The Caribbean is full of different sounds and many styles of music. Calypso is yet another popular kind of music to come out of these islands. Its ties to African music are strong, but its evolution as a popular form has caused many changes in the music.

Calypso's beginnings in the Caribbean are well-known: Trinidadian slaves were not allowed to speak to one another, so they began singing. This singing is somewhat analogous to the songs sung by slaves in the U.S., which were later adapted into blues music. However, in the Caribbean these songs turned into a socially-conscious and lyrically-oriented style of music.

The origin of the word "calypso" is under debate, but the African word kaiso has become the accepted origin. Kaiso is still used today on occasion by calypsonians to describe their genre.

Calypso and Carnival

Calypso could almost be called the official music of Carnival. From its roots as the music of the slaves and then the poor working-class blacks who struggled to make ends meet, the sounds of calypso have evolved to become the sounds of celebration.

In the 1880s, problems and violence at Carnival celebrations on Trinidad caused officials to consider banning the festival. This would have caused trouble for calypso, but the festival was never banned. As the association grew, calypso tunes were written specifically for the celebration, in a tradition that continues to this day.


One of the most important aspects of calypso's lyrics is their precise ability to capture the political pulse. Lyrics traditionally expressed political opinions or discussed slave massacres to help unite the slaves in their sorrow. Calypso's lyrics often encourage listeners to become involved in politics.

Some view calypso songs as the voice of the people, and even keep journals of ideas and events to use as songs. However, plenty of calypso tunes are also about everyday events. Like any other musical genre, the lyrics can explore a wide range of possibilities.

Modern Music

Calypso has begun to evolve in recent years. While some believe in sticking to the roots of the movement, including the art of "picong" (French patois for "to insult") and the specific beats and rhythms of the genre, others are hoping to move the style forward.

Since the 1970s the beats of calypso have sped up, giving birth to two new musical forms. Rapso and soca are two up-tempo versions, which some traditional calypsonians refer to as "party music."

Rapso combines calypso with American hip-hop music. This street poetry has become an important part of the modern musical scene on Trinidad and Tobago. Rapso is not a combination of rap and soca, as it is often described.

Meanwhile, soca combined calypso music with Indian styles brought to the islands with the large number of indentured servants from India. Chutney is the main Indian style that combined with calypso to form this new genre. Some claim that soca is a combination of soul music and calypso, but this is not true.

Calypso is a unique form of music inspired by tough times in the Caribbean. It has grown into one of the most popular musical styles in the region and continues to inspire many new musical styles.


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