Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Manuel

Committee Members

Stephen Blum

Maarit Forde

Subject Categories



This dissertation presents an ethnographic and historical study of music and culture in the Yoruba-derived Trinidad Orisha religion in Trinidad and New York City. Its objectives are: (1) to provide description and documentation of Trinidad Orisha music, an understudied music genre in the African diaspora; (2) to shed light on the historical, cultural, and demographic factors contributing to the development of Trinidad Orisha music by its practitioners; and (3) to provide substance for meaningful comparisons between Trinidad Orisha music and other Yoruba-derived musics.

Based on four years of fieldwork (2008-2012) in Trinidad and in Brooklyn, NY, the study explores Trinidad Orisha as a neo-African musical and religious practice at a crossroads of often oppositional transnational and postcolonial forces. The history of the religion includes criminalization, ridicule, and recent valorization as part of a middle class revival, and is emblematic of larger social and political transformations that have occurred since Trinidad's independence and the development of New York as an essential locale within the Trinidadian diaspora.

The analysis is based on data gathered from field recordings of Trinidad Orisha ceremonies; formal interviews and informal conversations with Trinidad Orisha musicians, priests and others; and the author's own observations made while drumming during Trinidad Orisha rituals, including subjective insights into his experiences of the music, as both performer and listener. Musical performance is the main context for the practice of the Trinidad Orisha religion, and so the dissertation privileges music, and the experiences of musicians, as a central means of understanding the religion's history and present.

The thesis of the dissertation invokes the physicality of a Trinidad Orisha drum - double-sided and thus approachable from more than one angle - as a metaphor for a basic duality in a complex cultural practice that is simultaneously Yoruba and Trinidadian. The conception of duality in Trinidad Orisha music and culture also refers to the push and pull between preservation and innovation; marginalization and revivalism; diaspora and homeland. The dialogue between these various forces is at the heart of understanding Trinidad Orisha music and its contextualization among musics of the African diaspora.


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