While kaseko music often used to be heard on the radio and at parties in the Netherlands, it seems to have been forgotten in recent years. It never really made an international breakthrough, even though all the elements of Caribbean dance music are well represented in it.Strangely enough, relatively little has been written about this unique music from Surinam. Although the US musicologist Herkovits did write on the strong African influences in Surinamese music, so far ‘Surinaamse muziek in Nederland en Suriname’ (Surinamese Music in the Netherlands and Surinam) edited by Marcel Weltak is one of the few books on the history of Surinamese music. The Surinamese-Dutch musicologist Ronald Snijders states in his postgraduate thesis that the word kaseko is probably derived from Surinam’s eastern neighbor French Guyana. It is believed to be a corruption of the expression ‘casser le corps’ (break the body) which was used in the slavery period to denote a fast ‘devil’ dance from rural areas in which dancers shook their bodies.

Kaseko is the dance and entertainment music of the Surinamese Creoles, the descendants of the African slaves. It is created from a fusion of western march music, chorales, jazz, calypso and other popular music from the countries surrounding Surinam with Afro-Surinamese folk traditions.

Interacting rhythmic patterns on the big drum (skratji) and rolls on the separate snare drum, solo and choir singing and riffs from the wind section (consisting of saxophone, trumpet and sometimes trombone) play a central role. The music-making improvises on the basis of an originally African interplay of question and response. This is a musical practice which also characterizes the traditional Creole folk music, the winti and kawina, from which kaseko largely derives its texts, melodies and rhythms.

What winti and kawina have in common is the call of a lead singer, alternating with a chorus which responds with a harmonized refrain, and the interacting rhythmical patterns. These elements also form the building blocks of popular kaseko music.

Kaseko’s immediate forerunner is the music which used to be played at open-air festivities using instruments from the military and police bands and the brass bands. An individual Surinamese playing style developed during the 1930s, based on the African winti and kawina rhythms. This street music was known as Bigi Pokoe, big drum music. It was a sort of Dixieland in which part of the band of five to ten players laid down the beat while the other part supplied playful improvisation. The rhythms of the skratji, a big drum with a cymbal on top, and the low tones of the bastuba provided the power behind the dance. The main genres of the undiluted instrumental kaseko in its old-fashioned acoustic instrumentation (of trombone, trumpet, saxophone, bastuba, banjo, big drum and separate snare drum) are devotional basso profondo chorales, bigi-pokoe and winti-pokoe.

After the Second World War the original sound of kaseko music was strongly influenced by jazz, calypso and popular music styles from Brazil, Venezuela and the Caribbean. However its Surinamese character remained fundamental. In the course of time, the influence of rock music resulted in amplified instruments replacing the acoustic originalsthe banjo was replaced by the electric guitar and the tuba or double bass by the bass guitar, and a drum set was also added. The music was further developed by urban Creoles and became a typically Afro-Surinamese form of rock music under the name of kaseko.

Various stylistic directions have arisen within kaseko over the years. The music is performed in quite different ways by Javanese, Hindustanis and Maroons from the interior of Surinam. With the growth of emigration from Surinam to the Netherlands in the sixties, there has also been a great increase in the influence of the huge range of western music forms.

Excerpted from liner notes by Rein Spoorman. Courtesy of World Connection.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.