liverpool has clinched the coveted crown eight times with gems like The Bandit Factory and The Mailman. Programme administrator Lana Allard chaired the proceedings in which each speaker wished him a ninth victory.

But the focus was on Liverpool’s book. Among those paying tribute to him were Funk; deputy chairman board of governors Kwais Mutema; Dr Ajamu Nymoba; Dr Fazal Ali, provost and president (acting); senior research fellow Dr Kim Johnson; and Minister of Tertiary Education and Skills Training Fazal Karim. Johnson made the salient point that while everyone celebrated US president Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, Trinidadians had written history by electing its first black Prime Minister, the late historian Dr Eric Williams in 1962. “It was the end of colonial T&T. Chalkie’s book was about the elements and one crucial element was the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not heard,” said Johnson.

Mutema described Liverpool as a cultural icon and said we are fortunate to have him at the helm of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs. “With a PhD in history and ethnomusicology and as the recipient of the prestigious Nicolas Guillen Life-Time Achievement Award for Philosophical Literature, Liverpool stands well qualified both academically as well as practically, to inform us all,” said Mutema.

Karim noted Liverpool’s study of Carnival is a “continuation of the work of academics who are now deceased like Tobago’s Dr JD Elder and Prof Errol Hill, as well as those who are still with us, like Prof Gordon Rohlehr and Dr Jeff Henry.” Apart from Karim, Liverpool made a special presentation to his friend/chairman of committee US Virgin Islands (St Thomas) Kenneth Blake.

For more info, contact UTT at 642-8888 or e-mail

For the original report go to chalkdust-launches-rituals-power-and-rebellion

See also Calypsonian and WWI Professor Chalkdust launches “Rituals of Power and Rebellion” Repeating Islands.

Culture Festivals Religion

New Year’s Traditions in Suriname

The following report appears in Repeating Islands, Jan. 2, 2013.

Many thanks to Peter Jordens for the translation from the original “Owru yari wasi geen Marrontraditie” by Audry Wajwakana (De Ware Tijd). This post explains some of Suriname’s year-end and New Year’s traditions. Jordens provides clarification for key points.

On the last day of the calendar year, people in Suriname will put all worries aside and look forward to the new year with confidence. In keeping with (Afro-)Surinamese tradition, on this day hundreds of people go to Elly Purperhart on Independence Square for their annual swit watra wasi [sweet water cleanse].

[Swit watra consists of water to which aromatic liquids, herbs and flowers have been added. People either receive the swit watra from a gourd to wash their hands, arms, neck and face on the spot or take a bottle home for washing or bathing. In this way they enter the new year in a clean(sed) manner.]

Anthropologist Solomon Emanuels from the Santigron Maroon village says that this tradition diverges from Maroon culture, in which the ritual cleanse is not performed on New Year’s Eve. “Such rituals are performed one week before Christmas. This enables the individuals or families who live in discord with one another to settle their disputes before the holidays,” Emanuels explains. These rituals are also a way of bidding the old year farewell. “But because of integration into Surinamese society, you will get Maroons who do a wasi on Independence Square. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not the tradition among Maroons.” There are specific Maroon rituals to welcome the new year. In the first week of the new year, a family member makes a libation to the gods and the ancestors in their Gaado oso [place of sacrifice]. This is accompanied by singing and people also bring rum and pangi [traditional cloth used as a wrap].

An important part of denyung yari [New Year] among the Maroons is the kromanti dance. Kromanti is the god of nature who consists of the elements water, fire and air. The dance is performed in the kromanti oso [place of worship], with much dancing and singing. “Some people may enter into a trance, allowing their body to be taken over by Kromanti who reveals whether they behaved well of badly last year and who instructs them to improve their habits in the new year. During this ritual predictions may also be made.”

According to Emanuels, more rituals used to be performed around New Year’s, but because of the changing times and integration into Suriname’s multi-cultural society, these have been lost. “Some Maroon communities do not even maintain their Gaado oso.” Emanuels says that this is an indication that society is changing and that the importance of religion is declining.

For the original article (in Dutch), see

See also: New Year’s Traditions in Suriname « Repeating Islands.

