The Caribbean is one of the most beloved and visited regions of the world for several reasons: history, culture, food, and the arts—especially music. Many of us are connected to the Caribbean through our ancestry. Some of music’s biggest stars of the past and present were born in or have ancestral ties to the Caribbean, including Nicki Minaj, Maxi Priest, Rihanna, Wyclef Jean, Maxwell, Busta Rhymes, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and Pitbull.
Throughout the year, the island nations of the Caribbean Sea host festivals that celebrate the immense talent of local and regional arts, as well as connect music lovers from all over to see electrifying live performances of record breaking arts from different genres. If you can’t think of a better region to visit than the Caribbean, or a better reason to travel than for a music festival, check out SoulTrain.com’s list of The Caribbean’s top music festivals:
St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival
What began as a concerted effort to stretch the high tourism season on the island has now expanded to a nearly two week celebration of music, arts, and culture in St. Lucia. Held every year in May, the St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival is the second most popular cultural event in the Caribbean. This year’s list of performers included top-selling recording artists Flo Rida, Robin Thicke, John Secada, and Jimmy Cliff. Other artists like hitmaker R. Kelly, The Voice Season 5 winner Tessanne Chin, and smooth Jazz sensation Brian Culbertson have performed at this festival. It was also featured on the WeTV hit show Braxton Family Values in 2012 when Grammy winner Toni Braxton graced the stage.
Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival
Originally slated at a jazz and blues-centered event, other genres of music including soca, Latin, and of course, reggae, have been spotlighted and draw tens of thousands of music lovers to one of the Caribbean’s most popular islands during this annual festival hosted in January. This year’s performers included global pop star Mariah Carey, music legends Charlie Wilson, The Pointer Sisters, and Peter Cetera. Past performers include 15-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys, gospel stars Mary Mary, Brian McKnight, pop rock star band Maroon 5, and the legendary Smokey Robinson.
Soul Beach Music Festival
One of the best ways to celebrate Memorial Day weekend is to bask in the tropical weather and enjoy some good music at this popular music event held in the beautiful island of Aruba. This five-day festival features the best live R&B and soul music performances you’ll find in the Caribbean, or around the world for that matter. This year’s headliners, R&B phenom Trey Songz and the legend, “Uncle Charlie” Wilson, brought down the house with their long list of top hits and commanding stage presence. As a top-ranking Caribbean festival for the last 15 years, it has also hosted other recording artists like soul artist Chrisette Michele, singer/songwriting star Ne-Yo, and hip-hop legends LL Cool J and Lauryn Hill.
It’s undeniable that the island nation of Jamaica contributed immensely to the world of music through the rich and soulful melodies of reggae music. Reggae SumFest celebrates this popular genre of music in the place where it all began. Held annually in July, this 20+ year old festival spotlights reggae music stars, and well as top selling international recording artists. Reggae music legends Damian “Junior Gong” and Stephen Marley, and international music icons Rihanna and Usher have performed at the festival. This year’s event began July 12th and runs through the 18th. Artists slated to perform are Grammy Award-winning reggae artist Beenie Man, Capelton, Oscar Winner Jennifer Hudson, and Yazz the Greatest from the hit FOX television drama Empire.
St. Kitts Music Festival
The island of St. Kitts is more than just a popular port-of-call on a Caribbean cruise. The music festival offers a distinctive blend of music from many genres, including R&B, hip-hop, soul, and gospel. Like many other Caribbean music festivals, its original purpose was to boost tourism in the area. Since 1996, the St. Kitts Music Festival has done that successfully by hosting artists like Kool & the Gang, Sean Paul, Yolanda Adams, Eve, and Ludacris. This year’s headliners included R&B superstars Ciara and Trey Songz, Trinidadian singer/songwriter Kerwin DuBois, and reggae/dancehall star Bounty Killer.
Shawanda James is a freelance writer and author in her native Miami, Florida. In addition to SoulTrain.com, she’s written for CBS, MapQuest, Movoto Real Estate, and Boating Times Magazine. Personally, she’s a wife, a mom of two boys and two girls. She’s a bona fide travel geek, music lover, and book worm. Check out some of Shawanda’s other published articles on her website. Connect with Shawanda on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.