Tambu

Don’t They Look Similar? – Caribbean And Latin American Folk Music

Caribbean Folk Performers

In Peter Wade’s book, “Music, Race and Nation,” he makes the observation that many of the Caribbean and Latin-American countries have very similar types of “national music.”

I never realized how similar they actually were until I read this, and with the intervention of that great illustrator, YouTube, I was able to see this as well in living html video.

Here they are:

First up is this lesser known Big Drum style from Cariacou.

Also bearing some similarity to this is the Tambú tradition from Curacao.

Not to be left out, here is Bomba from Puerto Rico with none other than Big Bird in attendance.

From the South American continent, here is festejo from Peru.

This list can go on and on, not indefinitely of course as the region is limited, but we can also add merengue tipico from Dominican Republic,gwo ka from Guadeloupe and Rhumba from Cuba. All of them are:

  • Acoustic based
  • Clearly polyrhythmic
  • Have women in flowing skirts and men in straw hats
  • Have call-and-response songs

In short, it is ironic how these expressions which are so closely linked to parochial nationalism are less unique than the states which promote them like to say. In fact, there is a strong argument for a Latin American and Caribbean culture over a nationalist one, but alas, difference is far too appealing, but don’t they look similar?

Why Can’t White People Dance? (To Caribbean Music)

We have all been there as Caribbean people. We are in a club and our favourite Soca/Dancehall/Zouk/Calypso/Konpa/Merengue/Timba jam comes on. As we pull our partners or absolute strangers close, or in the case with Tambú, at a respectable distance, we glimpse out of the corner of our eye some obvious non-natives moving. Are they dancing? You ask. They must be since they are not foaming at the mouth.  For those unfamiliar with this scenario watch the following clip.

Also for those unfamiliar, here are Caribbean people dancing to Soca.

And finally, for those unfamiliar to the general issue, here is Eddie Murphy from his legendary “Raw” stand up commenting on it.

Unlike Murphy and Chapelle, who also does a seriously funny take on this, I will attempt to apply some sort of meaningful analysis to answer the question why can’t white people dance to Caribbean (black music) music?

The (an) Answer

Dancing and responses to dancing show more than anything how much of a learnt behaviour listening is. For example it is obvious that in both the examples above, both sets of individuals were responding to the sounds they were hearing. However, it is apparent that

  1. They were not responding the same way to the sounds they were hearing.
  2. They were not choosing the same sounds to respond to.

From the clip, Murphy suggests that “white people” listen to the lyrics and dance off of those. I however, think that is more than that. Let us look for example at a song that is tremendously popular “Monster Winer” by Kerwin Dubois and Lil Rick. I have used this example for a reason which shall be revealed in a bit.

From the song, there are four distinct rhythms that are played together:

  1. The rhythm of the melody as sung by Kerwin.
  2. The rhythm of the horn like synth thingy.
  3. The kick drum (deepest drum sound)
  4. And the snare drum.

Conceivably, you can dance to any of these rhythms. However, Caribbean people generally perceive the bass kick as the most important one to dance to and keep time with. Why did they choose this? Well because that is what they saw their friends, family, bad influences at school doing from the time they were little ones therefore they do it as they saw it/heard it being done. In other words, they LEARNT which one of the rhythms was the most important as well as HOW to respond to that rhythm.

Of course they can!

So that is why it is said that white people can’t dance because they don’t grow up in the same cultural environment as Blacks and Caribbean people do. This does not mean however that they will never be able to dance like Caribbean people because dancing and listening are learnt behaviours and lack of melanin has nothing to do with it.  In fact, there are millions of white people, including many Caribbean whites, whose dancing will not look out of place on any dance floor in the region. To prove it, let’s go to YouTube.

Here is a video from the Siberian dance group doing “Monster Winer.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdjVKQoBzVM

It is obvious that someone here spent their time studying and listening to Caribbean music and imitating how Caribbean people respond to it. Whoever they are then transmitted this method of listening to others. I therefore bet that if any similar song to “Monster Winer” plays, these dancers will be able to execute moves like Caribbean persons without their skin colour causing them to “regress” in to hapless shaking.

In summary, white people can dance (there is no one correct way), and can dance LIKE Caribbean people to Caribbean music; all it involves is them listening LIKE and moving LIKE Caribbean people. The videos on YouTube prove this as well as the Bajan Blue Box Cart band every Crop Over*. Dancing has nothing to do with melanin, but instead how people choose to live out the culture of race.* *

* Please Google them.

**There are fantastic academics who deal with this, Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy for starters.

10 Caribbean genres you have probably never heard about!

The Caribbean, for a small geographical space, has many different musical cultures.

Most people only know the big boys, the Reggaes, Reggaetons and Merengues but there are numerous other genres that deserve a little blog attention.

Here is a list of 10 I think you should check out.

10.  Masquerade – Guyana

 

 

There are not many artists or musical genres from Guyana that are known outside of the country. Masquerade is a folk genre similar to Tuk and other fife and drum music types in the Caribbean. Like others, it is heard on festive occasions.

9.   Kaseko – Suriname

 

Kasesko is a music out of Suriname. Its rhythm is based around the snare and an indigenous drum called the skratji. Leading artists include Carlo Jones and Yakki Famirie.

8. Calypso – Costa Rica

 

The construction of the Panama canal had a profound effect on the culture of the Caribbean as thousands of men left their agrarian lives to work for the Yankee dollar. Another Central American country touched by this Anglo-Caribbean transfer was Costa Rica, as shown beautifully by Costa Rican calypso.

7. Tambú – Curacao

Tambú is a folk form from the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. At one point controversial, it is gone on to be part of Curacao’s cultural heritage, especially for its African descendants.

6. Ra Ra -Haiti/ Ga Ga – Dominican Republic

 

Ra Ra, as it is known in Haiti, or Ga Ga, as it is known in Dominican Republic, is a street music heard at Easter. It features keyless trumpets as well as bamboo tubes known as vaccines.  Call and response is of course a big part of this form and like other street music types in the Caribbean, it is great fun.

 

5.  North Caribbean Soca -St. Kitts and US Virgin Islands

 

In the northern Caribbean countries such as the US Virgin Islands there is a derivative of Soca that I think deserves special mention. It  obviously borrows from the American pop sub genre crunk and therefore its melodies are more shouted than sung. It also sounds “loud” as the mastering engineer probably has all the gains at maximum.

4.  Jonkonnu – Jamaica

 

While Reggae and the whole Ska complex are widely known, the folk and traditional forms of Jamaica are not nearly as popular. Jonkonnu is one of the oldest musical practices in the Caribbean and is a fife and drum music with relatives in Bahamas, the Carolinas and Barbados.

 

3.  Bouyon – Dominica

Bouyon is a fusion genre. The group which promoted and performed this, WCK, sought to bring various Caribbean popular elements together. Bouyon really is a sub-genre of Soca but I still think it worthy to put on this list.

2. Gwo ka – Guadeloupe

 

 

Gwo ka is a drum ensemble music. It usually does not feature harmonic instruments. It is in the tradition of other large-scale drumming ensembles from the Afro Diaspora such as samba from Brazil and comparsa from Cuba.

1.  Spouge – Barbados

 

 

Spouge is a popular form that lived and died in 1970s Barbados. It is played around November in Barbados, the time of national celebrations where things Bajan take centre stage.

 

So there they are, if you like what you hear, go check out more artists from these genres!

You will not be disappointed.