Music of the former Netherlands Antilles

Music of the former Netherlands Antilles

The music of the former Netherlands Antilles is a mixture of native, African and European elements, and is closely connected with trends from neighboring countries like Venezuela and Colombia and islands like Puerto Rico, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Martinique, Trinidad and Guadeloupe. The former Netherlands Antilles islands of Curaçao and Aruba are known for their typical waltzes, danzas, mazurkas and a kind of music called tumba, which is named after the conga drums which accompany it.

The remaining islands are much smaller than Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. They are Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba. Sint Eustatius has little nightlife, with only one nightclub (the zouk Largo Height Disco) as of 1996. The inhabitants, Statians, hold impromptu street dances called road blocks, using booming car stereos. Saba has a number of dances at various restaurants, including a wide variety of hip hop, disco, soca, Kompa, zouk, reggae and merengue. Sint Maarten has a well-known Carnival tradition featuring music and dance, held in mid-April and culminating in the traditional burning of King Moui-Moui, as well as a number of nightclubs and casinos featuring music; popular "spots" where locals go to dance include Boo Boo Jam and Lago Hight both located on the Northern (French) part of Sint Maarten; the most popular recent casino band is King Bo-Bo, known as the King of Calypso.[1]


Modern Aruban music

Music is very closely connected to the Aruban culture, and plays a major role in holidays, carnivals and informal celebrations. Carnival music originated in Trinidad in the late 18th century, and combines romantic themes, calypso-inspired tunes, and drums from tumba. Other Aruban celebrations that are based around music include Dera Gai, Dande, Gaita and Aguinaldo.

Classical and traditional music of Curaçao

The tumba is the most internationally renowned kind of Curaçao music. Tumba is the name of an African-derived rhythm, as are seú and tambú. The Curaçao born composer Jan Gerard Palm (1831–1906) was the first composer to write music for the lyrics of tumba's. There are traditional lyrics associated with different tumba songs, but they are sometimes scandalous and accusatory, and are thus not always sung. Tumba was known as early as the 19th century, and it is now a popular part of the Carnival Road March.[2]

Besides tumbas, there is a very rich tradition of Antillean waltzes, mazurkas, danzas and pasillos that are popular in Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba. This music is often referred to as the Classical Music from Curaçao and Aruba. Well known composers of the Netherlands Antilles are Jan Gerard Palm (1831–1906), Chris Ulder (1843–1895), Joseph Sickman Corsen (1853–1911), Paul de Lima (1861–1926), Jacobo Conrad (1879–1918), Rudolph Palm (1880–1950), Charles Maduro (1883–1947), John Palm (1885–1925), Toni Palm (1885–1963), Jacobo Palm (1887–1982) Albert Palm (1903–1958), Edgar Palm (1905–1998), Wim Statius Muller (1930), Robert Rojer (1939) and Randal Corsen (b 1972). Aruba is well known by its composers Rufo Wever (1917–1977) and Padu Lampe (b. 1925).

Traditional work songs were very diverse on Curaçao, where they were sung in seshi (semi-Papiamento) or Guene. Lyrics were apentatonic.

Tumba is the name of an African-derived rhythm, as are seú and tambú. Traditionally, Afro-Curaçaoan rhythms were often played in the muzik di zumbi style, which included instruments such as the benta (bow harp), gogorobi (rattlers) and flute, which created an ethereal sound.

Tambú (sometimes called the Curaçao blues) was first sung by slaves (mostly women) expressing pain and sadness, usually accompanied by the tambú drum and the agan (a piece of iron or ploughshare) or chapi (a hoe), along with clapping (usually only by the women in the audience).

Previously, drums were outlawed for slaves, and the bastèl, a large calabash in a water barrel, was used instead. It is accompanied by an erotic dance that involves no physical touching. The dance was so racy that the government and the Roman Catholic Church sought to end the practice.[3]

The seú was performed during the harvest festival during traditional times, but is now continued during annual parades in the city of Willemstad. Formerly the seú was a march through the fields, during which the workers brought the crops to the warehouses, the men playing drums, kachu and chapi, while the women carried produce on their heads. It was accompanied by a dance called wapa, which gracefully re-enacted the movements associated with planting and harvesting, often including work songs in Guene, the old slave language. As traditional agriculture began dying out with modern industrialization, the seú too began to fade away. The Curaçao Department of Culture now organizes an annual parade in Willemstad on Easter Monday, which sees as many as 2500 people or more participate.

