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Calypso Music - A Path to Freedom

The African Caribbean diaspora consists of diverse anglophone, francophone, and hispanic populations. The majority of Afro Caribbeans are descendants of former enslaved people who were brought over from their African homeland between the 15th-19th century by colonial countries France, England, and Spain.

Due to the growing sugar cane business, European colonists aimed to use free slave labour on plantations to gain more profit.This period was marked by several movements and uprisings, such as the Haitian Revolution. One commonality of the different slave revolts, was the emphasis on black consciousness, and the importance of keeping the connection to Africa.

Music and dance were huge elements of empowerment and communication. Enslaved people gathered to discuss their situations and the possibilities to free themselves of oppression. An example was the birth of calypso in Trinidad and Tobago. To undermine potential revolts, Africans brought to Trinidad and Tobago were forbidden from practicing their cultural traditions and speaking their languages.

These people used Calypso music to secretly communicate with each other. Although calypso music on the surface may sound very joyful, deep topics such as escape plans, slave masters, and situations on plantations, were discussed. The structure of Calypso derives from West African griot tradition, which follows a call and response method. One person (griot) leads the musical conversation. Calypso music has its origin in a genre called Kaiso, meaning 'let us join'. It's believed to have been brought over by the Igbo tribe of Nigeria, and was used as a form of empowerment and encouragement.

As the colonial countries became aware of the empowering function of calypso, they attempted to forbid it. Nonetheless, calypso continued to be spread across Caribbean countries, and in the early to mid 20th century, it became popular worldwide.

Source: Laurie Jacklin, Caribbean African diaspora, 19th–20th, BBC

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