Across these 7,000 islands in the Caribbean, you’ll find deeply political artists, jazz musicians, and more authors than you can shake a seashell at. These are our favorite pieces of island culture.
The album: Creole Soul
Born in Trinidad and trained at Juilliard, trumpeter Etienne Charles has covered just about every genre, from classical jazz to calypso, in his short career. But this album connects his Caribbean roots with his love for New Orleans jazz, creating a bright, breezy sound that you’ll want to return to long after you’ve left the islands behind.
The album: The Sound
Jamaica may be the cradle of reggae, but a fresh crop of musicians in the U.S. Virgin Islands is shaking up the genre. Pressure Busspipe, from St. Thomas, has a sound that leans toward old-school roots-rock reggae. His socially conscious, uplifting vibes would blend right in on a playlist with such classic artists as Cocoa Tea and Ras Shiloh. The Sound, Busspipe’s fourth album, includes “Virgin Island’s Nice,” a tribute that the archipelago has adopted as its unofficial anthem.
The sculpture: The Anse Cafard Slave Memorial
You could spend a day seeking out the many provocative Valère sculptures, paintings, and dioramas on the island of Martinique. But if you see only one, make it the Anse Cafard Slave Memorial, the region’s most poignant expression of the Caribbean slave era. Twenty hulking, eight-foot-tall, stark white figures are arranged in a triangle, facing the site where 40 African slaves in a shipwreck in 1830.
The comedy: Talk Tent
If the oral storytelling tradition so central to life in the West Indies survives into the digital age, we’ll have Paul Keens-Douglas, aka Tim Tim, to thank. Since long before Jerry Seinfeld came along, Keens-Douglas, a Trinidad native, has been finding humor in the everyday. Forty years after his start, he still draws crowds to his annual Talk Tent shows at Queen’s Hall in Trinidad’s Port of Spain.
The book: Breath, Eyes, Memory
When this gripping first novel from Haitian novelist Edwidge Danticat was published in 1994, it opened readers’ eyes to Haiti’s legacy of violence and genocide—and to the country’s beauty. The novel remains relevant today, and Danticat continues to pen multifaceted stories about her native country. Mama’s Nightingale, her new children’s book about a young Haitian immigrant, is a tale grown-ups can learn from, too.