The Calypso Music of Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidadian Calypso

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Abstract

Trinidad and Tobago has a very rich and diverse Caribbean culture, which has stemmed from a tumultuous history. This small two-island nation has gone through times of native inhabitance and British colonial rule, but is now an independent nation. Calypso music and the Carnival celebration have great cultural importance in Trinidad and Tobago . Calypso music originated as a means for Trinidadian slaves to communicate and protest against the class system. The music was developed as a means for slaves to gain solidarity, and has since throughout history become a great source of cultural history and tradition in Trinidadian society. Contemporarily, Calypso music is one of the foundations of the Carnival celebration and a means for Trinidadians to reflect upon their past and celebrate the cultural richness of their nation.

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Introduction

To analyze the Calypso music of Trinidad and Tobago , I have compiled research that both outlines and details the history of the country as well as the history and cultural significance of calypso music. Trinidad and Tobago , a two island nation in the southern Caribbean Sea , has a rich history of music and dance, both of which have great cultural and social significance, especially during Carnival. The information contained herein will aim to give a thorough analysis of the cultural role that contemporary calypso music plays in this nation.

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Location, Geography, and Climate of Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago is a nation composed of two islands. The islands are situated between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean , lying just to the northeast of Venezuela . The topography of the islands is mostly made up of plains, but there are some hills and low-rising mountains (CIA World Fact Book 2004).

The climate of the country is tropical, with warm to hot days and somewhat cooler evenings. The trade winds tend to keep the temperature from becoming unbearable in the hottest months. According to the International Society for Horticultural Science's website, Trinidad and Tobago experience a rainy season from June through November, where the islands typically receive approximately 105 inches of rainfall.

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Brief History of Trinidad and Tobago

The Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives states that Trinidad was originally sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1498, whereupon he named it La Isla de la Trinidad, meaning “Holy Trinity”. By 1592 the Spanish had established their first settlement, San Josef, on the island of Trinidad . The island was abandoned by the Spanish, and in 1797 was taken over by the British. Immediately the British brought in many indentured workers since slavery was abolished in the 1830's. This system of labor lasted for nearly one hundred years.

The following information was obtained from the Nationmaster Encyclopedia Online: Tobago , like Trinidad , was also sighted by Columbus ; however, control of this island was passed between the English, French, Dutch and even pirates throughout most of the 17 th century. The British finally established a colonial administration in 1814. The two islands became related in 1889 when the British made Tobago a ward of Trinidad . The two islands finally gained independence in 1962, but this has been followed by great civil unrest and multiple attempted overthrows of the government to this day.

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Distinctive Features of Trinidad and Tobago

The most distinctive feature of Trinidad and Tobago is the annual Carnival celebration. Carnival takes place prior to Lent every year and is one of the largest and most elaborate celebrations in the Caribbean (Sankeralli 2004). This celebration is recognized worldwide, but is especially revered in this nation. The festivities are extremely colorful, with elaborate costumes and booming calypso music filling the streets.

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Origins of Calypso

Calypso is said to be derived from an ancient West African music style called Kaiso (Mason 1998). This music was originally used by slaves as a means of communicating with one another and protesting social injustice. Calypso was greatly popularized after the abolition of slavery, and was first recorded in 1914. Calypso music became a uniting force among the different social classes of Trinidad and the foundation of the Carnival celebration.

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The Cultural Significance of Calypso

Sample Song: "Jean and Dinah" by: Mighty Sparrow  

Original Lyrics of Song and Translation

Interpretation of Song

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Prognosis for this Musical Genre

The outlook of Calypso music is very strong. Its rich cultural heritage and great reverence by Trinidadians ensures that the genre will survive and prosper far into the future. Calypso's strong ties to the traditional Carnival celebration also provide a strong source of continuity for the musical genre.

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Conclusion

Trinidad and Tobago has come through many years of slavery and oppression to become a society of diversity amongst unity. Citizens of many different heritages and races all unite around the Carnival celebration and Calypso music. Calypso has stemmed from roots of oppression and tyranny and grown to embrace the rich history and beauty or Trinidadian society. The music has important historical significance to the people of Trinidad and Tobago , as well as exercising strong influence in the popular Carnival festivities. This music will live on through many future generations and will constantly grow to reflect the ever-changing and diversified culture of Trinidad and Tobago .

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Internet References Cited

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    Dudley, Shannon. “Carnival Music in Trinidad .” Oxford University Press: New York , 2004.

    Hill, Errol. “The Trinidad Carnival.” University of Texas Press: Austin , 1972.

    Mason, Peter. “Bacchanal! The Carnival Culture of Trinidad .” Temple University Press: Philadelphia , 1998.

    Regis, Louis. “The Political Calypso.” University Press of Florida : Gainesville , 1999.

    Scher, Philip W. “Carnival and the Formation of a Caribbean Translation.” University Press of Florida : Gainesville , 2003.

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Where to Buy This Music

Calypso Music at TowerRecords.com
Calypso Music at KarnivalMusic.com

Contact Jim Aimers | ©2004 Miami University