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Calypso Music, Identity and Social Influence: The Trinidadian Experience

This study, Calypso, The Trinidadian Experience, has sought to establish links between calypso music and the construction and maintenance of identities, and to locate the genre as a mechanism (or as part of a broader mechanism) that has exerted on-going social influence within Trinidadian society and by assimilation within global communities. It has chronicled the evolution of calypso music from its emergence in Trinidad to recent times, and has highlighted contingent institutions, peculiar traditions, and salient trends and events that have shaped the socio-political and cultural landscape there during the colonial and post-colonial periods.

Clarence Charles
22 November 2016

The study is descriptive and explorative, and follows an interdisciplinary route that has
integrated historical fact, socio-anthropological philosophy, psychological theory, postcolonial
study, and musicological and ethnomusicological axioms. The study has also
contemplated and incorporated thought that has become generally accepted theory among
some of the interrelated disciplines referenced. It has analyzed a large corpus of written
material, and audio/visual recordings of music performance, and participation in calypso and
carnival-related events by practitioners and audiences alike.
Although the main foci of the study have been localized to the island of Trinidad, the
Caribbean basin where the calypso genre has been prolifically propagated, the lenses of
scrutiny have been extended beyond those borders. During the past thirty-five years major
changes have taken place, changes that have come by way of hybridization, migration, and
changing social dynamics. Some of the ways in which the genre traditionally served its
functions within Trinidadian society in the past have changed. For instance, although
calypso’s function of protest is still extant it no longer informs rebellion. As a result, reliance
on the genre’s functions as tabloid and vox-popular has diminished.

This study can be a springboard into the investigation of ways and means by which
music systems and music behavior of quite different cultures are being integrated across
cultures. Perhaps music and dance can be used to initiate cohesion among contingent
ethnicities in global settings given the tendency toward hostilities at ‘zones of contact’. It can
also shed some light on the merging of cultures in relation to the formation of new hybrid
cultures and artistic innovations such as soca, reggaeton, and afro house for example, and
awareness and adaptation of ‘the Other’.

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