Calypso music is heavily rooted in West African traditional music. During slavery, the slaves were forbidden to talk to each other but were allowed to sing. Slaves used calypso as a means of communication, entertainment and mocking the slave masters. This genre of music finds roots in West African Kaiso.
Calypso is popular in most English speaking Caribbean islands like Dominica, Barbados, St Vincent, St Lucia, Grenada and Antigua, but Trinidad is considered the mecca of calypso.
Calypso caribbean music has been influenced not only by African rhythms, but by European folk music as well. This is attributed to the fact that over time, Trinidad was ruled by the British, French and Spanish. The result is music that is heavily rhythmic, but still pleasantly melodic.
Calypso Music - Instruments
Traditional calypso instruments include the guitar, banjo and various percussion instruments. Brass instruments, especially trumpet and trombone and woodwind instruments like the saxophone are used in most calypso songs, particular when the music is played live and at Calypso monarch competitions.
It probably wouldn't be fair to speak of calypso music without mentioning the steel drum (also called steel pan). This instrument was invented in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1930s and is a major part of Caribbean carnival celebrations. Panorama competitions are held yearly in various islands and calypso music is played on the steel drum. Steel bands compete to see who will become Panorama champions.
Calypso music is very competition driven. Every year, at Carnival, Calypsonians (calypso artists) compete to see who will be the calypso monarch for that year. This competition is a major part of carnivals around the English-speaking Caribbean. Many of the songs are very political in nature but because of strict censorship the lyrics are cleverly veiled. Calypso songs focus heavily on the events of the day.
Harry Belafonte is credited for making calypso known internationally with his 1956 hit "Day-O" (The Banana Boat Song), a traditional Jamaican mento song. But arguably, this song is really a watered-down version of calypso music.
The Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener are generally considered the greatest calypsonians ever. Other great calypso artists include Roaring Lion, David Rudder, Wilmoth Houdini, Growling Tiger, Atilla The Hun, Black Stalin, Lord Melody and Mighty Duke.
Calypso music has paved the way for various genres of music particularly soca music which is currently one of the most popular genres of Caribbean music in the world. The new genre was invented in the early 1960s by Lord Shorty. He added Indian rhythmic instruments (like the tabla) to traditional Calypso to create a new sound. Although some soca artists include social commentary in their songs, soca music is largely party music.