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New rhythms from Trinidad leave good old reggae far behind
Are they a nation of musical geniuses? – In relation to the number of inhabitants, the musical variety in Trinidad and Tobago is top of the world. Unnoticed by the outside, new styles of music are being invented non-stop by just under one and a half million islanders. African, Indian and European sounds mix to bring about hot Caribbean rhythms that are slowly leaving good old Jamaican Reggae far behind.      

By Bernhard Grdseloff
Steel pan: music instrument made from oil barrels
Steel pan: music instrument made from oil barrels
Chutney Soca: mix of East Indian and African elements
Chutney Soca: mix of East Indian and African elements
Parang: Latin American guitar sound of the amerindians
Parang: Latin American guitar sound of the amerindians

The mother of all musical styles coming from Trinidad and Tobago is Calypso. Music legend Ras Shorty I. developed the slaves’ sociocritical and satirical songs into the pop form of Soca. "Soca comes from ‘Soul of Calypso’, and its emphasis is more on the music", says Shorty’s son Sheldon Blackman who has been carrying on the family band "The Lovecircle" after his father’s death.

Calypso’s musical offspring turned out to be extremely prolific: it crossbred with Indian sounds to hatch Chutney Soca, with North American Rap to procreate Rapso(-ca), and its liaison with Spanish-Indian Parang produced Parang Soca.

"Our musical variety derives from the mixture of nations that live here", explains Bindley Benjamin, Tobago’s deputy director of tourism and a well-known Calypso singer. "Apart from that, many of our people are musicians on the side."

And still, up to now only a single musical achievement from the island state made the international breakthrough: the steelpan. This instrument built of oil barrels made it right up to the US charts.

For the time being, this remains nothing but a dream for Trinidad and Tobago’s musicians. Monika Schenkel, who has been promoting the island’s sound in Central Europe for 5 years, knows why: "The lyrics need to get away from regional topics, and the sound needs to be made to suit the taste of the international public."

Harry Belafonte showed us how to do that, a number of his hits having been composed by Trinidad musicians. And even Mick Jagger regularly visits the carnival in Trinidad for inspiration in the world’s secret music lab...

  Diversity: Trinidad & Tobagos styles of music 

Calypso: originally "Kaiso" – these rhythmical, humorous songs of sociocritical content and fun word games come from Africa. In the Caribbean they spread in French Patois first of all. Best singer: Mighty Sparrow. Hit: Education.

Soca: the pop form of Calypso. Best singer: Shadow. Hit: Soca Category.

Parang: Latin American guitar sound with Spanish lyrics, mainly cultivated by people of Amerindian descent. Originally Christmas songs of religious content. Bottom picture: Christo Adonis, shaman of the Trinidad Caribs, with his band ‘Rebuscar’.

Chutney: fast, rhythmical Indian music accompanied by lyrics containing topics of Hindu religion.

Chutney Soca: mixture of Soca and Chutney (top picture). Best singer: Ricky Jay. Hit: Sumintra.

Parang Soca: mixture of Soca and Parang with English lyrics. Best singer: Crazy. Hit: Parang Soca.

Rapso: mixture of Rap, the Afro-American recitative, and Soca. Best singer: Brother Resistance. Hit: Ring the bell.

Jamoo: further development of Soca by its inventor Ras Shorty I., accompanied by spiritual lyrics. Best singer: Sheldon Blackman (right-hand picture) and the Love Circle. Hit: Watch out my children.

Steelpan: not really a musical style, but an instrument made from oil barrels (top left picture). Meanwhile a number of compositions have been written for it. Best singers: Renegades, Desperados.
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