Saturday, November 29, 2014


The music of Grenada is pretty representative of the Caribbean. Several popular and high-selling musicians have emerged from this island nation. Both British and French influences mixed with African and Caribbean styles to create the sound that Grenada and other nearby islands are known for.

Musical styles such as calypso and soca tend to dominate Grenadian music, although reggae and dancehall have their followings as well. One of the most noted calypso musicians is known as Mighty Sparrow (even though he later moved to nearby Trinidad).  Calypso music developed on the island of Trinidad from a mix of kaiso music and canbouley music, both of which have their origins in West Africa.  These styles were brought over during the slave trade when West Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands to work in the sugar plantations. Calypso started to spread to other French-controlled islands in the West Indies.

Soca music stemmed from calypso music in the fact that some of calypso musicians started mixing in funk, soul, and cadence (a type of méringue from Haiti).  It tended to spread among the English-speaking countries in the Caribbean, but it wasn’t just limited to those countries. Everyone enjoys a little soca music.

The island of Carriacou, which lies just north of the main island of Grenada, is best known for its folk music traditions. The most famous of these traditions is their funeral rites, involving storytelling, feasting, and a lot of music (usually performed in a call-and-response fashion). Carriacou is also known for its style known as Big Drum.  This style pays homage to their African ancestors by means of short, rhythmic phrases interspersed with choruses and accompanied by two boula drums (a type of hand drum, most often made from rum casks) and a smaller cut drum, or kata, having a higher pitch (also made from rum casks). If a family cannot afford the traditional funeral festivities, the community will perform Big Drum music for this as well.

Because of the cultural influences from both France and England during its history, Grenadian music and dance used bits and pieces of both cultures. Dancing, and especially African dancing, was forbidden when the slave owners realized they were using it to communicate to each other. But rather than paying musicians and dancers from England to entertain them in Grenada, they taught the workers the quadrille and other dances. (The quadrille actually came to England by way of France.) Of course, the Africans there used it to mock the Europeans and ended up modifying the dance a bit. It generally is danced with four women and four men standing in a square, and the dancers either dance somewhat rigidly in a formal setting, or in a more free-flowing fashion when in a casual setting. Tambourines, triangles, violins, and bass drums are the typical accompaniment to the quadrille dance.

I listened to Eddie Bullen’s album Desert Rain. He’s one of the more popular musicians to come from Grenada. I would place it the soft rock category, and I could totally imagine hearing this in a grocery store somewhere. Or if someone were trying to “create a mood” and turn the lights down low. Yeah, I could see that. 

David Emmanuel’s Bird of Paradise album was pretty enjoyable. In a groove reggae style, I could totally sit back with a Red Stripe (sorry, I know it’s Jamaican, but it’s the only Caribbean beer I know) and just chill. Still occasionally venturing over to the “creating a mood” side of music, the reggae beat is its only reprieve. However, it ended up moving away from reggae back to the same styles as Eddie Bullen.  It's not terrible, except that I was really liking the reggae stuff. 

I also listened to Mighty Sparrow’s album First Flight. He emerged during the 1950s and performed into the 1990s, so his music reflects many of the styles during those times. In my opinion, the melody lines reflect some slight British musical styles with West African overtones: simple melodic lines that stay in the key, but the instrumentation includes drums, saxophones, trumpets, and guitars – it almost reminds me of the dance bands from the 1930s and 1940s in the US. I really like this music, and I could listen to it all day.

Up next: the food

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