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Culture in Trinidad & Tobago


The culture in Trinidad & Tobago reflects the influence of African, Indian, Amerindian, Chinese, British, French and to a lesser extent Spanish and Portuguese. Since the histories of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago are different, there are differences in the cultural influences which have shaped each island. Despite their small sizes, there are also regional differences within each island.

This is the birthplace of calypso music and the steelpan, which is widely claimed in Trinidad & Tobago to be the only acoustic musical instrument invented during the 20th century. The diverse cultural and religious background allows for many festivities and ceremonies throughout the year.

Trinidad & Tobago claims two Nobel Prize-winning authors, V.S. Naipaul and St Lucian-born Derek Walcott (who founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, working and raising a family in Trinidad for much of his career). Edmundo Ros, the "King of Latin American Music", was born in Port-of-Spain. Designer Peter Minshall is renowned not only for his Carnival costumes, but also for his role in opening ceremonies of the Barcelona Olympics, the 1994 Football World Cup, the 1996 Summer Olympics and the 2002 Winter Olympics, for which he won an Emmy Award.

Geoffrey Holder, brother of Boscoe Holder, and Heather Headley are also two Trinidad-born artists who have won Tony Awards for theatre. Holder also has a distinguished film career, and Headley has won a Grammy Award. Recording artist Billy Ocean is also Trinidadian.

The vibrant cultural scene in Trinidad & Tobago is due to the government's support for Carnival, the Best Village competition (which includes dance, music, and drama), the National Youth Orchestra, the biennial Music Festival and the National Museum.


An impressive literary tradition exists among writers who have mainly made their names and reputations abroad, including C.L.R. James, Ralph de Boissie`re, V.S. Naipaul, Shiva Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Earl Lovelace, Ismith Khan, Ramabai Espinet, and Michael Anthony. Calypso must count as oral literature. Contemporary calypsonians include the Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener, the Mighty Chalkdust, Gypsy, Black Stalin, Drupatee, Cro Cro, Calypso Rose, Super Blue, David Rudder, Crazy, Baron, Explainer, Sugar Aloes, and Denyse Plummer among many others. Relatively new music forms are Indian music-influenced "chutney" and "pitchakaree," performed by well-known singers such as Sundar Popo, Anand Yankaran, Heeralal Rampartap, Savitri Jagdeo, Vinti Mohip, Jagdeo Phagoo, and Ramraajee Prabhoo.

Visual Arts

Trinidad's best known artist is perhaps the painter Michel Jean Cazabon (1813-1888). Some of the better-known artists of the past few decades are Dermot Louison, M.P. Alladin, Sybil Attek, Amy Leong Pang, Pat Chu Foon, and the sculptor Ralph Baney. Active living artists include Carlisle Chang, LeRoy Clarke, Boscoe Holder, Francisco Cabral, Pat Bishop, Isaiah Boodhoo, Ken Crichlow, Wendy Naran, and Jackie Hinkson.

A younger generation includes Eddie Bowen, Kathryn Chang, Chris Cozier, and Che Lovelace. A recent appreciation of untrained artists has resulted in the establishment of the Museum of Popular and Folk Art.

Performing Arts

Carnival is Trinidad's most noteworthy performance art, attracting tourists, emigrated Trinidadians, and scholars from abroad. Masquerade designer Peter Minshall is one of the best known internationally. He was artistic director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony in the United States. Live calypso and steelband performances occur in the Carnival season (Christmas through Lent). A dance performance tradition centres around Beryl McBurnie and the Little Carib Theatre.


Calypso music developed together with Carnival. The chantuelle, who spoke for the band, evolved into the calypsonian (and other characters, such as the Midnight Robber). The music, which drew upon African and French influences, became the voice of the people. It allowed the masses to challenge the doings of the unelected Governor and Legislative Council, and the elected town councils of Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. As English replaced patois (Creole French) as the dominant language, calypso migrated into English, and in so doing it attracted more attention from the government. Calypso continued to play an important role in political expression, and also served to document the history of Trinidad & Tobago.

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