The first things many of us think about when it comes to the Caribbean are the white sandy beaches, huge palm trees and the amazing hot sun. Over the years, regardless of its size and lack of resources, the Caribbean itself has found many ways to impact the world. From its success in the food industry to creating musical genres like reggae, dancehall, soca and even Kompa. The natives have showcased the many things they do, and, in the process, have left a mark on the world.
Even though certain parts of the islands get recognition for their contributions, other areas are consistently ignored regardless of what they bring to the table. Jamaica being one of the most famous Caribbean countries in the world, tends to draw the most attention. Jamaica has dominated almost everything they have touched. From its sense of style, use of language and global influence, it seems there is nothing it can’t handle. In the article, Jamaica: A Small Nation With an Outsize Global Influence Carrie Gibson speaks about the power of influence in Jamaica.
“For a tiny island in the Caribbean, Jamaica has long enjoyed an outsize global reach — there are the songs of Bob Marley and the gold medals of Usain Bolt, as well as the millions of sun-seekers flocking to the island’s pristine beaches. It is quite an accomplishment for a nation “barely the size of Connecticut,” as Orlando Patterson notes in his fascinating study.
The success in Jamaica has not gone unnoticed. From dominating the billboard charts to taking the Olympics, there is no telling how hard its effort pays off. Jamaicans have won over 87 Olympic medals and 26 gold medals through 2022. Because Jamaica is so well-known for dominating in the Olympics, other countries like Panama want to use Jamaica as a resource for their teams. In the article “Jamaica’s athletics culture underpins its success, coach says” Rogelio Adonican Osorio speaks on the mentality of Jamaican athletes.
“Jamaican elite track-and-field coach Jerry Holness says a strong athletics culture exists in his homeland, attributing the remarkable success of the island’s sprinters to their hard work and discipline from an early age,” Then Osario continues. “There’s a track-and-field culture in Jamaica. Starting in elementary school, children like to practice athletics, (and) there are lots of competitions to develop their talent.”
Jamaica’s determination is not only showcased in the sports world, but also in music. It has become a huge powerhouse with big stars like Sean Paul, Shaneesa and Koffee, it is no secret that it dominates the billboard charts. Ever since Bob Marley came on to the scene and put reggae on the map, somehow Jamaica has had everyone’s eyes on them. With the excessive amount of talent that is continuing to come from the country, Jamaican representation in music is never-ending. In the article, Jamaican Artist With The Most Songs On The Billboard Hot 100, Ranked, Nicholas Nam, the author, goes into detail about Jamaican artists’ success overtime.
“Since 1964, Jamaicans have netted 134 entries on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Of these songs, 56 leaped into the Top 40, and 11 soared to No. 1 — placements that affirm Jamaicans’ ability to not only compete among the global titans of music, but win.”
How Jamaican representation affects all of the Caribbean
Even though Jamaican success is a great thing, it is harming the proper representation of the other islands. Not all islanders are the same. Each one has something different to bring to the table. How will the world know the other islands if they are not given a chance to? This disadvantage can be harmful because some islands are not given an opportunity to introduce themselves. The less they are given proper representation, the more it contributes to ignorance. In the article, How Far Have We Come? A Comparison of Jamaican Representations in Cool Runnings and Luke Cage, Israel C. Ramsay talks about the importance of representation within the minorities.
“Over the years, people have become more educated on the topic of representation, but it is not clear if that education has translated into action. Minorities are already disenfranchised and disrespected in society and that leads to how they are treated and how they are represented. Hollywood and other U.S. American media have a worldwide influence. Many other countries have their own entertainment industry, like Nollywood in Nigeria and Bollywood in India, but they do not have the reach and influence that the U.S. American media have. Many people get their idea of the world from how they see it represented in the media.”
Not everyone is exposed to Carribeans, let alone Jamaicans, and some people live in neighborhoods without much diversity around them. The only access these people have to any representation outside of their culture comes from the media. Even though there are some false narratives about a particular group of people, individuals tend to believe the media’s portrayal and go along with it. This problem involves American media which has stereotyped Caribbean people, especially in a negative light. In the article by Israel C. Ramsay he speaks about the popularity of Jamaica and how it is interpreted from an American point of view.
