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A Guide to Caribbean Music

When you think of the Caribbean you may think of beautiful beaches, great weather or delicious cuisines. However, if there is one thing that truly reflects the heart and passion of the area it is the Caribbean music.

The Caribbean is made up of over 28 nations, each with a rich and varied cultural heritage; gaining huge influence from nations within Europe, Africa, and Asia from centuries past -and this is forever evident within the music that has originated throughout.

What is traditional Caribbean music?

As Caribbean nations have such a varied and unique range of cultural influences it is no surprise that the music of the region echoes this. As a result, it’s impossible to sum up Caribbean music with just one genre; so, we have listed the most popular styles to develop from the region and where they have originated:


This style of music developed around the 20th century and is often known by its highly rhythmic and harmonic vocals. Due to the British, French and Spanish influence in Trinidad at the time of its conception, it is often accompanied with the use of guitars, banjos and multiple other percussion instruments. Calypso music is found across the entire Caribbean; however, it is most commonly found within Trinidad, Bahamas and Barbados.


Ska originated in the 1950s; commonly recognised as being quick and upbeat, incorporating horns and brass instruments. Ska made a revival in the UK in the 1970s, blending Jamaican rhythms with punk rock; and again, in the 1980s across Europe and the USA.


Perhaps the most famous genre of music to originate from any Caribbean nation; Reggae has become hugely popular worldwide and was formed as an evolution of both Ska and Rocksteady in the late 1960s. As reggae initially developed it displayed similarities with the Rocksteady genre but as it grew and gained momentum it established its own personality with lyrics targeting socio-political and religious elements. Reggae is dominant within Jamaica, Barbados and Belize.

Where did Caribbean music originate?

Music that developed within the Caribbean during the 20th century was influenced by an eclectic mixture of cultures. Calypso began in Trinidad and Tobago and shows influence from their French and African heritage. Ska developed in Jamaica with influences from American Jazz and R&B but it also draws inspiration and similarities from Calypso.

Reggae also originated in Jamaica with influences from African-based musical genres, American R&B and pre-existing Caribbean genres.

Traditional Caribbean instruments

Recognisable in their tone, rhythm, tempo, and feel-good quality, it is easy to identify these styles; but have you ever wondered what instruments are used in Caribbean music? It’s a diverse list that can vary per nation, as the style of music changes. However, there are a few instruments that are commonplace amongst many popular Caribbean music styles, here are a few examples:

Steel Drums


Perhaps the most commonly recognised Caribbean instrument, the steel drums originated in Trinidad and grew in popularity in the 1940s. It is not uncommon to see this instrument used within street music across the world due to the range of notes that can be made from a single drum. These are often created by cutting a 55-gallon steel drum; the shorter the drum is cut the higher the notes that are produced.



A cajon is a box drum in which the musician will sit on top and beat the front and sides to produce a beat. This instrument is believed to have originated from Peru, however it is a popular instrument in Cuba to accompany Cuban and Latino styles of music. Similar to the steel drums, this instrument can often be found used within Caribbean street music.


The cuatro, a guitar with five pairs of strings, is commonly used within Puerto Rico. The majority of latin inspired Caribbean nations incorporate the use of guitar into their music. Reggae music also incorporates the use of guitar but it is primarily electric guitar with a bass also often used.

Most famous Caribbean musicians and artists

Unless you have roots within the Caribbean, or a passion for the music, you may not be able to list many famous Caribbean musicians. However, there are some that you will undoubtedly be familiar with, if not a fan! Here are a few of the most famous and successful musicians and artists to come from the Caribbean:

Bob Marley

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One of the most influential and recognisable names to ever bless the world with their music, Marley was born in Jamaica in 1945. Throughout his career he sold over 20 million records, beginning his career with the Wailers and eventually embarking on a hugely successful solo career.



A native of Barbados, Rihanna is undoubtedly one of the most famous artists in the world right now. Her first album release was in 2005 and has since reached No.1 on the US billboard chart with fourteen singles and has sold over 200 million records.

Wyclef Jean

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Born in Haiti in 1969, Wyclef Jean first found success with his group The Fugees whose second album The Score (1996) sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Wyclef later found solo success with his platinum selling album Carnival in 1997; taking influence from Afro-cuban and reggae styles.

Billy Ocean

One of the largest artists to ever come out of the Caribbean; Billy Ocean was born in Trinidad in 1950 and moved to the UK in 1957. He has achieved Gold and Platinum status for records across the world and charted within the UK and US multiple times, amassing record sales of over 30 million throughout his lifetime.