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While many Caribbean music styles made the leap a long time ago to the international stage, including reggae, salsa, dancehall and soca, spread across the islands are lesser-known genres that are closely guarded as slices of national heritage, and belong to the island alone.
Most are closely tied to the legacy of slavery, where musicians were forced to make instruments from whatever materials were available, and Carnival, in which island gossip and satire of ruling class was encouraged. Hear any of these on a trip to the Caribbean, and your head will be humming the tune all by itself months later.
Popular in the Virgin Islands, and named after the cornmeal dish, Fungi is a mixture of African and European styles using homemade instruments including calabash and gourd to give a rough jam sound. For this reason, it is also called Scratch. The main purpose of the music is storytelling and satire, with many scratch bands playing Quelbe, the official music of the Virgin Islands, which is a folk song full of innuendo and island slang. One of the most popular Fungi bands is the Lashing Dogs.
Following in the footsteps of Reggae Boyz from Jamaica and the Soca Warriors from Trinidad and Tobago, the Benna Boys from Antigua and Barbuda will represent the Caribbean in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, posing the inevitable question, “What is Benna?” Very popular during Carnival road marches, Benna is a form of Soca which uses a call and response format between singer and audience and covers the same ribald and scandalous topics as calypso.
Get to know the Benna Boys here… Benna Boys
Rake ‘n Scrape
It doesn’t get more down and dirty than the Bahamas’ Rake ‘n Scrape music, called ‘Ripsaw’ in the Turks and Caicos. As the name implies, the genre blends a goombay drum with a carpenter’s saw and an industrial percussion section. Rake ‘n Scrape has a long history in the Bahamas, but is still popular in the Out Islands. Cat Island holds and annual Rake ‘n Scrape festival in June.
Call the Fire Engine
Visit the Dutch islands of Curacao and Aruba in the southern Caribbean and you will soon be familiar with Tumba, which blares out of bars and nightclubs and takes over Carnival. With a heavy African influence and frequently explicit lyrics in local Papiamento, Tumba combines drums, cowbells, flutes and rattles. The Tumba festival takes place during Carnival, crowning the hotly contested King of Tumba.
The Father of Tumba Boy Dap
Music is a serious business in Guadeloupe, where the island’s nightclubs often stick exclusively to local Zouk hits. More traditional is Gwo Ka, a hypnotic folk music played on a variety of large skin drums. Traditional Gwo Ka is based around seven rhythms, whereas modern Gwo Ka incorporates contemporary instruments. The seductive rhythm is accompanied by call and response chants/singing in local Creole. The island’s most famous band is Akiyo, which typically leads the largest march during Carnival.
Popular in Trinidad, and spreading as far as the South American countries of Surinam and Guyana, Chutney music characterizes the southern Caribbean blend of Caribbean and Indian culture, which followed the influx of Indian labor following Emancipation. Chutney came relatively late, establishing itself in the 1970s and growing in popularity to the point where it is the de rigueur soundtrack booming out of speakers for Trinidad beach parties.
Chutney Rum is Meh Luvah
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