The Essence of the West Indies Captured in 16 Songs

Keryn Nelson
Keryn Nelson


The Essence of the West Indies Captured in 16 Songs

It is nearly impossible to avoid looking back longingly at the 90s. It may have been the absence of advance technology – us and our inability to summon whatever music we wanted, whenever we felt like it – that may have made music such a sate pleasure as it was back then. Now however, the sounds of the 90s are likely at the center of many 90s, 80s and 70s babies’ nostalgia.

Although every Caribbean island had their share of local hits, there were definitely mainstream classics which together, serve almost as a West Indies, 90s soundtrack. Here are 16 songs(oldest to newest) which capture the essence of the West Indies in the 90s.

1) Black Stalin – Feeling to party (1991)

Granted this song was “birthed” in the same year as most 90s kids who are now old enough to recall it and it’s presence throughout the decade. However, If it was not part of your personal collection, you would likely remember it as a staple piece among your parents’ and/or elders’ music favs.

2) Terror Fabulous Feat. Nadine – Action (1994)

Action was released on Terror Fabulous’ second album Yaga Yaga. For 90s kids this one definitely falls into the “we were too young to actually know what we were singing and dancing to” category. Who wants to bet that the lyrics of Nadine’s classic chorus is known by all bonafide West Indians, or atleast all above the age of 23.

3) Mighty Shadow – Dingolay (1994)

This Trinidadian Calypsonian is known for his distinctive voice and his early Soul, Calypso hit, Dingolay. It was important to include this one in such a line up because then and even now, when we listen to it, we can feel the ingenuity in its lyrics and Mighty Shadow’s musical expression. It is a classic.

4) Chaka Demus and Pliers – Murder She Wrote (1994)

Is it even possible to talk about Dancehall without mentioning Chaka Demus and Pliers’ Murder She wrote? The fact that this song is still heard at Caribbean fetes and concerts currently is an indication of how big it was in the 90s.

Murder She Wrote was a huge international, commercial success upon its release in 1994 on the duo’s album“tease me.”

5) Bere Hammond – No Disturb Sign (1994)

Beres Hammond has been gifting the world with his musical talents since the 70s. The 90s however, saw a peak in his career and an era of classics. Many of his songs are treasured Jamaican, Caribbean masterpieces. No disturb Sign captures a West Indian essence, encompassing everything, including life’s mundanities, the possession of an insatiable love for another, and the desire for a good time – all back-dropped by one of the smoothest reggae melodies.

6) Dawn Penn – You Don’t Love Me (No No No) (1994)

Life is full of ups and downs. For women dealing with “love”, the ups feel like soaring way above the highest earthly elevations. The lows however, are like being shot down from the sky mid-flight. You don’t love me‘s” drawn out lyrics were relatable enough to be a hit in the 90s, and still are today.

7) Shaggy – Boombastic (1995)

Before his other mainstream hits like Angel and It Wasn’t Me came the hard-hitting commercial smasher Mr Boombastic aka ‘Mr. Lover Lover’. Mr. Boombastic came off of Shaggy’s third album and was featured in International ads and movies. Shaggy also won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album that same year.

8)Kassav’ – Dife Soupapé (1995)

A heralded band in the Caribbean, particularly in the French West Indies, Kassav is firmly established as regional/ international treasures. The group was formed in 1979 in Guadelopue and has been blessing the world with passionate, zouk music eversince. Released in 1995,  Dife Soupapé is one of their many hits.


9) Buju Banton – Murderer (1995)

“Murderer” is steeped in sociopolitics and was released on Banton’s Til Shiloh album, a deviation from his initial Dancehall sound.

Disclaimer, Buju Banton will show up a few more times on this list (merely because most persons still know all the words to so many of his songs). He is one of those musicians whose music you may seek out for a quick listen, only to end up devoting atleast an additional fifteen more minutes to the task.

10) Sanchez – Never Dis Di Man (1995)

Out of Jamaica once again, with roots in Reggae, Never Dis Di Man was set out to enlighten. It’s catchy cadence helped plant Sanches’s lyrics on everyone’s tongues in the 90s, including those of us who were too young to appreciate the message but were old enough to vibe to a good ol’ reggae tune.

11) Buju Banton – Untold Story (1995)

Untold Stories set Buju Banton up, for some, among the likes of Bob Marley, due to its conscious message and soulful delivery.

It is one of those songs where as young children, some of us sang along to its verses and chorus without knowing what we were truly singing till we grew older. Our understanding though, did not come with the usual shock at vulgar lyrics but rather, personal disappointment that things in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean were dire then and still are now.

12) Chris Garcia – Chutney Bacchanal (1996)

I do not mean to make this about me but, I did my first ever dance performance to this song (as far as I can remember). It was at my pre-school graduation and also marks the beginning of a life long love for performance art. This is the power of art.. the power of Chutney music.. the power of the 90s.

13) Lady Saw – Give me a Reason (1996)

A living legend she is. With a career spanning over two decades, Marion Hall, better known as Lady Saw, aka, the Queen of Dancehall has given us hit after hit and is known around the world for her gutsy style. Give me a Reason was released during the earlier stages of her career, but still stands as one of her greatest hits.

14) Buju Banton – Wanna be Loved (1996)

Not much else to say. He is a great artist and his 90’s success is undeniable. Wanna be Loved never gets old, really. Add his 1997 hits Destiny and Hills and Valleys to the list too.

15) Beenie Man – Sim Simma (Who am I?) (1997)

The king himself released Who Am I as the second track off his album Many Moods and Moses. The song was produced on the Playground Riddim and was written by Beenie himself. It’s basically a dancehall anthem at this point.

16) Mr. Vegas – Heads High (1998)

Last on our list and rounding things out, we have this piece of vintage, Caribbean gold. Mr. Vegas is another Jamaican artist with so many globally successful records it is hard to keep track of them all. Heads High is one of those songs you would hear belting through the neighbourhood on a Saturday morning back in the day. #ClassicCaribbean


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