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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

Colonialism & Musical Styles

The history of the west and the "rest," particularly the section on colonialism and integration made me think about how the blending of European cultures with African ones developed a diverse musical environment in the Caribbean and Brazil. When Europeans brought over African-American slaves during their period of colonialism, their music traditions infused. Colonization, restrictive policies, and cultural oppression gave rise to a variety of music styles in Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil.

Spain first colonized Trinidad and Tobago, but then it fell under British control. Trinidad and Tobago are known for calypso and their steel band drumming. Calypso is a blend of European harmony and instrumentation with African rhythms. This music is a vehicle to display humor and lyrical skill to make a point about various social messages in response to their dislike for their colonial masters. The Europeans also banned drumming because they believed it would lead to a slave rebellion and they felt threatened. This ban prompted the people to craft instruments from the oil drums available on the plantation they worked at. Today the steel drums, known as pan, is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago and played at Panoramas during the Carnival festival each year. While music from Trinidad and Tobago is one example of European’s influence, Brazil’s music united the people in response to socioeconomic challenges.

Portugal colonized Brazil, but it became an independent nation only to eventually be ruled by dictator Getulio Vargas. Samba’s roots trace back to Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is not a single genre or style, but rather a broad stream of musical activity strongly associated with dance. The lower economic class gave birth to Samba music, which the government outlawed due to its vulgar dancing. The erotic rhythms of Samba, played during carnival, attracted the middle class. Determined dictator, Getulio Vargas, used Samba music as propaganda to stimulate a unified Brazil. He encouraged Samba and turned Carnival into a national event. In present day, Samba schools create a strong community connection who prepare for many months to perform at Sambadrome each year. Musical elitists once frowned upon this music, yet it transformed into being a Brazilian national identity. Without the blending of cultures and “repressive policies against the indigenous peoples," music in the Caribbean and South America would not exist as it does today.

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