Calypso music is the most popular music played on radio stations across the island and no matter where you go, from rum shops, to wedding receptions, you will surely hear this type of music blasting over the speakers. In this article, we take a closer look at the origins of and the evolution of this musical genre over the past few years.
With its infectious beat, Calypso is a type of music unique to the Caribbean region and is genre where persons engage in story telling through song. While many have attributed Trinidad as the birthplace of Calypso, it is more accurate to say it developed simultaneously in different Caribbean countries. This rhythm was first introduced to Barbados and the wider Caribbean during the 1600s by the first slaves brought to the region. These slaves would use satire to poke fun at those in authority. From its introduction, it was further developed in Trinidad, but, despite an almost 350 year existence in the region, it was only truly embraced in Barbados during the 1970s.
The Crop Over Festival in the island experienced a revival, namely in 1974, and it was during this period that the this genre of music began to be properly organized and taken seriously as part of activities surrounding the festival.
Since this period, Calypso has become an integral aspect of the Crop Over celebrations with many calypso competitions for both adults and youth being organized for persons to showcase their gifts and talents in this musical genre. This stage-presented calypso music is generally also referred to as kaiso. The word kaiso is used interchangeably with calypso, and is sometimes used when referring to “genuine calypso”. With their commercial and developmental role in culture in Barbados, the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) has been crucial in not only structuring, but maintaining public interest in calypso.
The 1970s also saw the development of a new type of calypso: Soca. This art form is of a faster tempo than calypso, having been heavily influenced by the funk and soul from America. Due to this amalgamation of Caribbean and American music styles, the Soca genre of music has helped calypsonians break into the International market. Soca is truly Barbados’ domain and this is evidenced by the fact that other islands try to imitate and amalgamate the new rhythms into their own.
Calypso and Soca songs are usually social commentaries or party songs. Most of the songs are written about political and other current events across the island, with a hint of satire and humor for the enjoyment of the audiences. Although many today associate calypso music with jumping up, “wukking up” and carnival dancing, this social commentary aspect is first and foremost what calypso is all about. Since 1995, when Bajans stole the show at the Trinidad Calypso Contest, Barbados has been regarded as the leader in the calypso and soca realm. Over the years, Barbados has come into its own with lively beats, clever lyrics and satirical and at times scathing social and political commentary. However, the most telling development is seen in the new rhythms Barbadians have created to the calypso tempo. These beats include Ring Bang (developed from Tuk) and Ragga Soca (developed by one of Barbados’ most decorated calypsonians, Red Plastic Bag). These developments have truly set Barbados calypso apart from the calypso of other islands and the island continues to stand out due to the plethora of bands and lead singers in this genre who have local, regional and international popularity.
Generally, those performing in either art form are backed up by a Band comprising of:
- A Bass & Rhythm Guitarist
- A Keyboardist
- A Drummer & Percussionist
- A Horn Section (Saxophonist / Trombonist / Trumpeters)
- Three back-up Singers
The list of Calypso and Soca competitions held during the Crop Over Festival include:
- Soca Royale (Party Monarch and the Sweet Soca Monarch)
- Road March / Tune-of-the-Crop
- Junior Calypso Monarch
As a true reflection of our culture, Calypso and its newer form, Soca, continue to be the staple of Crop Over Celebrations. However, the evolution and importance of Calypso in Barbadian society is truly embodied by how it has moved from not being an accepted musical genre, to one that permeates the airways on an almost a daily basis across the island.
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