Calypso originated in Trinidad and Tobago but has spread throughout the Caribbean. These songs are entertaining, aiming chiefly to amuse, but they also philosophize and appeal to civic duty. The lyrics are topical. Steel bands, guitars, drums and other percussion instruments are used to play calypsos and to accompany calypso singers.
Limbo is a contest to see who can dance, bending backwards, under the lowest horizontal bar. Now performed throughout the West Indies for entertainment, limbo originated from the way a slave would attempt to escape, without being seen by guards, by going under rather than over a fence. Maroons of Jamaica used it as part of masumba, a now obsolete traditional game. Mento is an indigenous Jamaican song and dance style characterized by a strong syncopation on the last beat of each bar. The songs are often used to ridicule or censure people in veiled or symbolic terms.
The quadrille is a set of dances of European origin used in Jamaica and throughout the West Indies. In Jamaica dances include the mazurka, polka, schottische and mento. Quadrille bands include drums and other percussion instruments; guitars, banjos, string bass or rhumba box supply the harmony; and fiddle, flute, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet (often home-made), harmonica, voice, or comb and paper (as well as guitars and banjos) supply the melody. These village bands usually have up to 15 players and their repertory, in addition to these European-derived set dances, may include popular tunes played in mento style. In the 19th century, bands frequently played at bruckins and brams (outdoor dances), bowsarrows (costumed country dances), maypole dances, ‘crop-over’ dances for the cane harvesting and for many other folk festivals. Very few folk and traditional bands remain, however, and music for traditional events is now often heard through recordings. Live performance sometimes incorporate amplified bass guitar and there is one amplified fiddle in use.
Singing games were a strong feature of Jamaican life up to the middle of the 20th century and were performed both by adults and children. They are still used for entertainment and socializing at village fairs, dinkies (wakes) and at moonlight revels. Children and adults usually play these games separately, even if both groups are present. Whether the games are of European or African origin, they are transformed by Jamaican speech and song styles and are altered to suit the particular group and occasion. Most of the games stress participation rather than competition and teach skills considered important in society. Cantefables (traditional prose tales with brief sung verses) and story songs are used to enliven stories, to underline characterization and for narration purposes. The function of the music dictates the form and style, which may be recitative, chant (ex.1), lyrical melody or a combination of these.
Since political independence there has been an increasing attempt to study traditional song and dance genres and to revive folk forms. Groups such as Rastafarians, Tambo and Ettu dancers and the Kumina cultists, which in the past functioned more exclusively in their own settings, began to participate in the public independence festivals which began in 1963. Recently, expositions and competitions have been promoted by the government, tourist industry and private enterprise. Many of these are staged in Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and other main urban centres. Kingston has many performance venues and a well-publicized programme of musical events; however, much vibrant but unadvertised musical activity takes place all over the island, fairly spontaneously as well as for seasonal and locally-marked occasions.