Traditional music on Bonaire

The island of Bonaire is known for an array of dances, including the Bari and Simadan. Imported polka, carioca, rumba, merengue, danza, joropo, jazz waltz and mazurka are also popular. The Baile di Sinta is a popular fertility dance, performed around a maypole. Traditional African work songs on Bonaire evolved over time into ritual songs with complex dances, instrumentation and polyphony.[4]

The Bari, performed during the festival of the same name, as well as at other times, is led by a single singer who improvises lyrics commenting on local events and figures (such a singer is similar to a calypsonian). Confusingly, the Bari dance, which is performed during the Bari festival, is accompanied by a bongo-like drum called a Bari. The first part of the dance features men competing in a stylized, ritual dance for women, followed by a part where the couples dance, though they don't touch (it is similar to tumba).[4]

After the sorghum harvest in February through April, the Simadan festival is held to celebrate, with the wapa, a rhythmic, shuffling dance, accompanying the celebration. Simadan's traditional songs include three call-and-response forms, the Dan Simadan, Belua and Remailo. These use instruments including the bari, wiri, karko, quarta, guitar, triangle and clapping.[4]

Modern music on Curaçao

The indigenous Papiamento (Papiamento Song) record industry peaked in the 1950s. Three men were instrumental in this renaissance: Jules de Palm, Rene de Rooy and Pierre Lauffer. They published under the pseudonym Julio Perennal, including a cancionero and a manifesto that called for more Papiamento songs to be written. Many did so, recording throughout the 50s in a mixture of styles, including Cuban and Dominican genres like son montuno, bolero, pambiche, merengue and guaracha. Also, RITMO KOMBINA, a combination of a lot of style music. It's very popular with the young people on Curaçao. The tumba was especially popular.[2]


  1. ^ Cameron, pgs. 549 - 582
  2. ^ a b Ledesma and Scaramuzzo, pg. 301
  3. ^ Curacao Culture
  4. ^ a b c Bonaire Culture


  • "Curacao's Culture". Curacao Culture and Folklore. Retrieved December 3, 2005. 
  • De Ledesma, Charles and Gene Scaramuzzo (2000). "Dance-Funk Creole-Style". In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.). World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific. Rough Guides. pp. 289–303. ISBN 1-85828-636-0. 
  • "Culture:A Rich and Diverse Heritage". Bonaire. Retrieved December 3, 2005. 
  • Cameron, Sarah (1996). Caribbean Islands Handbook with the Bahamas. Passport Books. ISBN 0844249076. 
  • Halman, Johannes and Rojer, Robert (2008). Jan Gerard Palm: Life and Work of a Musical Patriarch(In Dutch language). KITLV, Leiden. 
  • Halman, Johannes and Rojer, Robert (2008). Jan Gerard Palm Music scores: Waltzes, Mazurkas, Danzas, Tumbas, Polkas, Marches, Fantasies, Serenades, a Galop and music composed for services in the Synagogue and the Lodge. Broekmans and Van Poppel, Amsterdam. 
  • Palm, Edgar (1978). Music and musicians of the Netherlands Antilles (in Dutch language). Curacaose Drukkerij, Curacao. Antillen

  • Boskaljon, Rudolph (1958). Hundred years of music life in Curacao (In Dutch language). Van Gorcum & comp. NV, Assen.

Further reading

  • Jong, Nanette de. “An Anatomy of Creolization: Curaçao and the Antillean Waltz”. Latin American Music Review, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall/Winter. 2003, pp. 233–251
  • de Wolf, Tim. Discography of music from the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba: Including a history of the local recording studios. Walburg Pers. ISBN 90-5730-088-5. 

External links

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