Beyond Reggae: The Traveler's Guide to Caribbean Music

Caribbean music extends far beyond Bob Marley and incorporates a variety of genres, including rock, jazz, and blues.

Calypso and Steel Pan

Calypso music’s history traces all the way back to the 1700s and continues to be seen as a way of giving voice to African, French, and Caribbean peoples around the world. The Calypso style of music creates a soulful harmonized melody similar to those of the African spirituals sung during the days of African slavery. Calypso music is identified as the music of the oppressed.

Calypso music combines spiritual elements with bongos, Spanish guitar, bottle/spoon, maracas, and trumpets, as well as drums traditionally made from steel oil drums – thus the name, “Steelpan."


Originating in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s, Soca music combines funk, soul, and calypso to create a style of music that’s both soulful and catchy.

Soca is characterized by the use of Indian instruments such as the dholak, table, and dhantal (three types of percussion instruments), as well as trombones, trumpets, and of course, Trinidadian lyrics and vocals.


In the mid-1980s, the Zouk style of music was introduced, sending the quick-paced, Carnival-style music into the Caribbean jam scene. The Zouk style of music incorporates a traditional rhythm section of drums and bass with synthesizers and “shakers,” making the music fun and upbeat.


Salsa originated in Cuba in the 1970s. Salsa combines congos, maracas, saxophones, and other instruments to create a fast-paced, quick-stepping style of music and dance with Latin and Caribbean roots.

Salsa translates to “spice,” speaking to music and dance’s “spiciness” – quick steps, passionate movements, and an all-around excited feel.


Dancehall music is a form of high-energy reggae that originated in Jamaica in the 1970s. This style of music is characterized by quick rhythms, synthesizers, and drums.

For some, Dancehall music is considered radical for its political message and its somewhat uncontrolled rhythms.


Ska originated in Jamaica in the 1950s and was the precursor to modern reggae, mashing up elements from American jazz, blues, and traditional Calypso music.

Inspired by the rhythm and blues music scene in the U.S., Jamaican musicians created ska by combining choppy guitar riffs, horns, drums, and sometimes piano, all played at some point in the music in the style of the “skank,” an upstroke off-beat.

Source: Beyond Reggae: The Traveler's Guide to Caribbean Music
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