ABCs in the Caribbean

Just off the coast of Venezuela are 3 beautifully mixed-up islands… Aruba! Bonaire! Curacao!  Welcome to the land of fusion.. the Dutch Caribbean.

Willemstad, Curaçao: too darn cute for words

Willemstad, Curaçao: too darn cute for words

Far removed from the major-player Caribbean islands (and proudly outside of the hurricane belt), the ABC islands are small but full of technicolor goodness.  The culture (and homegrown language, Papiamento) is a mixture of Dutch, Portuguese, African, Spanish, Native Caribbean and English.  The Dutch brought legalized prostitution (you can call it Amsterdam of the tropics) and the rest brought groovy pan-Caribbean music, creating a local style called tumba.  Masha bon!

Hear the ABC Island soundsplash {{HERE}}


French Ama-soniques

This week we visit the nation that never was but probably should be: Guyane, sur le bord du jungle amazone.

Devil's Island: the Alcatraz of South America

Devil’s Island: the Alcatraz of South America

French Guiana – the only piece of South America still held in custody by their colonial mother-in-law.  The other Guys have all been set free… qu’est ce qu’il y a la France?  Still bitter about losing Haiti?  Oh right, you needed somewhere to build a spaceport.  Politics aside, French Guiana is well worthy of a sonic exploration; and so we find ourselves back in the almighty Amazon, the sacred lungs of our momma Earth.

Though native South Americans still survive in pockets of the rainforest, the quarter-million humans in French Guiana are primarily of African or mixed ancestry, living either in isolated communities where drumming traditions are preserved, or in smallish coastal cities like Cayenne and Kourou, where the traditions mix with modern sounds to form a frenetic hybrid style called aléké.

Still, much of the music has a distinct Caribbean vibe.  Roots reggae is a powerful force in the region, and the best-known local musicians play some variation of it.  The biggest international star, Prince Koloni, plays both aléké and reggae.. perhaps they will one day fuse into a distinctly amazonian sound smash.

Hear drums of focused fury, laid back skankin’, and some unexpected twists on the French Guianese special.

islands}} {{soundclash

sugar mill barbados

Barbados was created by 2 islands smashing together in the year 43,262,684 B.C.  But that’s fairly old news.  This just in: the easternmost Caribbean nation is a buzzing power plant of music.  This is largely owing to a stable economy (tourists!), and a proliferation of recording studios since independence from the British nearly 50 years ago.  Still, considering the island’s population is barely a quarter million, there’s something mysterious about the sheer number of funkin’ bands making interesting songs.  But Barbados also benefits from strong siblings that speak their language; Jamaican ska and Trinidadian calypso were wildly popular in the region, and by the 1960s Barbadians had melded these with local Creole (Bajan) to create a style called spouge music.  It’s heavy on the cowbell:

Another great element of Bajan music is the constant stream of whimsical lyrics, which is true to the spirit of calypso.  In Barbados, the juxtaposition of African ancestry with British customs makes for endless zanity.  In this track, calypso legend Mighty Gabby (he has been Calypso Monarch of Barbados 7 times, spanning 42 years!) sings about his futile attempt to impress a girl in a game of cricket:

Hear these sounds and other Bajan delights on {DE BARBADOS SPECTACULAR}

And also, the weekly SOUNDSPLASH.  Sweet-fuh-days..

Mengen in de Netherworlds

On the northern edge of the Amazon rainforest lies a small nation of Dutch-speaking Asian and African voyagers who make swingin’ Indo-Caribbean music.  Nope, you can’t make this stuff up..

90% jungled since 20,000 BC

90% jungled since 50,000 BC

Welcome to Suriname, the land of alien toads and human experimentation.  With only half a million people in this former Dutch colony, the Surinamese have slipped under the international radar to become the most ethnically and religiously diverse nation in the Americas.

More than half the population is of Asian ancestry, coming mainly from North India and the Indonesian island of Java as contract workers over a hundred years ago.  The rest of the inhabitants are of mixed West-African descent, with a small minority of indigenous peoples (3.7%) still watching over the rainforest.  The Dutch seem to have disappeared almost completely, leaving behind their language and wooden shoes.

The greatest sonic blend of traditions is revealed in a wonderfully rhythmic style called Kaseko – a hybrid of early jazz music, calypso, and Creole drumming/chanting.  In other words, a pan-Caribbean groove monster!

Many influential Surinamese musicians (including Lieve Hugo — the undisputed king of Kaseko) went on to live and perform in Holland, spreading African rhythms further around the planet.  Truly mind-bending, the musical influence that Africans have had on other cultures over the past hundred years…

There is also very authentic Indian Classical music and Javanese Gamelan music being played in Suriname.  Yet the different ethnic groups remain relatively segregated in this country, and we are still waiting for Afro-Indian Gamelan funk-hop to emerge from the ether of Paramaribo.  But for now, some vintage Surinamese disco-funk:

Check out a great Surinamese music blog here.
Our weekly Global Mix here.
And our Suriname Special here.  –including classic Kaseko, 70’s rock, classic Indian folk, hip-hop, reggae, soul, and so on..

Pandemonium Panameño

Presenting the sonic spectrum of Panama.. a gorgeous pan-African palette that perplexes the pigeon-hole efficiency of predefined taste.  A country borne out of the complex cultural mixing between Indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans, over two thirds of modern-day Panamanians are of mixed-ancestry (called mestizos).

The monumental construction project of the Panama Canal in the early 20th century brought about further diversity, as many black Caribbean workers settled in the country and brought along their own shifting rhythms (calypso, rumba, etc.).  Panama’s music has over time developed a stronger Afro-Caribbean vibe than its other Spanish-speaking neighbors, and there is a real eagerness to combine these with the Latin styles (cumbia, salsa, merengue..) of other Central and South American countries.
Later on, Panama was the first country to create a Spanish offshoot of reggae, known simply as Reggae en Español.  One of the first acts to legitimize this sound was Nando Boom:

We will also explore other modern sounds of Panama, including the unclassifiable Combos Nacionales of the 70s, and some intriguing new psych rock bands.

Stream part 1: Global Mix

Stream part 2: Panama