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 Introducing The Caribbean

Anse Noire (Martinique

Anse Noire (Martinique). Photo F.Palli.

Very often when we talk about the Caribbean what often comes to mind  is reggae or the Bermudas beautiful beaches or still islands like British West Indies: Jamaica, the Hispanic Caribbean: Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, and the French Caribbean: Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe….The Greater Antilles include Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles, extending in an arc from Puerto Rico to the northeastern coast of South America, include the Virgin Islands, Windward Islands, Leeward Islands, southern group of the Netherlands Antilles, and, usually, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.


Caribbean Sea, arm of the Atlantic Ocean, partially enclosed on the north and east by the islands of the West Indies, and bounded on the south by South America and Panama, and on the west by Central America. The name of the sea is derived from the Carib people, who inhabited the area when Spanish explorers arrived there in the 15th century. The Caribbean is approximately 2415 km (approximately 1500 mi) long east and west and between about 640 and 1450 km (about 400 and 900 mi) wide. It has an area of about 1,942,500 sq km (about 750,000 sq mi). At the northwestern extremity it is connected with the Gulf of Mexico by the Yucatán Channel, a passage about 193 km (about 120 mi) wide between Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula. The Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti is a major shipping route between the United States and the Panama Canal. Many gulfs and bays indent the coastline of South America, notably the Gulf of Venezuela, which carries tidal waters to Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. With a few exceptions the entire Caribbean Basin is more than 1830 m (more than 6000 ft) deep. Large areas of the sea exceed 3660 m (12,000 ft) in depth; the greatest depth measured thus far is Cayman Trench (7535 m/24,720 ft) between Jamaica and Cayman Islands. Navigation is open and clear, making the Caribbean a major trade route for Latin American countries. The main oceanic current in the Caribbean Sea is an extension of the North Equatorial and South Equatorial currents, which enter the sea at the southeastern extremity and flow in a generally northwestern direction. A popular resort area, the Caribbean Sea is noted for its mild tropical climate.

Caribbean Music

Caribbean Music, diverse variety of musical styles and traditions from the islands of the Caribbean Sea. It ranges from traditional folk genres, such as the Puerto Rican aguinaldo and Jamaican mento, to contemporary popular idioms such as salsa and reggae. Caribbean music encompasses the music of the English-speaking Caribbean (formerly the British West Indies), the Hispanic Caribbean (primarily Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic), and the French Caribbean (primarily Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe). Music of mainland countries bordering the Caribbean Sea is sometimes classified as Caribbean as well. These regions include the country of Guyana, the former Dutch colony Suriname, and coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, Columbia, and Venezuela. In many respects, the diversity of Caribbean music is more marked than its unity, although some generalizations about common traits can be made. Most kinds of music in the region combine features originally derived from Africa with features derived from the West; this synthesis started with European colonization and the importation of African slaves and continues into the present. Such music styles are sometimes described as creole, or more generally as syncretic, indicating a blend of African-derived and Western-derived elements to produce new, distinctively Caribbean entities. The African influence constitutes a stylistic common denominator throughout most kinds of Caribbean music, manifesting itself in the form of lively syncopations (rhythms emphasizing offbeats), call-and-response vocal formats, and ostinatos (repeated musical phrases), which are often based on simple chords. Most Caribbean music may be grouped into folk, classical, or commercially popular categories. Some folk styles are derived primarily from African music and tend to be dominated by percussion instruments and call-and-response vocals. This category includes the Cuban traditional rumba, Puerto Rican bomba, and music associated with Afro-Caribbean religions such as Haitian voodoo and Cuban santería. Other kinds of folk music reflect more European ancestry, including Puerto Rican jíbaro music and Cuban punto. Both styles employ a verse form derived from Spanish music and feature guitars or guitarlike instruments. In a distinct category are the musical practices associated with ethnic East Indians, the descendants of indentured laborers who immigrated from India to the Caribbean during the colonial period. Indo-Caribbeans, who constitute the largest ethnic group in Trinidad and Guyana, have their own rich musical heritage, including traditional folk songs and modern pop styles such as chutney.

In 19th-century Cuba and Puerto Rico, formally trained composers came to create distinctively local forms of light classical music. The most prominent styles in this category are the Cuban contradanza (also known outside Cuba as the habanera); the danzón, a lighter, more rhythmic Cuban style; and the danza, a related style from Puerto Rico. In the early 20th century, Cuba produced several distinguished classical composers, including Ernesto Lecuona, Alejandro García Caturla, and Amadeo Roldan.

The best-known forms of Caribbean music are the modern popular genres. In the Hispanic Caribbean, the most prominent of these styles come from Cuba. They include the son, the most popular style of Cuban dance music; the chachachá, a medium-tempo dance form; the bolero, a languid, romantic style; and the mambo, a predominantly instrumental big-band style (seeJazz: The Big-Band Era). Since the mid-1960s, the genre known as salsa, generally performed by Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, has flourished internationally as an updated version of the Cuban son and related styles. Since the 1970s, the merengue, a fast-paced dance music, has become widely popular, especially in Puerto Rico, New York City, and its homeland, the Dominican Republic.

Perhaps the most internationally famous style of Caribbean music is reggae, which emerged in the late 1960s in Jamaica as a local reinterpretation of American rhythm-and-blues music. Its widespread popularity, especially in the United States and urban centers in Africa, stems from its infectious rhythms, the brilliance of such performers as Jamaican singer Bob Marley, and the compelling nature of its calls for social justice. Calypso, a style of music from Trinidad, and soca, a lighter, dance-oriented variant of calypso, have also achieved some international renown. Both styles help attract thousands of tourists to Trinidad each year for the carnival season. The French Caribbean has also produced its own syncretic musical styles, notably compas, the popular music of Haiti, and zouk, a danceable style from Guadeloupe and Martinique that incorporates elements of funk music.[1]

[1]"Caribbean Music," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 99. © 1993-1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.