April 29, 2024

From Barbados To Bristol: The Influence of Caribbean Music On UK Culture

When Caribbean immigrants began arriving in the UK in the 1940s, they brought with them not only their belongings, but a rich music culture in the form of calypso, with each island nation having birthed their own combination of rhythms and melodies from African and European traditions. Nearly eighty years later, that musical legacy has produced some of the UK’s most popular genres, and left an indelible mark on British music culture.

From dancehall to grime, jungle to reggaeton, the Caribbean belief that music is for sharing, for coming together to celebrate and let loose, has been an instrumental reason why British music culture is so loved at home and envied abroad. Recently, across live events, this influence is clearly visible in the surge in events and venues that combine music and food as part of their offering. Brunch events, food festivals, street parties; this holistic approach to live entertainment is a key shift in UK music culture.

Some exciting artists who embody the marriage of Caribbean and UK music culture

  1. Nia Archives

Rising star Nia Archives is a producer and performer who is bringing the dub, reggae, and dancehall influenced sounds of jungle back into the mainstream. Growing up in Leeds, she took inspiration from the dub and electronic scenes around her, as well as the parties her parents would host and attend. Alongside artists like Sherelle, she has been instrumental in introducing the legacy of Caribbean culture in electronic music to a new generation.

  1. Grove

Grove is a non-binary dancehall artist based in Bristol who is reclaiming the genre for other Black queer people, playing with masculinity and femininity in both their image and sound. Their tongue-in-cheek lyrics subvert the genre’s conventions on tracks like Sticky and BBB, exuding the raw sexuality and joy for life that are dancehall’s bread and butter, but without the homophobia and misogyny that are often present in its lyrics. Their music continues the tradition of activism in Caribbean music, and its drive for social change reflects the messages of freedom in the songs of artists like Bob Marley.

  1. Stefflon Don 

Birmingham-born Stefflon Don is the only UK female rapper with over two billion streams on Spotify. Her music draws heavily on her Jamaican heritage, even as she works across multiple genres. As she told Hunger Magazine, “when I’m jumping on something different, the melodies and words I use would always be from Jamaican influence.”

  1. Queen Millz 

Queen MIllz is a rapper of Jamaican and English heritage who is inspired by both cultures. Heavily influenced by Afroswing and Grime which you can hear on tracks like Overseas, her music as earned her collaborations with renowned artists like Wiley. From Leicester, she sees the diverse cities of the Midlands as a huge source of inspiration.

  1. Isaiah Hull

Manchester’s Isaiah Hull is a poet and rapper whose passionate lyricism evokes the social commentary and musings on love and the self that are woven throughout reggae music. He’s receiving growing recognition on the scene, keeping audiences rapt at large venues like Manchester’s Depot, and smaller ones like London’s Windmill.

  1. Graft

Leeds-born Graft started making music at 14. He won a Mobo Unsung award in 2019 and since then has been going from strength to strength. His popularity has led to him supporting the likes of rappers Wiley and Bugzy Malone, and dancehall artist Stylo G on tour, continuing the legacy of Caribbean heritage in the UK music scene.

  1. Llainwire

Llainwire is an alternative artist from Bristol whose future oriented style is making waves across the UK, with their unique, self-crafted music videos also catching eyes online. Their dual Jamaican-British heritage is infused throughout their music, i-D Magazine describing their performance on one track as a ‘glide from abstract lines in English about Hinge dates and Lamborghinis into prickly flurries of Patois’.

The Caribbean influence online

The influence of Caribbean music culture isn't just visible in venues. On social media, Caribbean music genres like dancehall drive globally popular trends. Sounds using music from Caribbean artists like Spice, The Soca Boys, and Shenseea have all gone viral in recent months, with huge popularity in the UK, and as far afield as Poland and South Korea. Evidently videos that reference Caribbean music culture are obtaining significant engagement and pushing this culture into new markets.

Many of the social media trends that take inspiration from Caribbean culture revolve around dancing, particularly one’s ability to whine their waist, with hundreds of thousands of users posting videos on Tiktok and Reels to show off their moves. Clearly this upbeat approach to listening to and dancing to music resonates online, and KRPT found that when using the search term “shenyeng dance” (referring to the nickname of Shenseea) the top ten results have combined views of 7.8 million. (TikTok Search).

Another key online trend is the combination of Caribbean cooking videos and Caribbean music. This user-led practice shows the inherent link between food and music in Caribbean culture, and reflects the visible trend shift in the UK towards events which take advantage of this link.

City Spotlight 

Caribbean music culture has had an impact on UK culture as a whole, but each local community has its own way of adapting this culture, creating a rich diversity of events, practices and institutions.

In Bristol, St Paul’s Carnival takes place on the first Saturday of each July and was founded in 1968 to increase inter-ethnic solidarity, including elements of Caribbean culture such as a masquerade procession. Bristol is a hub for underground culture and is home to institutions like Crack Magazine which emerged from the bass music scene (itself coming out of Jamaican soundsystem culture). Promoters like Bruk Off and Gwann Madd are still holding down the Caribbean music scene with regular parties that celebrate the best of dancehall and soca.

Birmingham is a UK stronghold of Caribbean music culture. Promoter Bashment Nation runs events across the city like brunches and all day parties that celebrate Caribbean music, food, and culture. Venues in Digbeth and Deritend are particular hotspots for Caribbean culture. Club PST hosts regular nights featuring everything from reggae and dancehall to jungle and D&B. At Sector 57, another iconic venue, Lovers Rock UK throws regular day parties, and promoter Reggae Brunch even hosts ‘reggae bingo’. Every other year, the city’s International Carnival attracts tens of thousands of people who come together to celebrate Caribbean culture.

Leeds’ Caribbean Carnival is the oldest in the UK, and the city also has a rich and often underappreciated sound system culture. This is being kept alive by the likes of Cosmic Slop, a promoter and sound system that works to support MAP (Music & Arts Production) Charity, an ‘alternative education provider working with young people who are unable to access the mainstream school system’. Rise Up is a one day festival that showcases the rich Caribbean Heritage of Leeds & beyond. Taking place just this April gone, they brought together musicians, artists, caterers and more to celebrate the indelible mark of Caribbean culture on Leeds. Sable Studio is a black owned & led creative studio & production company in LS2 that, among other things, hosts parties and workshops that target the local Caribbean community. They have hosted events like the afterparty for Rise Up, and work with organisations across the city to provide opportunities for Afro-Caribbean creatives. 

In Reading, carnival culture led to the formation of CultureMix Arts. This organisation offers cultural music and carnival arts activities, as well as helping artists with management, career development, and employment.

Manchester, like many other UK cities, has its own Caribbean Carnival, which as well as typical elements like the parade, contains events like the King and Queen Show. This event showcases the carnival Kings and Queens (and Princes and Princesses) from the different troupes that walk in the parade, highlighting the best of carnival dress. Throughout the year, promoters like Bloc2Bloc and Soundboy run events featuring some of the best DJs across Jungle, Ragga, Dancehall and Dub. Arts organisations like Reform Radio and Kula TV share in this task, broadcasting Caribbean-influenced music across the city and beyond. Kula, along with Galdem Rejoice, recently hosted an event for International Women’s Day which platformed Manchester’s female music talent in a celebration of women in soundsystem culture.