“When representing Jamaicans in Western media, it is often done in a way that positions them as the “Other” and through the use of visual cues, shows Jamaica as a colonial paradise (Walters & Cassel, 2016). Separating Jamaicans from the “norm” of U.S. Americans is done through the use of stereotypes. The use of stereotypes that are rooted in colonial thinking are often cases of inferential racism. Stuart Hall (1990) uses inferential racism to refer to the “apparently naturalized representations of events and situations relating to race, which have racist premises and propositions described in them as unquestioned assumptions” (p. 2 12).”
Usually, when the media broadcasts cultures, they tend to showcase the particular stereotype that only a specific race is a part of that culture. Whether it was white people only associating with Spanish culture or Black people only associating with Caribbean and African culture, people tend to combine cultural stereotypes along with racial stereotypes. When doing so, it portrays a harmful image to the masses. That same article above by Ramsay further explains my point.
“This is different from overt racism, because it is not done outright and it may not even be done intentionally to be racist, but it occurs because of the ideologies of the society that the artifact is produced in. Ideologies are how people in a society make sense of the world around them. Being in a society encourages and perpetuates the racist ideologies of ‘othering’ can lead to the separation of groups both consciously and unconsciously.”
How are other races in the Caribbean ignored?
Some people use stereotypes to make it easier to identify a particular group. When you are used to cultural norms combined with stereotypes, it can be hard to interpret something that is different to the table you are used to. It is true if you do not understand the culture it is based on versus what you are traditionally taught. This is unfortunate because it leaves actual Carribeans who do not fit in that stereotype at a disadvantage.
In the article I Don’t See Brown Girls Like Me on TV, How Come? By Ashley Abdul, she explains the lack of representation for Indo-Caribbeans.
“The silence of Indo-Caribbeans, (whether its actors, directors, or writers) reflect the lack of power they have in this industry. The first time I saw a person who looked like me on television was the actress, Melinda Shankar. She played a character named “Indie” in How to be Indie, a series that aired on a kids network in Canada. I remember the joy I felt when I learned she was Indo-Guyanese like me. As young as I was, this show heavily impacted the pride I felt for my background. The only thing that confused me was why she was just playing an Indian character, rather than an Indo-Guyanese character.”
Whenever there is a lack of diversity behind the scenes, where most of the influential positions are held by men, it also showcases the lack of diversity on the screen. Clearly, everyone does not have the same point of view. It is not common for one person to understand every culture so of course they shape their media through their own lens. We as a people tend to not only misunderstand the impact of miseducation but also how it psychologically impacts individuals. In the article by Ashley Abdul, she speaks about the long-term effects stemming from a lack of representation.
“Indo-Caribbeans often feel an identity crisis. Indo-Caribbean actors exist, the only problem is that nobody is writing Indo-Caribbean characters into films or TV shows. We need directors to hire more Indo-Caribbean actors. We need more Indo-Caribbean writers to be let into the writing room. It’s a process that could take some time, but it would be worth it. Just think of all the empowered young Indo-Caribbean girls if they see a strong Indo-Caribbean woman on television. Or, young Indo-Caribbean boys seeing an Indo-Caribbean superhero on the big screens. That, to me, is powerful.”
Proper representation is so important because people within their own community tend to look at Carribeans as individuals and not stereotypes. If a person outside of the community did more research, they will be able to see that Caribbeans come in all races and speak different languages. Each Caribbean has their own identity which affects their own experience. In the essay Ethnicity and Identity in the Caribbean: Decentering a Myth by Ralph R. Premdas discuss the types of diversity they include.
