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Trinidad Lesson 1:

Please refer to Caribbean Currents and you are responsible for the material in Chapter 8, pp. 225-260 as well as the slides 34-48 here:

110 Jamaica and Trinidad_1_.pdf

Major summaries and what I would like you to know for Trinidad Lesson 1:

How Trinidad differs from the other islands that we have talked about: Trinidad changed hands many times between European ruling empires giving it a mix of languages, cultures and history from Spanish, French creole (Afro-French) and England. The time of slavery was relatively short in Trinidad.

Trinidad did not suffer as many economic hardships as some other islands. The 1970s created a booming economy. This created less of an oppressive situation for the poor (although not to say that people did and do not suffer hardships)

Important musical genres: refer to slide 35. You are responsible for reviewing the videos on this slide on your own.

Things you need to know:

1) Kalinda stick fighting: this tradition comes from the Congo in Central Africa and is related to other neo African forms in Brazil called “maculele” and Cuba called “mani”. Please watch the video: until minute 2:26. You can see how modern day artists are still referencing this important tradition here (Bunji Garlin and Machel Montano) . They reference legendary stickfighters who fought the British police to maintain Carnaval practices in the late 1800s.

It is this competitive event (Kalinda stickfighting) in the tents and arenas that set the stage for the later “Calypso tents” that emerged in the late 1800s. The role of the lead singer who was also called a “chantwell” in Kalinda stickfighting events gave way to the role of the Calypso singers, also named kaiso singers taken from the West African meaning “griot” which is a singer in West African villages who would sing about the history of the village and its people as well as the current news.

2) In the mid 1700s not that many Spanish settlers (who owned the island then) were in Trinidad so they invited neighboring Catholic French settlers on other islands to settle in Trinidad. The only thing they required was that the settlers were Catholic and that they would adhere to Spanish rule. The French Catholics came in numbers with their enslaved Africans and settled in Trinidad. The French creole and Afro-French came to dominate the culture of the island and they were responsible for the popularity of Carnaval, the most important musical event in Trinidad even today.

Camboulay: this is the “ole mas” tradition from Trinidad that came from the re-enactment of an event that happened to enslaved Africans there when the sugar cane fields started to burn and the slave mastered ordered the enslaved into the fire to put it out. The term “cannes brulee” (burnt sugar) became “Camboulay”, which was a style of drumming and masking to re-enact the event when Carnaval was popular in the late 1780s- 1800s. It was banned by the English in 1880. Despite those who fought against the police, all Camboulay drumming and African-inspired drums were banned in Trinidad in the late 1880s. Please read this article:

3) Calypso and Soca Slide 36:  This slide is a very brief history of the evolution of Calypso and Carnaval traditions and the emergence of Soca out of Calypso in the 1970s.

From the aforementioned reading you get the idea of how Calypso emerged from the Kalinda tent arenas. After Camboulay drumming was banned, carnaval still continued on and two forms of music emerged from it: the music in tents that were set up to highlight singers who became known as Calypsonians and the music that was performed during Carnaval by the “mas bands” (parade bands who ‘mask’ and dress in matching costumes. The “mas bands” would play “tamboo bamboo” music that was created with bamboo sticks as a form of percussion (since drumming was banned) with call and response singing led by a “chantwell” . Later, “biscuit tin” bands emerged where percussion was made on “found sound” objects like tins, car parts, metal parts of different machinery, and later finally, the “steel pan” bands” emerged from people finding and tuning old oil drums to match the pitches that one would find on any piano or guitar. (see page 231 CC)

Calypso: text based song that tells of news, current events, political issues. They are usually comical, clever and highlight the skill of the Calypsonian to tell such stories in an entertaining way. They poke fun, they use a lot of “double meanings” and are rather “risque”. Example (from reading page 235, by Mighty Sparrow, “Jean and Dinah” Other examples of Calypso: (Lord Kitchener “The Needle” prime example of double-meaning, comedic, somewhat misogynistic lyrics “poking” fun at a young lady.

Starting as a form of song that would be practiced in the tents as “mas bands” would prepare for Carnaval processions which would feature the singing of the “Chantwell” or lead singer, these tents started to attract visitors and so they started to charge admission and then later got sponsorship from different brands. In the early 1920s, Calypso evolved quite rapidly, starting to use some of the instruments from string and brass bands. Calypso shied away from political criticism of the British Colonial government. It was not looked upon kindly to do so.


