Version: 11112202 Rev. 1
The cultural Caribbean extends beyond the geographic limits of the Caribbean to include areas where people from the region or their cultures exist. These places are sometimes far from the Caribbean geographically and are like certain kinds of plants called rhizomes that send out roots underground to emerge far from the original plant and become new plants.
Diaspora is the dispersion or displacement of human beings from their place of origin. Diaspora has always been part of the Caribbean. The first people to live in the Caribbean, the indigenous people from the continental areas who settled on the Lesser Antilles and then reached the Greater Antilles, came from across the sea. This was the beginning of Caribbean culture. The first example of music we know of was the areito, a ceremony in which the tribe would gather to dance and sing, recalling the history and important events of the community, such as the passage of hurricanes, for example. This was a way to transmit elements of their culture, since they did not use the written word.
With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors at the end of the 15th century, other cultural elements began to be added to the mix, including music. In reality, the Spanish culture was still forming and encompassed elements of cultures of other peoples who had settled in Spain. This included the eight centuries of rule by Arabs who came from Africa. Also, almost immediately, beginning in the 16th century, the slave trade began to bring Africans to the Americas and many of them ended up in the Caribbean. In the 17th century, other European countries also occupied Caribbean islands. The English, French, Dutch and Portuguese settled the islands and established various linguistic areas in the Caribbean. In the 19th century, large numbers of Hindus were brought by the British from India to work in the colonies and the Spanish brought in Asians for the same purpose. All of these elements are reflected, to greater or lesser measure, in Caribbean music.
Because the original inhabitants of the Caribbean were almost completely eliminated by the conquistadors, their contributions to music are few, except for some musical instruments. In the Caribbean, European and African music were the essential elements in what gradually developed as Caribbean music. Caribbean music has three basic characteristics: First, it is mostly popular, folk and religious music, with a smaller presence of classical music, as was the case on all of the continents except Europe. Second, the presence of European and African elements is nearly equal. Third, there has been an incessant creation of new musical forms over the centuries. It is a music that is in a constant creative process. And finally, the exchange of musical influences between the islands and their export to the rest of the world is irreversible. These internal and trans-Caribbean diasporas are the topic of this article, with examples of some of the most important trends.