Written by 4:29 pm Music

Your Complete Guide to West Indian Music

The West Indies has been the breeding ground for several popular genres of music, which consist of varied fascinating styles and a melting pot of cultural elements. Each of the Caribbean’s 28 nations boasts at the very least one signature variety of this irresistible music, various in rhythm and beat.

As a complete, West Indian music, blended with a tapestry of African, Indigenous, Asian, and European influences, plays an integral role in music history and the entertainment industry. Loads of top music artists originate from the West Indies, including Bob Marley (Jamaica), Rihanna (Barbados), Gloria Estefan (Cuba), T-Connection (Bahamas), and Wyclef Jean (Haiti), to call just a few.

For those who aspire to be like these artists, you have to know more about their West Indian musical roots. Read on to dig deeper into the several genres that make up the attractive music of the West Indies. 


Calypso originated within the 18th century in Trinidad and Tobago and gained popularity through artists like Harry Belafonte,
The Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, and Red Plastic Bag. This upbeat variety of music is characterised by:

Use of call and response

Easy harmony

Syncopated 2/4 or 4/4 rhythm

A “griot,” which is the lead singer  

Topical, witty, and sometimes satirical lyrics

A band comprising trumpets, saxophones, maracas, steel pans, Latin percussion, and electric guitar

Like most music of the West Indies, calypso traces back to Africa and embodies among the traditions of enslaved West Africans forced to maneuver to the Caribbean.

For example, the usage of call and response and improvised songs comes from the times when slaves used spirituals as a type of communication to bypass not being allowed to check with one another. Perhaps that’s the reason calypso is taken into account the “music of the oppressed.”    

Together with being celebrated for giving a voice to the voiceless, calypso is chargeable for the inception of several Caribbean musical genres, including soca, mento, spouge, ska, chutney, benna, and extempo. 


Soca, or soul-calypso, is a mix of traditional calypso, East Indian music, and Jamaican dancehall beats. This eclectic style often uses multi-tracked electronic instruments, horns, loud bass guitars, and drum machines. And it is the
source of nine subgenres:

Chutney soca

Raga soca


Groovy soca

Power soca

Steelband soca

Parang soca

Bouyon soca

Bashment soca

They might all bear “soca” of their name, but they each carry distinctive sounds. For instance, Raga and Afrosoca draw heavily from Jamaica’s dancehall style, while Groovy soca has a more relaxed, slow-tempo vibe. 

Invented by Garfield Blackman, a Trinidadian musician named Lord Shorty, within the Seventies, soca music has grow to be extremely popular in Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, Antigua, and Barbuda. Moreover, it has produced famous artists corresponding to “Queen of Soca” Alison Hinds, Machel Montano, Peter Ram, Kevin Lyttle, Rupee, Destra Garcia, Krosfyah, and Lord Shorty.


Kompa, which was derived from the Spanish word “compás,” meaning rhythm, is a well-liked Haitian variety of music that blends African rhythms, European musical elements, and the music of Indigenous people. Traditional kompa bands are known for his or her extensive brass section, while modern kompa bands mainly feature electronic instruments. 

Moreover, characterizations of kompa relate to its upbeat tempo intended for dancing and diverse lyrical topics, including love, religion, politics, and holiday celebrations. You may also find this variety of music performed in various languages of the Caribbean, corresponding to English, Creole, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.  


Just like calypso in sound and humorous, topical lyrics, mento is a type of Jamaican folk music from the Nineteen Fifties.

Often, people recognize it by its acoustic instruments and verse-repeating style, nevertheless it’s not as popular as the opposite genres. It was even overshadowed by ska and reggae after they emerged onto the musical scene. 


Also coming out of Jamaica’s music scene within the Nineteen Fifties was
ska, the idea for contemporary reggae. Ska was born after Jamaica’s independence from England, and it combines elements from traditional Calypso, American jazz, and blues. 

Ska music often features choppy guitar riffs, jazzy horns, drums, and sometimes piano. People may discover it by its topical lyrics and fast-paced, off-beat jumpy rhythms.


Whenever you take ska and mix it with Trinidad’s calypso, you get spouge. Birthed by Barbadian musician Jackie Opel within the Nineteen Sixties, spouge’s sound got here from the bass guitar, the cowbell, and a spread of percussion and electronic instruments.

