West Indian music and carnival

Playing the Amral Cavaliers' steel pans
The Amral Cavaliers band toured Australia in 1978 and left their steel pans behind for the local community to play.
Source: Museum Victoria Caribbean Community Photographic Collection

Carnival is a major Caribbean festival, when revellers from every social class throw off all inhibitions. To play mas’ (participate in Carnival) is to don a colourful costume, become anonymous and dance in the streets to the pulsating rhythms of the steelpan.

Trinidad Carnival originated with slaves dressing up in finery to mimic their Catholic masters on the two days before Ash Wednesday. On other islands, carnivals occur at different times. In Barbados, ‘Crop Over’ marks the end of the sugarcane harvest.

West Indian migrants have transported Carnival to their new homes overseas, such as London’s Notting Hill Carnival and Toronto’s Caribana. Melbourne’s tiny Caribbean community has also continued its Carnival traditions by participating in the Moomba parade since 1975.

Reggae and calypso are the most well-known musical styles originated in the West Indies. Others, less famous, include traditional folk songs such as those popularised by Harry Belafonte, and soca, kaiso, chutney, parang, dub, ska, dancehall, toasting and more.

Famous Caribbean musicians have toured Melbourne over the years, from Bob Marley and Khan’s Trinidad Cavaliers in the 1970s, to Calypsonian The Mighty Sparrow in 2007 and Lady Saw in 2008. These rare visits provide other opportunities for West Indian migrants to get together, celebrate their culture and reminisce.

Image Gallery

Students learn about Caribbean music Moomba Parade, 1975 Moomba Parade Moomba Parade, 1975 Musicians in the making