The Caribbean: Powerhouse of Popular Styles
Andrew Killick [+]
University of Sheffield
While sharing some of its history and culture with continental Latin America, the Caribbean island chain stands out as an area that has been extraordinarily influential in music relative to its size. Trinidad produced calypso and the steel band, Jamaica gave the world reggae, and Cuba generated a succession of international dance crazes starting with the habanera in the nineteenth century and extending through the son, rumba, and cha cha cha, while salsa music emerged from a nexus of Caribbean culture circulating around Cuba, Puerto Rico, and immigrants in New York. This chapter considers the cultural and historical conditions that made the Caribbean such a powerhouse of popular music styles, primarily (once more) through its particular mixes of European, African, and American influences. It shows how some of these styles exploit the possibilities of the “Latin beat” (including the famous clave pattern) to produce a music of compelling rhythmic complexity, and thus extends our range of concepts for understanding and describing musical rhythm. Finally, we look at the role that music and musicians from the Caribbean played in the formation of American rap and hip hop.