“In this Caribbean place, however, and we choose to locate its boundaries, it is usually visualized as an area populated by a diverse polyglot of peoples. There are whites, blacks, browns, yellows, reds and an assortment of shades in between. There are Europeans, Africans, Asian Indians, Indonesian Javanese, Chinese, Aboriginal Indians and many mixes. There are Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, Santería, Winti, Vudun, etc. They speak in a multitude of tongues—Spanish, English, Dutch, French, English and a diverse number of Creoles such as papiamentu, sranan tongo, ndjuka, saramaccan, kromanti, kreyol, as well as Hindustani, Bhojpuri, Urdu, etc. In whatever combinations of race, religion, language and culture they cohere and coexist, they dwell on small islands and large, some poorly endowed with natural resources, others abundantly. Perhaps no other region of the world is so richly varied.”
Understand that the Caribbean itself has a type of diversity that the media and so much of society tends to not fully express. Whenever it comes to the Caribbean, the media tends to only show Black Jamaicans as the representation when it is so much more racially and culturally diverse. So many people of different races exist in Jamaica that have made an impact not only in the music scene but also in politics. The Caucasian former. Prime minister Edward Seaga and Tessanne Chin show that not only Black Jamaicans contributed to the political culture. It makes sense for people to see the bigger picture beyond what the media is telling you.
What does the Caribbean have to offer?
We can say that when it comes to Caribbean representation, we have miles to go. If only people could see what the other islands have to offer, they would know that the Caribbean is a beautiful place. With countries like Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Guyana, and so on, there is so much to explore. Usually in the media outlets, they do not talk enough about what the other islands contributed or what they have to offer which is kind of sad because some folks are missing out. If you would look deeper within the Caribbean, you would understand some of its people have actually made history.
In the 1800s, Haiti was one of the first countries not only to abolish slavery but to fight for their freedom. It all started when Spain established its first European settlement with the western hemisphere of Santo Domingo while ceding the western part of Hispaniola to France, which named that side Haiti. But in 1801, a man by the name of Toussaint Louverture came in to set the Haitian republic free. In The article Haiti was the first nation to permanently ban slavery by Julia Gaffield talks about their reason for doing so.
“Just over a year later and under the slogan “Freedom or Death,” Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the revolutionary army to victory. On Jan. 1, 1804, Dessalines declared Haitian independence, promising Haitians would “forever ensure the empire of liberty in the country that gave us birth; we must seize from the inhuman government that has for a long time kept us in the most humiliating torpor, all hope of re-enslaving us; we must then live independent or die.”
Regardless of how much Haiti left an impact on the world, they still seem to not get the acknowledgement they deserve. Jamaica is not the only country which created genres that impacted the culture. Haiti has made a sound that is way different than other types of music from the islands. With its influences coming from European colonial ties and their African migration through slavery, they have found a way to express themselves. The Masterclass article Kompa Music Guide: A Brief History of Kompa Music talks about how it all began.
“Kompa is a popular form of jazz-based dance music that originated in Haiti during the mid-twentieth century. Kompa is derived from méringue de salon, a string-based style of Haitian dance music inspired by contra dance, a dance style from Europe.”
This influence set the tone of how Haitian music was supposed to sound, which led to the creation of something new. With popular acts like Coupé Cloué (aka Jean Gesner Henry), Tabou Combo and Sicot, they found ways to make it their own. Just by their uniqueness, this made Kompa popular. The Masterclass article talks about where the influences lead them.
“Jean-Baptiste, Sicot, and many of the bands that followed helped spread the Kompa influence to other countries throughout the Caribbean and world. In Africa, the popularity of ‘70s Kompa acts, like Haiti’s Tabou Combo and athlete turned bandleader Coupé Cloué (aka Jean Gesner Henry), led to homegrown variants of Kompa like coladeira from Cape Verde and kizomba, a slower take that also found favor in Brazil. Kompa was also crucial in the development of soca, a hybrid music genre from Trinidad and Tobago, which drew from reggae, calypso, and funk and soul from America, and developed a devoted following in North and South America, the United Kingdom, and Japan.”
Just like Haiti, other islands have made moves to shift the culture as well. Haiti is not the only one with contributing genres that are taking over the world. Take a look at the Spanish side of the Caribbean. They have done a very good job of putting themselves out there for the world to see. Hispanic Caribbeans made sure to use their unique perspective on Caribbean music and have created a genre of their own. Which is a reason how Reggaeton got started in the first place.
