Soca & Calypso

in North Kensington Part 1


The Portobello Wall ‘Rhythm and Sound’ Installation features Calypso and Soca in North Kensington.

Part 1 of our feature includes a free digital download of the book, Calypso in London by Stephen Spark, which includes an excellent essay by renowned historian John Cowley on the story of the music’s arrival in Britain. Get your e-book here for free, but only for this month. If you would like to purchase a hard copy, it can be obtained online at

Calypso and Soca are Carribbean cultural artforms. They form part of the wider celebrations of The Notting Hill Carnival in West London. For calypso-lovers, there’s only one place to be on an August Friday evening: the London Calypso Tent. The ‘tent’ is now the stage of The Tabernacle in Powis Square in W11. The term harks back to the days when calypso was the Caribbean’s rebel music played in a ‘hall’ of bamboo poles roofed in palm leaves.

Pinning down the music’s origins more precisely is challenging, but it’s likely it developed in the Caribbean as a creolised hybrid of different traditions from various parts of Africa. Some Africans freely migrated to Trinidad after Emancipation, and these arrivals would have been able to retain more of their own language and culture, including music and dance. Other musical influences reached Trinidad from neighbouring islands, particularly Martinique, and Venezuela.

The music’s very name is a clue to its complex history. ‘Calypso’ dates only from the late 1890s, before which it was known as cariso or caliso, a Spanish word for a topical song. Earlier still, many researchers argue, it was kaiso, derived from a Hausa word meaning ‘bravo!’ The word lives on, as people still call out “kaiso” at the London Tent after a particularly fine performance.

Today the London Calypso Tent remains the only one in Europe. From the moment the Divettes take to the stage and the ABC Band strikes up, the atmosphere in the hall crackles with anticipation. Britain’s talented calypsonians keep alive this marvellous artform that for more than two centuries has been pricking pomposity, mocking the powerful, challenging injustice and making the audience laugh.

Part 2 will feature the local artists and their music, as well as interviews and videos, and a winners of the London Calypso Tent timeline for more than 25 years, and more. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latests news and events.

Calypso in London

Free digital download

Download Now
Portobello Radio
Certain Blacks
Carnival Village Trust
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Colour Sonic