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English and French Caribbean Music in Washington, D.C.

January 8, 1996 – June 16, 1996

Location: Community Gallery

Reggae and dancehall from Jamaica. Calypso and soca from Trinidad and Tobago. Konpas Direk, Racine, and Zouk from Haiti. Cadence from the French Antilles.

After World War II, the Caribbean immigrant community in metropolitan Washington, DC grew larger. In parallel, the influence of music from English- and French-speaking Caribbean countries widened. Homesick islanders hosted house parties that featured hard-to-come-by music from home, familiar food, and the company of other expatriates. At the time, Washington, DC had few record stores and clubs offering Caribbean music; however, by the 1980s, the city boasted numerous recording studios and companies that distributed the music locally, nationally and internationally.

Caribbean music draws from African and New World traditions. A heavy beat is essential to most island music, from the pulse-like rhythm of reggae to Zouk's incorporation of the African drum. As with African griots, or storytellers, Caribbean music transmits history and culture through oral tradition. It also serves as a vehicle transmission for social and political messages. Jamaica's reggae, for instance, advocates twin doctrines of Black consciousness and human freedom.