Friday, April 27, 2012


The music of Antigua and Barbuda has a lot of similarities to and is heavily influenced by the music of nearby Trinidad and Tobago. While there are several types of music heard and played here, there are three main types of music found in Antigua and Barbuda: steel pans, calypso, and soca. Others also include reggae and zouk (another type of music from the Caribbean).

While the correct term is steel pan, many people call it steel drum. However, it is not a drum at all, as most people know it. A drum by definition is called a membranophone, meaning an instrument that creates its sound from a membrane (like the head of a drum, made of various materials). A steel pan falls under the category of an idiophone, one that creates its sounds from vibration.  It gets its name because it was originally made out of used oil drums that were made of steel which are then formed into the instrument. The “notes” are arranged using the cycle of fifths. There are many different sizes of steel pans, some are quite large while others are smaller to give an array of range.  A famous steel pan band from Antigua is the Brute Force Steel Band. The Hell’s Gate Steel Band and the Big Shell Steel Band are two others. The video is of the Antigua Carnival Panorama 2011 champs, the Hell’s Gate Steel Band. It’s really something to see all those people performing together. It really makes me want to buy a steel drum next (side note: I just purchased a Zimbabwe [of the Shona people] mbira today – I’m still excited, and I haven’t even received it. I have a long time before I even get to Zimbabwe to blog about it. But by then, I should be good.)

Calypso is an integral part of Antiguan music because it is closely tied to other forms as well. It also came from Trinidad, created by slaves at a time when they were not allowed to speak to each other for fear of planning to overthrow their “owners.”  In Antigua and Barbuda, calypso has been used as a means to express social and political ideologies, often using metaphors and symbolism, much like Rai music does in Algeria. Calypso bands often will have two guitars and a bass guitar, but will add other instruments, like drums as needed. Every year, there are calypso contests, especially during Carnival. I really like the musician Claudette Peters (from the band Taxik). There isn’t a lot of information on her, and only a few YouTube videos. One famous calypso band is Burning Flames. This is a video of the song “Swinging Engine.”  Ok, it's not much of a video per se, but the song is cool.

Soca, which is probably the most well-known form, is closely related to calypso. It’s actually a combination of calypso and cadence (another genre from the Caribbean) with certain Indian instruments, like the dholak (a type of drum), the tabla (another type of drum, I mentioned it when I wrote on music from Afghanistan), and the dhantal (a long metal rod struck with a smaller U-shaped metal rod). It’s once been thought that the term “Soca” stood for “soul calypso” (as in SOul CAlipso), but it really was a misinterpretation of a quote from Soca musician Lord Shorty, which actually was supposed to be that “soca was the soul of calypso.”  Soca is also very popular around Carnival time as well. It’s mostly a pretty upbeat style of music. One famous soca band is El-A-Kru; this is the song “Expose.” 

There isn’t a lot of information on traditional dance. I did however manage to find a video for the Xephorae Dance Theatre performing with the Da Vibez Steel Band. I don't know if it's traditional to Antigua or not, but it's still good. Although I am wondering what the significance of the baskets on the head are. [The first part is announced in French, so I'm not sure where they're performing.] I also found a video on YouTube of some guys doing what they call a Bakka dance on Market Street. But I can’t find any more information on traditional dances. There are several dance troupes, including several videos on YouTube of the Antigua Dance Academy.  There are also several dance contests during Carnival festival.

Music and dance go hand-in-hand in Antigua and Barbuda. When you hear the music, you can’t help but sway to the music. Even if you’re not a dancer, like me. I totally wish I were a dancer though (partly because most dancers have really awesome bodies).  Perhaps that’s why I can’t find any information on Antiguan dance – dancing is so engrained into the music that it’s not known by its own genre.  It’s more of an expression, of something that comes natural, rather than a deliberate move. Whether you give it a name or not, you can tell it comes from deeper than the heart – music and dance is built into the fibers of what it is to be from Antigua and Barbuda.

Up next: the food!

Wikipedia: “Music of Antigua and Barbuda” “Steel pans” “Calypso” “Soca”

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