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date: 02 March 2021

Afro-Caribbean Musiclocked

  • Peter Manuel


The field of Afro-Caribbean music comprises a vast and heterogeneous corpus of genres and practices, with most forms of Caribbean music evolving as syncretic products of diverse African- and European-derived elements. Many of these genres have established substantial presences in or influences on music culture in the mainland United States, whether through the activities of diasporic communities or via cross-cultural interactions.

Afro-Caribbean musics may be regarded as spanning a gamut of styles. On one end would lie various neo-African traditional genres that bear close affinities to counterparts or predecessors in Africa and may even embody marginal survivals of entities now obscure in that continent. Particularly prominent in the neo-African category are the many Afro-Caribbean genres – both recreational as well as religious – that feature a West African-derived format of three drums playing ostinato-based rhythms, accompanying call-and-response singing and dancing by groups, couples, or an individual.

The 20th century saw the emergence of a rich and dynamic variety of creole commercial popular music genres whose styles evolved in connection with the new mass media of records and, from the 1920s, radio. Most of these genres were distinctively Afro-Caribbean both in stylistic features as well as the social milieus that generated them and the personnel that performed them. Several came to enjoy considerable popularity in the USA, and especially in New York City, whose mass media infrastructure, immigrant enclaves, and receptive non-Caribbean audiences enabled it to become a dynamic secondary center of Caribbean popular music. At the same time, African American popular musics, from rock to rap, exerted their own sorts of influences on Caribbean popular music scenes, resulting in a dynamic and ongoing process of mutual inspiration and cross-fertilization....

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