This or That: Reggae VS Calypso Music



Two women from the alypso Histoy-Trinidad Carnival
Calypso History-Trinidad Carnival | Stace' World from Flickr


Created in the late 1960s, reggae is intimately linked with the culture of Jamaica and Rastafari. Reggae was influenced by Rastafari ritual drumming and provided an avenue for this genre to enter some countries. Upbeat ska music developed from American R&B, mento, and calypso, and became popular among young Jamaicans seeking a musical identity after the country gained independence in 1962. Eventually, ska and its slower, more romantic descendant rocksteady gave way to reggae.


In the 1600s, enslaved Africans in Trinidad, stripped of their cultures and languages, developed calypso to mock their masters and communicate with each other in French Creole. Modern calypso began in the early 1800s as a combination of disparate genres, such as French Creole belair, and became closely linked with Trinidadian enslaved people’s adoption of Carnival.



Musicians Calypso Rose performing at the Helsinki Festival
Famous Musicians Calypso Rose | Helsingin juhlaviikot : Helsinki Festival

True to the genre’s origins, three big names in reggae are all Jamaican. Bob Marley is the most iconic reggae artist, known globally as a symbol of Jamaican culture and Rastafari. He used his stardom to advocate for democratic social reform, cannabis reform, and Pan-Africanism. Burning Spear is one of the longest- standing roots reggae artists, emerging in the 1970s and still touring today. His music often has spiritual and black pride messages. Yellowman rose to fame in the 1980s as a musician, songwriter and DJ on the island, and became the first dancehall artist to be signed to a major American label.


Attila the Hun and Roaring Lion left Trinidad for the United States in the 1930s, both becoming pioneers of spreading calypso beyond its birthplace. Attila pivoted to a career in politics, while Roaring Lion composed songs such as “Ugly Woman” that are still performed today. Lord Invader, one of America’s most successful calypsonians, arrived in New York soon after, ultimately winning the rights to his hit “Rum and Coca-Cola” in court and touring the United States, Britain and Europe.


A glass of Angostura rum on the rocks with the bottle behind it
Angostura rum | Steve Bennett


The laid-back island vibe and steel drum beat of reggae lends itself well to lounging on the beach, relaxing with cannabis, and sipping on a cold Jamaican Red Stripe. If you like non-alcoholic refreshments, try sorrel tea, an iced Jamaican tea brewed with dried hibiscus flowers and spices.


Calypso has an energetic, upbeat beat that’s hard not to groove to. It pairs perfectly with cocktail parties and dance floors – and of course cocktails. Grab some Trinidadian rum (Angostura is popular) and try your hand at a batch of spiced rum punch.


Toots and the Maytals performing
Toots and the Maytals | Carstor via Wikimedia Commons


In 1968, the first bona fide reggae records “Nanny Goat” and “No More Heartaches” were released. Toots and the Maytals also put out their single “Do the Reggay,” the first popular song to use the word “reggae.” Global artists couldn’t resist reggae’s unique beats, with Johnny Nash and the Beatles releasing reggae-influenced tracks the same year. Reggae’s distinct funk allows it to be timeless and recognizable, no matter the era.


In the 1920s and ‘30s, calypso became a trusted way of spreading news in Trinidad, with politicians and journalists debating the lyrics. Double entendre was used to make statements about topics like the colonial government while dodging aggressive censorship efforts by the United States. Famous calypsonians began recording in America in the late ‘30s, but pop artist Harry Belafonte’s 1956 album “Calypso” made it a worldwide craze.

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