The Caribbean Touch
One Caribbean…One People…Connecting
The Caribbean Touch:
The Laidback Lifestyle that Conquered the Worldwide Stage
By Howard Saddler
It is easy to see that Caribbean culture has touched much of the world: Ask an average American teen and they’ll very likely know of reggae master Bob Marley. Talk to a university student in the U.K. and they’ve probably eaten more than a few beef patties over late-night pints of lager. But are those sampling these pieces of Caribbean culture satisfied? Or are they after more than a meal and some music?
The Caribbean—which encompasses more than 30 countries including Belize, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico—has long been associated with a laid-back sensibility that not only is reflected in its own food, art, music and popular culture, but has also caught the attention of a worldwide audience.
In fact, millions of tourists visit the region annually to seek out these unique pleasures. According to a recent Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) study, nearly 82 percent of these visitors arrived from either North America or Europe. While the thought of the Caribbean’s meals and music may spur their decision to visit, it is the Caribbean’s cultural soul they really want to taste - a taste of the land’s easy-going spirit, the “livity” (a Rastafarian term for lifestyle) that permeates the culture.
But music, perhaps more so than any other influence, has been the messenger of Caribbean culture to the outside world. It’s astounding how rich in musical talent the region is, with a myriad of home-grown styles to choose from. You’ve got the traditional sounds of meringue from the Dominican Republic, calypso and soca from Trinidad and Tobago, mambo from Cuba and junkanoo from the Bahamas.
However, one genre—reggae from Jamaica along with its precursor, ska—has overshadowed them all and achieved a striking worldwide influence on music beginning in the late-’60s. Its deep head-nodding grooves have rapidly evolved into dozens of offshoot styles. One of the music’s original innovators, Bob Marley, became reggae’s global ambassador, a role he has remained in several decades after his death in 1981. Reggae’s far-reaching effect on modern music includes fairly recent arrivals like the ska-influenced American and British punk of the ’80s and ’90s, as well as new-millennium sounds like reggaeton, a Puerto Rican blend of reggae and hip-hop.
Those who also associate the Caribbean with food do so for great reasons. The Caribbean provides a diverse plate of offerings that not only have been replicated on menus all over the globe, but whose essence has also been infused into regional dishes. The hearty flavors of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republican, Bahamas and Jamaica, among others, have made their way to restaurants in many countries outside of the Caribbean. Whether it’s sipping mojitos in Miami, feasting on curry goat in Bristol, England or snacking on ripened plantains in Chile, people simply love Caribbean food.
In fact, its impact has been so great on American culinary culture that Darden Restaurants, Inc.—the world’s largest owner of casual dining restaurants—launched Bahama Breeze in 1996, an American chain of more than 30 Caribbean-styled establishments. Since South Florida encompasses the largest Cuban population in the U.S., their fare—including ropa vieja and boliche—is not only ubiquitous, but fast becoming one of the most popular Caribbean foods in the country.
Yes, Caribbean music and food have left a lasting impression on worldwide culture. However, it’s the optimistic spirit of the people—who have historically been through great adversity—that ignite the world’s passion for all things Caribbean. Is this spirit the “livity” which allows them to make the most out of life? Or the knowledge that tomorrow will bring a better day? Whatever it is, it’s something the rest of the world seems eager to embrace.
– Howard Saddler