Any visitor to Antigua and Barbuda might hear local music on the airwaves that they may not be familiar with. And while much of the music may sound similar to regular pop music for those visitors from Western countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom, in reality there is a rich culture and heritage behind these forms of music that separates them from these types of music. Let’s take an in depth look at some of the local and regional genres of music played in Antigua and Barbuda
What is Benna Music ?
Benna – This musical genre is one of the earliest types of local music to come out of Antigua and Barbuda. This folk type genre was first identified after emancipation of slaves in the 1830’s. Benna music is well known for its specific format, with its lyrical content usually focused on salacious rumors or gossip and the song being performed in a call and response type format. In the following carnival inspired Benna Music by MadTguans you can hear this style of music in action.
Benna music became a useful form of spreading news and information across the island.
Calypso – Calypso is a form of music developed in the Caribbean which has its roots in African slaves who were imported to the Caribbean during the 17thcentury. First identified in Trinidad, the music was used as a means for slaves to communicate and was also often sung in French creole that was popular in the country at the time. After the abolition of slavery in the 1830’s, calypso’s popularity rose in Trinidad, and its similarity to local Benna music allowed it’s easy adoption in Antigua and Barbuda. Popular Antiguan calypsonians include King Short Shirt and Swallow. Calypso becomes increasingly popular in the months preceding the annual Carnival activities, due to a number of shows and competitions that feature this art form.
Soca – Soca music, short for soul calypso, originated from calypso music out of Trinidad and Tobago, but has roots in other genres such as funk, soul, and East Indian music. This up-tempo type of music quickly spread throughout the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda. Soca music was popularized by Trinidadian calypsonian Lord Shorty who performed in a number of Caribbean islands. Popular Antiguan and Barbudan soca musicians include Tian Winter, Ricardo Drue, and Claudette Peters.
Like Calypso, Soca music is particularly popular around Carnival season, when a number of local artists prepare songs for the numerous carnival parties and competitions during this time.
Dancehall –This popular genre originated from Jamaica and has risen to become one of the most popular genres in the Caribbean. Dancehall got its name from Jamaican dance halls where popular Jamaican recordings were played. It eventually shed many of its similarities to reggae music and became characterized by faster rhythms with synthesized musical accompaniment with vocals being provided by deejay type artists. Most popular performers are Jamaican artists such as Beenie Man, Popcaan, and Alkaline, although there are several local artists such as Promise who are currently making their mark on the worldwide Dancehall industry.
Reggae – Probably the most popular form of Caribbean music, reggae was developed in the 1960’s in Jamaica. Reggae music is rooted in older versions of Caribbean music such as calypso along with other genres such as jazz and rhythm and blues. A bass guitar is a staple of most types of reggae music, and there is often a discussion of topical and relevant social and cultural issues. While the most popular reggae artists such as Bob Marley and Third World, there are a number of well known local reggae artists and bands which include the likes of Spirited Band as well as Causion, who received the unofficial title of “Antigua’s Reggae Ambassador”.