Music and the islands go hand-in-hand, and Nevis is no exception. Since the days of slavery, folk dances and folk music have been a part of life. They played a key role, particularly at Christmas when field workers were given free time for leisure activities.
With the advent of Carnival, and later Culturama, the annual cultural festival held each summer since 1974, dances and music became part of these celebrations. There are many traditional folk dances, such as the masquerade, the Mocko-Jumbies that walk on stilts, Cowboys and Indians, and Plait the Ribbon, a May pole dance.
The musical accompaniment for these dances is the Big Drum or the String Band. Big Drum, which is African in origin, consists of a bass and kettle drums, and fife. The string band or "scratch band" as it is called, consists of about 10 musicians. The band usually has three guitars and a four-string instrument-mandolin and quatro-as accompaniment. The rest of the band plays a baho, a bass pipe made from bamboo (or in recent times, PVC pipe) that reaches to the floor, and percussion (maracas, triangle, and guiro-a hollow gourd with ridges that are "scratched" with a metal comb-like object). A fife usually carries the melody for the group.
There are currently three string bands on Nevis, which entertain regularly on the island, at hotels, and at events, like weddings. Young people are learning to play the instruments in primary school, and some of the bands have younger members to keep the tradition alive.
Steel pan and Kaiso (Calypso) music play an important role in the island culture. Largely influenced by Trinidad and Jamaica, Nevisians enjoy listening to Kaiso and composing songs. Kaiso contests are a popular event around Culturama time. The winners of the Kaiso contests, the Monarch, is well-regarded for his musical ability and rises somewhat to a celebrity status. The Kaiso show is one of the more popular events for young and old alike since the message, as presented by the lyrics, portrays various aspects of the Nevisian way of life. Kaiso is a popular art form throughout the Caribbean and has its roots in West Africa as seen by the African tradition of orature or storytelling. Like most Caribbean countries it started in Nevis during the days of slavery and has continued after emancipation into the 20th century.
Work songs occupy an important place in the account of the music of Nevis, for example, when moving a heavy object such as a house or a boat, this rhyming song would be sung, "The ram, the Ewe and the Weather goat." (symbolic of 1,2,3, go!)
Service of Songs was a special time for many Nevisians. Held annually at Easter and Whit Sunday in a tent or arbor woven from palm fronds, the music was mostly religious in nature. The songs were taken from the 'Sanky' Hymnal. It was a real social occasion and preparation for the event was part of the enjoyment. The Service of Songs, which were held in the early 20th century, now gives way to Gospel Concerts.
The sounds of childhood include Ring Games with songs particularly at evening time. This tradition now extends to the schools where during the Games or Recess session quite a lot of ring games are played.