Go through the above links, the pages 225-242 in Caribbean Currents as well as the videos and familiarize yourself with the terms:



Mas band


Shango drumming (in Trinidad)


Trinidad Lesson Two:

Steel Pan:

Brief history of steel pan: Please refer to slide 43 in Jamaica and Trinidad slides: 110 Jamaica and Trinidad_1__1_.pdf

I did an interview with my buddy Roland Richards on zoom last week. He was live from Trinidad. We played a lot of gigs together when he lived in NYC. here is the link again: Password: 1M%64.8P

Here is him playing in the 34th street subway station:

Here he is playing in Trinidad with the Starlift band in the Panorama Steel Pan competition: He’s in the 3rd row first player on the left playing the “tenor” pan (guitar) pan.  (they call it the guitar pan because it plays chords (2 or more notes at a time) like a guitar)). Also playing is Ricardo in the black shirt. He lives in Brooklyn but travels to Trinidad to participate in the Panorama competition in Trinidad. Of course, Brooklyn also has its own West Indian Day Parade and there is a Panorama steel pan competition there too every year the Saturday of Labor Day weekend behind the Brooklyn Museum.

Steel pan has an interesting history. It is a drum invented in Trinidad because of the ban on drums by the British colonial govt. and the creativity of the Afro-Trinis who started to make sound from bamboo sticks, metal car parts etc.. . people started to collect and tune oil drums. They advanced the tuning system so much that you can play any melody on the steel pan. Here is a nice documentary on steel pan.

See, steel pan was not always considered a good activity for good people. It was associated with the lower class and was judged against by the govt and upper classes. Now it is widely accepted and travels worldwide (sound familiar? kind of like bachata, roots reggae etc) .

In this documentary you see how pan goes from an “unaccepted” form of music to an international phenomenon:

The songs that steel bands play are VERY intricate and focus on the agility of the players. The other impressive thing about steel bands is that they learn the compositions by ear for the most part, not by written music compositions.

Soca:  Soca is a genre derived out of calypso. Many people always talk about the two genres together but there are some differences.

Soca was created by Lord Shorty when he and Ed Watson came up with a composite pattern that accentuates some of the East Indian influences in the music, particularly the sound of the metal “dhantal” which gives the constant ringing sound in soca, as well as the relationship between the bass drums and the snare drum that is very much like a fast version of reggaeton or jamaican dancehall, which uses a “4 on the floor pattern” on the bass drum and the “upbeats” accentuated by the snare. This rhythm we’ve seen so many times before in the class when looking at PRican bomba, Haitiano-Cubano Tumba Francesa as well as danza, danzon and mereng.

Soooo, soca was made more formulaic in the 1970s (p242-245 in CC ) and soca is also what one hears most at Carnaval from the trucks who play huge speaker systems. It is also the beat that accompanies the steel pan arrangements.

The difference between soca and calypso: soca is more for dancing with a faster beat and more repetitive lyrics to encourage the dance (wining). Calypso is more based on the words and the cleverness of the singer to deliver their message. Of course the two genres are very similar but this is the basic difference. Soca (or sokah to reflect East Indian roots from that population) comes from calypso.

Like zouk and kompa, soca has largely been a “digitally produced” genre since the 1980s (with the norm being “made in the studio” beats that are very harmonically repetitive as opposed to songs that employ more different chords or harmonic changes)

here are some examples of soca:

Old school “Tiny Winy” by Byron Lee and the “Dragonaires” The theme is about “shaking it”.

Here is a newer one:  Kerwin Du Bois & Lil Rick – “Monster Winer” which uses a more “modern” sound that reflects Electronic Dance Music influences. The theme is still about “wining” (winding your waist)!

Lastly I wanted to cover Carnaval events:

Please refer to slides 36 and 37 for a brief history of Trinidadian Carnaval as well as a schedule of how the pre-Lenten festivities play out.

Slides 38-42 are my own pictures of J’ouvert in Brooklyn. J’ouvert, French for “opening day” is the first parade that happens that conjures up the remnants of “Ole Mas” and Camboulaye which were covered in the previous lesson. In Brooklyn this is when the steel bands parade (and it happens on Monday morning of labor day weekend starting at around 2-3 am.)

I have also posted some other videos about some of the other Carnaval events here:

Calypso Rose: (Calypso Queen ) for many years, she was a trailblazer! Here she gives a female perspective on Carnaval:

Moko Jumbies (stilt dancers:):

Moko jumbie stilt dancing rooted in the ancient traditions of African slaves

The history of “jab jabs”:

J’ouvert in Brooklyn (Empire Boulevard):

Assignment: look at as many of these as you can as well as the first lesson on Trinidad posted in the announcements that covered calypso, kalinda, camboulaye and shango. Tell me what you find remarkable and or interesting? What are your reflections on this material?

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