Culture Dance

Kwe Kwe Nite’ in Brooklyn

Lin-Jay Harry-Voglezon reports on a traditional Afro-Guyanese premarital ceremony, Caribbean Life, September 14, 2012.

On Friday, Aug. 31 the St. Stephen’s Church Auditorium in Newkirk Avenue, Brooklyn, was a hive of dramatic moments and laughter, as emigrant Guyanese acted out Kwe Kwe ceremonies. Traditionally, Kwe Kwe is a premarital ceremony, the night before marriage, done mainly by the rural Afro community in Guyana. It’s a night when the prospective bride is hidden away and the prospect groom has to find her, as the beating of drums to the rhythm of folk songs charge the atmosphere. On finding her, their family processions meet and the prospective husband and wife are soon encircled. The tempo of the drums intensifies, and the songs become increasingly rhythmical, brazen in extemporaneous composition, and romantic suggestiveness. Among other things, the prospective bride and groom, individually and collectively are asked to “show me yuh ‘science’”; they have to wine. Onlookers are amused, impressed or disappointed and accordingly speculate on the couples’ romantic capabilities and potential outcomes.

Kwe Kwe Nite” as promoted by the Guyana Cultural Association of New York, Inc., is another attempt at helping the Guyanese emigrant community to retain elements of their culture. Earlier this summer it sponsored a Heritage Camp where children were taught Masquerade among other things.

For original report: Kwe Kwe Nite’ in Brooklyn • Caribbean Life.

Culture diaspora Music

African drums popular in TT

The following article was written by Seeta Persad and published in Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday, Wednesday, August 1 2012.

The Kwadum, Apentemma, Aburukuwa I, Aburukuwa II drums. …

It is common to hear African drumming at formal functions and other shows in Trinidad and Tobago.

Some of the drums that were brought to the islands from Africa include the Aburukuwa which is an open drum of the Akan people and the Asante people of Ghana. It is bottle shaped and its skin is held on by pegs. It is usually played with curved sticks. Its sound resembles the song of a bird of the same name. The Aburukuwa is the smallest of the three drums used by the Asante people during rituals and ceremonies. The Aburukuwa and its sister drums, the Kwadum and the Apentemma, were typically covered by red and black cloth to represent death and blood. Although the drums have become associated with funerals and ancestor worship, they were also used during wartime.

Carimbo is a tall African drum made of a hollow trunk of wood, thinned by fire, and covered with a deerskin. It is about 1m tall and 30cm wide. There is also the Carimbo dance which remains a loose and very sensual dance which involved only side to side movements and many spins and hip movements by the female dancer, who typically wore a rounded skirt. The music was mainly to the beat of Carimbó drums. In this dance, a woman would throw her handkerchief on the floor and her male partner would attempt to retrieve it using solely his mouth. Over time, the dance changed, as did the music itself. It was influenced by the Caribbean (for example, Zouk, kompa, and Merengue styles) and French/Spanish dance styles of the Caribbean.

Research shows that the Sakara drum is one of the four major families of Yoruba drums of Nigeria. The other families are the Dundun/Gangan or talking drum, the Batá drum and the Gbedu drum. Each family includes drums of different sizes, with the mother drum (iya ilu) playing the lead role and other drums playing in support. Interestingly the Sakara is a shallow drum with a circular body made with baked clay. The clay shell is perhaps ten inches in diameter and one and a half inches deep, sloping inward funnel-wise towards the back. The skin is secured to the shell with twine and tuned using pegs spaced around its body. The men use goat skin to make the heads of these drums. The fingers of one hand change the tone of the drum, while the drummer hits the face of the drum with a stick. When several sakara drums are played together, the “iya ilu” is the main voice, and dictates the pace and rhythmic style. The fixed pitch omele ako and omele abo drums talk rhythmically, and the smaller and higher-toned omele “chord” drum adds flavour by playing varied pitches.

The Yorubu have traditionally used Sakara drums for a variety of purposes. They are played during Yoruba wedding ceremonies. A king could use them to summon people to court. They were also used to announce visitors to the king, to broadcast messages, and to speak prayers and to play “orikis.”