The Early Days of Carnival Music
For the last 6 weeks or so, Carnival music reigned over the airwaves. It was a season for various types of music which all play an important part in the Trinidad and Tobago identity. The beat of a stick against the pan, the blaring of a trumpet, the instruction to jump and wave and misbehave or the serious soulful telling of a social awareness story through calypso; it is evident that Carnival music lives in the hearts of our people, even when the season has finished.
But do you know where and how Carnival music got started? Let's take a trip down memory lane to learn its origins.
Calypso dates back to the 18th century when slaves from West Africa were brought to the Caribbean islands to work on sugar plantations. The slaves were not allowed to talk to one another and therefore used music to communicate as well as mock their slave masters. It began to gain traction in the 20th century. The first set of calypsos were sung in patios and consisted of topics that reflected on the social and political issues of that time.
Over the years Calypso evolved and was used as a means of spreading news around the islands. Calypsonians would sing about controversial topics that eventually led to the British rule enforcing censorship. Now-a-days, calypsonians are free to sing about any topic as long as it is done in a tasteful and entertaining way. Calypso has also evolved rhythmically to keep up with the changing tastes of the people.
Soca was first initiated by calypsonian Ras Shorty I. He fused East Indian and African rhythms to create an enhanced version of calypso. The word soca, some say, comes from the unification of the last to letters to the first to letters of the word CAlypSO. Others believe that the word means the “soul of Calypso” and therefor SOul CAlypso = SOCA.
Now, soca has three main sub genres; chutney, groovy and power. Chutney soca is fused with heavy East Indian influence as it incorporates folk tunes, movie tunes and even bhajans (religious songs) over a soca based beat. Every year artists compete for the title of Chutney Soca Monarch Winner
Goovy soca is considered the slower paced version of soca while Power soca is its opposite, fast paced and irresistible. Every year, the top selected artistes also compete for the titles of Groovy Soca Monarch Winner and Power Soca Monarch Winner. Soca Monarch is one of the most anticipated competitions for the season and it takes place on Fantastic Friday. The most popular power soca songs usually vie for the title of Road March (the song most played on the road for Carnival Monday and Tuesday). Most masqueraders prefer high intensity soca songs to play as they cross the stage.
Steelpan, also known as the steel drum, originated right here in Trinidad Tobago; it is our national musical instrument. The steelpan was created during the late 30’s and consists of a range of sounds from the tenor pan to the bass. The unique sound of the steelpan can be considered synonymous with the Caribbean as it has been used in movies and international songs that want to give their audience a Caribbean feel. Most recently, it has been used to play the US national anthem at a Chicago Bulls game.
Other countries and cities have since established their own Carnivals that cater to the Caribbean diaspora and visitors alike. Places such as Toronto, UK, New York City and, most recently, Hollywood are among themany. For example, Caribana was originally introduced to Canada by immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana, Antigua and Dominica. Popular local aartists such as Machel Montano, Destra & Kes have performed at this event, taking local music over to the international soils. The exposure has increased and a greater demand for more local music has become more than just a possibility. Soca and steelpan are usually the star attractions.
There are different genres of music available here in Trinidad and Tobago, especially around this season; calypso, soca (in the form of chutney, groovy, and power) and steelpan. As the year changes so does the music. It is forever morphing and adapting while still retaining its core that is entertainment and the vibrancy of our people and culture.