With Jamaican’s success in reggae music, it has inspired other Hispanic countries to take their own spin on it. The first country to go that route was Panama. It all started in the 1970s in the capital city of Panama, a new sound was born. In the article titled “Reading” National Identity in Panama through Renato, a first Generation Panamanian reggae en español Artist, Sonja Stephenson Watson gives us the insight on how Panama created a new sound.
“Panama gave birth to reggae en español in the late 1970s in the urban West Indian barrios of Río Abajo and Parque Lefevre in the capital city of Panama. As a product of West Indian migration from the Anglophone Caribbean and Central America, Panamanian reggae in Spanish evinces racial, cultural and linguistic hybridity resulting from on-going processes of transculturation. As a hybrid cultural discourse, reggae en español pulls from various geographic areas (Africa, Caribbean, Panama) and musical genres (Jamaican dancehall and reggae). It is a prime example of cultural identity and difference, which reflects the multiplicity of the African diaspora experience. The lyrics of first generation Panamanian reggaesero Leonardo “Renato” Aulder convey the effect of hybridity and transculturation and aid in the reinterpretation of Panamanian national identity.“
They decided to form their own interpretation of reggae music as an experiment. Once this sound created a following, other spanish speaking countries caught on. In the article called Culture Spotlight: Reggaeton Music, it explains my point.
“What do you think of when you hear boom-ch-boom-chick? Say it aloud a few times in a row and you’re actually making the signature beat of a popular type of music called Reggaeton. This style of music originated from Puerto Rico and started out being called Underground, because back in the early 1990’s it was mostly played at clubs and was not widely known. Reggaeton has many influences from all over Latin America and the world. The first part of the word Reggaeton, Reggae, refers to a style of music from Jamaica, but Reggaeton is also influenced by Spanish Reggae from Panama, Dancehall from Jamaica, Hip-Hop from New York, Salsa from Cuba, and Bomba also from Puerto Rico.”
With Puerto Rico taking different Caribbean influences and putting it together, they were able to form a genre that spoke to the younger generation of Hispanics. Even though salsa was popular within the culture, Reggaeton was a sound the younger audience could connect to more because it was not only cultural but also modern. Puerto Rico is not the only one who has gotten influenced by the Jamaican and Panamanian music scene. Other countries, like the Dominican Republic, also have created their own sound. That sound is called Dembow. In the article Getting to Know Genre’s: Dembow by Stanley C. talks about how the genre came to be.
“Dembow has a shared origin among two Caribbean islands. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. Although its founding song was “Dembow” by Jamaican star, Shabba Ranks, Dominican artists from Santo Domingo ignited its growth. It had a slow start in the 1990’s and didn’t receive greater regional and later international recognition until the late 2000’s. One of the earliest Dembow hits was the 2006 track ‘Ando Loco’ by Los Ando Locos. Producers Bubloy and DJ Plano also started to include additional elements to the production. Dembow has historically been criticized as being too simplistic and repetitive.”
Overtime Dembow and Reggaeton finally got their sound heard once the genre of Latin pop took from each sound and made it known worldwide. Notably certain artists brought Reggaeton to the forefront such as Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam and Ozuna taking the genre to new heights. While artist like El Alfa, Tokisha, La Perversa, Ceky Viciny and Yailin just name a few, have allowed themselves to have a large following.
With the Caribbean’s style and individuality it is safe to say they are a force to be reckoned with as a whole, even though Dembow and Reggaeton have finally received recognition for their creation. There are some islands who have created a completely different style of music on their own that stand out. For example, Trinidad and Tobago is not only known for its African and Indian cultural influence, but is well known as the birthplace of the steelpan instrument, the limbo game, the popular Trinidad and Tobago carnival, and their music styles such as Calypso, Soca, Rapso, Parang and Chutney Soca. Trinidadian music has left a huge mark in the Caribbean music scene. With Soca music taking the culture by storm, it is safe to say it has stood its test of time.
