Harlem Calypso and Brooklyn Soca: Performing Carnival Music in the Diaspora

NOV 02, 2017 | 4:30 PM TO 6:30 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




November 02, 2017: 4:30 PM-6:30 PM





Advanced Research Collaborative (ARC)


ARC Seminar: Ray Allen: Harlem Calypso and Brooklyn Soca: Performing Carnival Music in the Diaspora

The movement of musicians and their mediated music across international borders throughout the twentieth century offers scholars a lens into the workings of the modern diasporic process. This presentation will trace the historical development of Trinidad-based Harlem calypso in the 1930s and Brooklyn soca in the 1980s, demonstrating how music can serve as an essential connecting thread in the formation of the modern transnation. Conclusions will suggest that approaches to globalization theory based on a unidirectional flow between a first world center and a third world periphery grew increasingly unsatisfactory as the twentieth century unfolded and will no doubt continue to lose viability in our increasingly web-connected world. “Who is globalizing whom?” becomes the thorny but vital question.  An alternative model will be considered—one that is fluid in nature, dialogic in structure, and anchored in the reciprocal flow of cultural actors, audiences, and expressive forms between so-called “home” (Trinidad) and “host” (Harlem/Brooklyn) societies.

Calypso and soca will also be interpreted as hybrid expressions that demarcated lines of difference between Caribbean migrants and their Black and White neighbors in New York, while simultaneously providing a space for cross-cultural dialogue. As such, music in the diaspora offers a useful entry point into the messy world of cultural boundary and identity negotiations.    

Ray Allen is Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. In addition, he directs the American Studies Program and serves as a senior associate at the Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music at Brooklyn College. He teaches courses on American folk, popular, and concert music, and American cultural studies. Allen is the author of Gone to the Country: The New Lost City Ramblers and the Urban Folk Music Revival (University of Illinois Press, 2010) and Singing in the Spirit: African-American Sacred Quartets in New York City(University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991). He has co-edited the volume Island Sounds in the Global City: Caribbean Popular Music and Identity in New York (University of Illinois Press, 1998) with Lois Wilcken. His latest book project, Jump Up! Caribbean Carnival Music in New York, is scheduled to be  published by Oxford University Press in 2018.