Island Sounds in the Global City: Caribbean Popular Music and Identity in New York

Ethnic Studies Review, April 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

Island Sounds in the Global City: Caribbean Popular Music and Identity in New York


Ray Allen and Lois Wilcken. (New York: New York Folklore Society and The Institute for Studies in American Music, Brooklyn College, 1998).185 pp., $17.95 paper.

In putting together Island Sounds in the Global City: Caribbean Popular Music and Identity in New York, editors Ray Allen and Lois Wilcken were undaunted by the enormity of their tasks of contextualizing and capsulizing the breadth of Latin American and Caribbean popular music, and exploring the complex nexus between these musics and ethnic identity in New York City. By eliding these tasks the editors facilitated their work.

Allen and Wilcken provide an interesting overview of the creative interplay between various genres, identity with its changing sameness, and location. Their examination of the influence of location, Caribbean homeland visa vis North American mainland, presents salient issues faced by immigrant artists such as the advantages of recording on the North American mainland, economic and audience constraints, the need for commercial presence in the world market, and the challenges of class and race. Further, they indicate the accommodation and negotiation of cross ethnic cultural influences. The editors examined historical periods, the evolution of community institutions, case studies of folkloric and professional groups, and the impact of new instruments such as the steel pan and the creation of new musical forms. For example we see the early development of popular music within the New York's Puerto Rican community, and the link between this music and the growth of new forms such as contemporary Latin rap music.

The essayists demonstrate that roughly a century ago New York began to emerge as the center of Latin American and Caribbean music, and the most populous pan-Caribbean community in North America. The articles are alive with images of hopeful artists struggling to find artistic acceptance and commercial success in New York. Through the inclusion of song lyrics, we here the voices of these cultural workers and feel their experiences which vividly tell stories of people not so much letting go of their Caribbean homes but of wanderers and pioneers finding new and challenging locations to call home. …

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