Thursday, July 31, 2014

Feel de Riddim: Music and the Caribbean Connection

This is another guest post by Peter Domani.  He had previously written about how the Caribbean countries are culturally linked.  Foods and music are some of the easiest ways to see the connection.

I’m excited about my second post for From Here to There with Grace, because it’s about one of my favorite topics: music. Music is important to all human culture, but in the Caribbean, you can’t escape music. Whether you speak a Caribbean version of Spanish, English, French, Dutch, or what-have-you, even the very lilt of our voices is musical! While every island has endless variations of musical styles, the rhythm of the islands unites us! This is evident in the new LP I bought, Mirror to the Soul: Caribbean Jump-Up, Mambo, and Calypso Beat 1954-77, on Soul Jazz Records. Music is indeed the mirror to the Caribbean soul.

The first thing you notice on Mirror to the Soul is how seamless the music is. We travel from Cuba to Jamaica, Trinidad to the UK and back, and while the melodies differ, the rhythm is continuous. This is move-your-booty music, and the songs keep you dancing! Again, the styles are different, but there’s also a killer sense of humor in many of the songs, for when your feet are tired and you need something to kiki at. Songs like Don’t Blame it on Elvis by the fabulous McClevertys from St, Thomas, a band associated with Louis Farrakhan when he was a calypso singer, attribute the moving of the pelvis to human nature (not to Elvis).

Furthering the humor, Trinidadian Lord Brynner cracks all manner of musical one-liners with the Queen Sings Calypso, about the Queen of England going West Indian. Even the name of the song, Filthy McNasty, by Jamaican group Carlos Malcom and the Afro-Caribs is enough to make you smile. The comedy is not limited to the English Caribbean, though. Baila Mi Shinga Ling (Dance My Shinga Ling), by Puerto Rican super group, El Gran Combo, is a giddy salsa romp, while Cuba’s Irakere makes us chuckle hungrily with their song, Bacalao Con Pan (cod fish and bread), perhaps the perfect snack for when you’ve danced too much.

Sadly, there are no French Caribbean songs on Mirror to the Soul. Nonetheless, the musical traditions of Haiti have been recently explored by indie bands such as Tune-Yards, and Arcade Fire. The vocalist from Arcade Fire, Régine Chassagne, is of Haitian origin. Nonetheless, no single collection could detail the entirety of Caribbean music, and I view Mirror to the Soul as something to start the conversation, not end it.

We, Caribbean people, have a lot more in common than we have differences. Music highlights this. The entire genre of Reggaeton, which crystallized in Puerto Rico, owes so much to the dancehall beat known as “Dem Bow”. Haiti’s own Wyclef Jean sings about Haitian copa music, and how it’s connected to Soca, Salsa, and other Caribbean genres.

A strict musical definition of the term rhythm is: the length of the musical notes, as well as the length of the space between the notes. I’ll close this post with some samples from Mirror to the Soul that I hope bridge the spaces between us. In my opinion, from island to island, we should all be dancing together.

Irakere- Bacalao con Pan, 1973 Cuba

Also, check out:
Carlos Malcolm and the Afro-Caribs- Filthy McNasty. 1963
Mark Holder- Saturday Night Reggae, 1976 Guyana
Ta-ta for now!
Peter Domani, Copyright © 2014

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