Book review ‘Waarom elf Antillianen knielden voor het hart van Chopin’

9781628461855

How does one write a good and entertaining book about music? In his book ‘Why eleven Antilleans knelt before Chopin’s heart’ (Dutch: ‘Waarom elf Antillianen knielden voor het hart van Chopin’), acclaimed Dutch author Jan Brokken describes the diverse musical history of the Dutch Caribbean with a focus on the ABC-Islands off the coast of Venezuela. It is a welcome book that can be read from different perspectives and levels but Brokken, by blending history with travel and music, aims to understand the very heart and soul of Caribbean music. The book is especially of interest to those interested in the Caribbean and even the Atlantic world, and even as the author does center the story on the Dutch Caribbean islands described in the book, yet – as music itself does –  necessarily and luckily travels either literally or ‘orally’  to the wider Caribbean region and beyond. The author thereby masterfully connects different people from different places and musical styles, which is no surprise as the Dutch-Caribbean islands have witnessed musical influences from both Europe, Africa and Latin America.

If Dutch people from Europe know anything about Latin America and the Caribbean region at all (which they generally do not), they certainly do not know anything at all about the role of the Dutch islands in the wider context of the region. A notable exception is Jan Brokken with his wonderful book about Dutch-Caribbean music and the culture of the islands. In the Netherlands it is often considered as ‘that book about Caribbean music’ , which does not cover the broad themes and personal stories told in the book. And more essentially, that assertion misses the point. The actual main protagonist may be music itself, the underlying theme is always the complex Caribbean world. That is why this wonderful book moves toward a cultural history of the islands and Brokken’s love for the Caribbean permeates each and every page; by describing its musical history and analyzing the quintessential role music plays in Caribbean societes and how music forges identities, Brokken – who spent many years living in Africa and in the Caribbean – is unique in his love for the music from the ‘Dutch’ Caribbean.

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