Music of Trinidad and Tobago

Music is the lifeblood of Trinidad and Tobago. Its musicians have taken Calypso and steelpan music to all corners of the world. Here are other forms.


Traditionally slow-paced and strong of lyrics, calypso evolved in Trinidad from West African songs of praise, comment, narrative or derision. It dates back to the early 19th century and the singers who would rehearse and lead the music for the Carnival bands.

It was first sung in patois, using minor keys, drums and chorus; from the turn of the century it switched to English and focused on songs of protest, hard-hitting commentary, and innuendo, especially the authorities of the state; in most cases under jest.

Calypso can be heard on the Caribbean airwaves year-round, but is chiefly heard within calypso tents during the carnival season.


Chutney has brought Indian music in Trinidad out of the classical and religious arenas onto the popular music stage. Fast-paced, chutney is derived from the Hindi folk songs sung at birth and wedding ceremonies, and is now a major attraction on the party circuit.

Its vigour can be seen from the way it has been fusing with Parang and Soca to create Chutney Soca, and Chutney Parang.

There are Chutney shows year-round, and the carnival season already includes competitions for a Chutney Soca Monarch and a National Chutney Monarch.

Indian music

With 40+ % of the population descended from India, Trinidad inherited a rich tradition, ranging from devotional bhajans and the chowtal songs of Phagwa to modern playback songs from movies, along with traditional instruments.


When the British colonial authorities banned African drumming, the people made music from bamboo, thumped on the ground and reinforced with improvised percussion. During the 1930s and 1945, the percussion - biscuit tins, and empty oil drums - became a new type of drum. Later distinctive notes were made into the surface of the oil drums.

The first pans were carried around the neck. Modern instruments are mounted on stands with lightweight tenors to the cluster of basses. These symphonic orchestras of a few to over a 100 players perform anything from western classics through jazz to calypso, and chutney music.


A fusion between sitar - one of the loveliest and oldest Indian instruments - and the modern pan, accompanied by tabla, and playing anything from calypso to Indian ragas.


The Christmas music of Trinidad, derived from Venezuelan carols and associated with house-to house visiting and partying. The music has Spanish lyrics, and Latin rhythm, and uses cuatro, violin, maracus, guitar and box bass.


Another indigenous form that draws on African traditions of story-telling, developing alongside American rap, with heavy, drum based rhythms and strong chanting lyrics.


Born in  the 1970s ( Lord Shorty, takes credit for it), soca is a slicker version of calypso with music less emphasis on lyrics and more on mass crowd response. The term has become synonymous with the up-tempo  carnival style.