What Kinds of Music Come From the Caribbean?

Cuban musicians playing in the street

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The melting pot of cultures in the islands and coastal areas surrounding the Caribbean sea have made this region one of the most fertile breeding grounds for music anywhere in the world. Every island and every stretch of coastline boasts at least one signature style of music, and often more, each different from the rest, but all bearing an irresistible, dance-friendly rhythm. Dig deeper and learn more about some of these fantastic Caribbean genres.


Reggae is the best-known of Jamaica's many styles of music and finds its roots in traditional mento music, ska and rocksteady. With its characteristic one-drop rhythm and largely conscious and spiritual lyrics, reggae has widespread appeal among listeners all over the world and has had a major influence on hip-hop music, as well as rock and soul. The best-known reggae artist of all time was undoubtedly Bob Marley, who gained worldwide fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Other artists worth exploring are Peter Tosh, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear.


Calypso comes from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and gained quite a bit of popularity (in an albeit somewhat sanitized form) during the folk revival when Harry Belafonte and some others brought some of the greatest old calypso songs to the international stage. The genre is very much alive, and there are a number of popular genres that are based in calypso, as well, including soca, chutney and rapso.


Haiti is an incredibly rich island, musically, and compas is the island's most popular genre. Like basically all other Caribbean music, compas is a blend of African rhythms with the music of the Native Caribbean people and European musical elements. Some of the more popular current artists include Tabou Combo, Les Freres Dejean and Sweet Micky, who ran for and won the Haitian presidency in 2011. Other styles you'll find in Haiti include rara, mizik rasin, kadans and meringue (which is related to the merengue music of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.)


Salsa rivals cigars as Cuba's most popular export. This genre is inextricable from its accompanying high-drama dance, which certainly explains its popularity among international audiences. Salsa is not only popular among Cubans in Cuba; there are vibrant and active salsa music communities in all major cities with large Cuban-American populations, particularly New York City and Miami.


Bachata has grown to rival Merengue as the Dominican Republic's most popular genre of music. It's a sad music, often equated with the blues, and with deep roots in Iberian guitar music (think flamenco and fado) but, in modern form, has a broadly appealing pop sensibility that is an easy sell to a wide audience. Like salsa, you find bachata both in the Dominican Republic and in American cities with large Dominican populations.

This list is obviously not comprehensive, but it should give you a good starting point for discovering new Caribbean music. There are lots of great artists from all sorts of tiny little islands, just waiting for you to find their music and get you dancing, so don't be afraid to dig in further!