The Trinidadian music scene stems from the West African Kaiso and Canboulay music sung by slaves working on the plantations back in the 17th century. Slaves at that time were not allowed to talk to each other so they used music to mock their slave masters. Once the slaves were emancipated, the sound of music was later developed into Calypso. In 1834, this became a part of their celebration of their freedom, now known as Carnival.
Eventually, old school Calypso started to become a thing of the past and needed to be modernized. In 1970, a new genre was born called Soca. It was all thanks to a man who would change people’s lives forever. The man’s name is Garfield Blackman, aka Lord Shorty. Born on Oct. 6, 1941, in Lengua, Trinidad, he first started singing Calypso, and by the age of seven and rose to fame in the 1960s. However, the future of Calypso was not looking too bright once Reggae was the hot new thing, which led the singer to experiment. The article The Birth of Soca by Notting Hill Carnival goes into detail.
“Soca developed as a by-product of Calypso. In the 1970s Calypso was losing favor with the younger generation as reggae from Jamaica and Soul and Funk from the USA rose to popularity. As a result, Lord Shorty developed Soca in an effort to restore Calypso’s prevalence. Shorty originally spelt it ‘Sokah’ to reflect the East Indian influence on the genre, however due to a newspaper error it was printed as ‘Soca’, and has remained as such to this day.”
Over the years, multiple people have taken on the genre and found some success in it. Artists such as Machel Montano, Kes The Band, Destra and Patrice Roberts, have all continued to push the genre forward. People outside of Trinidad are also getting involved in the genre. With countries like Barbados gaining a large following, to Jamaica finally embracing the Soca culture, Soca has grown into a genre where all the islands can take part.
Why don’t all genres get the same attention?
It would be nice if these other genres would get just as much attention as Reggae, and Ddancehall do. Regardless of all the talent that the Caribbean has as a whole, why do only certain individuals get recognized? Is it because certain talents stand out or is it because those who they are associated with have the power to broadcast one talent over others? The article The Caribbean Music Industry prepared by Dr. Keith Nurse gives a reason why some Caribbean music is more popular than others.
“The Caribbean has participated in the global music industry since the 1920s with the recording and export of genres like calypso, merengue, son, reggae, zouk, salsa, soca and dancehall. The region’s music industry, in spite of its perceived success, has had long-standing problems in relation to airplay, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, copyright protection (e.g. piracy) and royalty collections. The result has been a context of low local value-added, shallow industrial infrastructure, weak export capabilities and external control. This has led one analyst to argue that in the case of the export of Jamaican music “raw talent would not have been enough without the operations of international capital” (Cooper 1993: 5)”
This information is something that people need to understand. Just because one island is getting more promotion than another, does not mean that a particular group is better than the rest. It just means they are successful because of the people they associate themselves with. It is all about who you know rather than what you can do. Usually rubbing shoulders with powerful individuals can take you to the next level, which explains a lot of Jamaica’s success.
Other islands have found a way to make some noise for themselves. If we want to see some changes, then we as the people have to do it. Obviously, the lack of representation has been a topic within the community. There are some who are trying to make waves in order to address the issue. In the article, Filmmakers of Caribbean Heritage Address Hollywood’s Lack of Representation,Shairne Taylor discusses a group of individuals trying to change the media’s interpretation on the Caribbean
“Recently, a group of filmmakers gathered for “Belonging,” a short film screening and panel at L.A.’s Soho House. Their mission: to create more space for Caribbean heritage to shine in the entertainment industry. As discussed by the panelists throughout the evening, the future of Black representation will be more nuanced with the inclusion of Caribbean voices.”
It doesn’t matter what part of the world you are from, just remember people are individuals at the end of the day. We should not learn about culture based on stereotypes, but by what it has to offer as a whole. It can be painful when people are treated differently because of a stereotype they do not fit in. Whenever you are researching the Caribbean, just remember the islands have so many different cultural, musical and other talented elements to them. Caribbeans are so much more diverse than being a Jamaican.
Edited by: Abbigail Earl & James Sutton