Aruba and the five main islands of the Netherlands Antilles are part of the Lesser Antilles island chain. Their music is a mixture of native, African and European elements, and is closely connected with trends from neighboring islands like Martinique, Trinidad and Guadeloupe, as well as the mainland former Dutch possession of Suriname, which has exported kaseko music to great success on the islands. Curašao and Bonaire likely have the most active and well-known music scenes. Curašao is known for a kind of music called tumba, which is named after the conga drums which accompany it.
Traditional music of Curašao
Traditional work songs were very diverse on Curašao, where they were sung in seshi (semi-Papiamento) or Guene. Lyrics were apentatonic.
Tumba is of the muzik de zumbi class, which means it is African-derived and not modern or European; other such zumbi songs include se˙ and tamb˙. Tamb˙ (sometimes called the Curašao blues), the predecessor of tumba, was first sung by slaves (mostly women) expressing pain and sadness, usually accompanied by the tamb˙ drum, kachu (a cow's horn) 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 bastŔl, 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.
The se˙ was performed during the harvest festival during traditional times, but is now continued during annual parades in the city of Willemstad. Formerly the se˙ 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 se˙ too began to fade away. The Curašao Department of Culture now organizes an annual parade in Willemstad on Easter Monday, which sees as many as 200 people participate.
The tumba is by far the most internationally renowned kind of Curašao music. The term tumba comes from a 17th century Spanish dance, though the modern music is extremely African, as undiluted as anything in the syncretic islands of the Caribbean. There are traditional lyrics associated with different tumba songs, but they are 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.
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.
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).
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.
Modern music on Curašao
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. The tumba was especially popular.