In a while, musicians added the trombone, saxophone, and trumpet to raise the sound. 


Within the mid-Nineteen Sixties, this variety of music replaced ska and blew up the Jamaican dance music scene. Identified by its loud bass guitar, rocksteady is a more relaxed, slowed-down version of ska music. And like the opposite Caribbean music genres, it promoted political topics in its lyrics. 

Besides the slower tempos, rocksteady also made a splash with its vocal harmony groups, including the Gaylads, the Techniques, and
the Heptones. Although this genre’s popularity was short-lived, it was a part of the inspiration for one among the most important music genres to come back from the West Indies — reggae. 


Dancehall is a high-energy type of reggae distinguished by its quick rhythms, drums, and synthesizers. It emerged within the Seventies in Jamaica, where it developed a popularity as being radical for its political messaging, uncontrolled fast beats, and “slackness” or obscenities in lyrics.

Since this style emerged within the digital age, dancehall artists could construct tunes with fewer musicians, cutting production costs. Many DJs and musicians who contributed to the success of dancehall music include:

“King of Dancehall” Beenie Man

Bounty Killer

Shabba Ranks




Elephant Man

Vybz Kartel


Lady Saw

Chaka Demus and Pliers  

With all these big names within the music industry, dancehall will remain one among Jamaica’s biggest exports. 


Zouk was introduced within the mid-Nineteen Eighties and is associated primarily with the French-speaking islands of the West Indies.

It generally incorporates a rhythm section of drums and bass with synthesizers. And it’s known for its fast-paced, upbeat variety of music, which is fun to bounce to, especially at Carnivals.


Perhaps probably the most well-known genre of all of the music from the West Indies, reggae was spawned from traditional mento, ska, and rocksteady. Its worldwide appeal occurred mainly due to the fame of the most effective reggae artist of all time, Bob Marley.

Marley’s music gained him notoriety within the late Nineteen Sixties and early Seventies, and even after he died in 1981, his songs proceed to be popular and relevant to the times. 

Besides Bob Marley, reggae produced many well-known musicians who helped put Jamaica on the map. Other famous reggae artists to explore include:

Peter Tosh

Burning Spear

Jimmy Cliff

Lee “Scratch” Perry


Sister Nancy

Garnet Silk

Buju Banton

Gregory Isaacs


Bunny Wailer

Reggae’s one-drop rhythm and conscious lyrics follow African and Spanish traditions, going way back to the descendants of enslaved Ghanaians. While it currently dominates the music scene in Jamaica, Barbados, and Belize, it has strongly influenced other genres corresponding to
hip-hop, rock and roll, and soul. 

Latin Caribbean Styles

Latin music features dances like salsa, bachata, and merengue. Salsa is a Cuban export, while merengue and bachata originate from the Dominican Republic. You may hear the African and Spanish influences through the usage of call-and-response techniques and Latin percussion. 

These Latin styles are highly popular in their very own right, appealing to audiences across the globe. They usually have distinct characteristics that may distinguish each style from the opposite. 


This genre is understood for its passionate, high-drama dance, which often combines congas, bongos, cowbells, maracas, a brass section, a piano, and other instruments to supply its rhythmical, fast-paced style.

While there are various kinds of salsa, corresponding to salsa dura (hard salsa), salsa romantic (romantic salsa), and salsa meringues, all of them have Son Cubano (Cuban sound) at their core. That term refers back to the mix of African and European instruments and traditions.


Deemed the preferred genre within the Dominican Republic, bachata is commonly in comparison with the blues due to its slow beat, use of acoustic or electric guitar, and sensual or sad lyrics. 


Formally the national dance of the Dominican Republic, merengue uses traditional instruments, corresponding to tambora, cuatro, and accordion, and has catchy melodies and easy harmonies. It is also distinguished by its fast, syncopated rhythms and slick choreography.  

West Indian Music Is Universal

Whether you are from the Bahamas or Japan, West Indian music will be enjoyed by all. And there are such a lot of Caribbean artists who’ve influenced our lives. This list is probably not comprehensive, nevertheless it’s an ideal begin to learning more in regards to the eclectic varieties of these famous artists.

Contact us to further your music knowledge so you may grow to be a more well-rounded musician.  

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