Victoires de la musique 2017: Far from home by Calypso Rose, “Album du monde” of the year

Originally published by Le Figaro on 10/02/2017

Calypso Rose, with Far from home, was crowned this evening “Album du monde” of the year at the 32nd Victoires de la musique at the Zénith in Paris, in front of Acid Arab’s Musique de France , and Né So by Rokia Traoré .

This is the first victory of the “Queen Calypso”, 76 years, who declared herself “Queen of France” for tonight recovering her reward.

The Calypso Queen

The following article was written by Tony Hiller for World Music Central.org, and published on Sept. 2, 2001.


McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis might never be immortalized in the global annals of female activism, but the feisty woman claiming that formal and somewhat long-winded moniker has certainly made an indelible mark on the history of Caribbean music. Back in 1978, Calypso Rose, as she is widely known, shattered the glass ceiling in Trinidad & Tobago when paradoxically becoming the first of her gender to win the coveted ‘Calypso King’ crown. Organizers of the annual championship were obliged to change the title to ‘Calypso Monarch’, and Rose went on to win the prestigious event for five consecutive years. In recent years, the Tobago-born singer has gone international with her trademark husky vocals, incisive wit and raunchy calypso and up-tempo soca songs.

Now 70 years of age, Calypso Rose revisited her trail-blazing days after being voted the No. 1 calypsonian of Trinidad & Tobago earlier this year. Speaking from New York City, where she has resided for the past three decades, this voluble, irrepressible woman, said: “The calypso scene has changed immensely over the years. It was mostly men back in the early days like Kitchener [Lord Kitchener], The Lion [Roaring Lion], The Sparrow [Mighty Sparrow], Atilla The Hun and Lord Irie. When I came into the arena in 1955, Lady Irie, the wife of Lord Irie, was the only female and she was a senior citizen at that time.”

Despite calypso being a male domain, Calypso Rose, a Baptist minister’s daughter, says she was received “very highly” by audiences in general, but not by church groups, who frowned upon her performing in that milieu. “They called me to meeting after meeting,” she recalls. “They wanted to know how come a young girl like me could be in the calypso tents, singing calypso between all the men. In 1963 I said: ‘Look, I will not be like the five foolish virgins that buried their talent in the soil’. I said: ‘The Lord has given me the ability to write calypso lyrics and create the melody and make the people happy and I will continue doing that until the day I die’, and I got up and I walked out of the room.” Whether by divine intervention or not, it’s a fact that Hurricane Flora devastated the islands of Tobago and Grenada soon after. “I wrote a calypso about the hurricane to sing in the tent in 1964. After every verse I sang ‘Abide With Me’.” After rendering a verse of said hymn down the line from Queens, Rose suggests that may have given her some purchase with the church elders.

As an idiom, calypso currently lives in the shadows but that wasn’t always the case. In 1969 Calypso Rose was on an equal footing with Bob Marley. The Caribbean artists performed together at a New Year’s Eve concert held in the ballroom of the Grand Concourse in New York’s Bronx. “The people went crazy,” Rose recalls. During its heyday in the late ‘50s, Harry Belafonte took calypso to the top of the pop charts with ‘The Banana Boat Song’ (aka ‘Day O’). Calypso Rose, who has written over 800 songs, herself had a major hit in the Caribbean with her signature number ‘Fire in Meh Wire’, which was subsequently recorded in nine different languages, and Bonnie Raitt did a cover version of her ‘Wah She Go Do’. “I was in San Francisco one year performing and she came on stage and sung it with me,” she says. Rose has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in show business. In 1978 she did a gig with the late Michael Jackson. In Europe she says she has performed to audiences of up to 10,000. Back home, where she’s regarded as a living legend, Rose is a fixture during the annual carnival season in Trinidad & Tobago, playing for many thousands of revellers.

Rooted in social and political commentary, calypso is a music form that puts more emphasis on lyrics than almost any other idiom, and is invariably peppered with patois. Rose has written her share of risqué numbers over the years, but only one overtly political song, ‘The Boat Is Rocking’, which she penned leading up to a crucial local election. One of the songs she’s most proud of, ‘No, Madame’, she wrote when Trinidad & Tobago domestics were working for a paltry $25 a month. “Soon after that song was released, the government voted that no domestic should work for less than $1200 a month.” Rose says that you could sing just about anything in the calypso tents, but the more controversial songs wouldn’t be played on the radio.

She points out that calypso has changed considerably in style over the years and that these days soca, a faster, more dance-orientated variant which places less emphasis on the lyrics, holds sway. “It’s gone from the minor calypso to the four-verse calypso, from the four-line calypso to the eight-line calypso. With the four-verse calypso you’re getting more rhythm. The structure of the bass has been changed and the drumming has been changed too. It’s vastly different now, and I think that is the reason why the Mighty Sparrow and myself are still on the road working because we do soca, although we also do the old-style calypso.”

It was calypso that enabled a 13-year-old McArtha Lewis to overcome a debilitating stammer. “I’ve come a very long way,” she reflects. “I couldn’t speak without stuttering badly back then.” Calypso Rose will forever be proud of the fact that she opened the doors to let other females enter the long-time male preserve of calypso. As she observes: “There are a lot of female calypsonians around these days, not only in Trinidad & Tobago but the whole of the Caribbean and even beyond.”

• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine, for which the author is World/Folk correspondent.

For original report: The Calypso Queen | World Music Central.org.

Major Caribbean Films to Premiere In Toronto

The international curtain goes up in Toronto for the premiere of three significant Caribbean films at the 2011 CaribbeanTales Toronto Film Showcase.

The trio of major Caribbean cinematic offerings will be screened during the sixth annual action-packed Showcase set for “Hollywood North” at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto from September 7 to 17, 2011.

“Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle”, a documentary about the impact of the Trinidadian queen of soca music; “Ghett’a Life”, a new Jamaican film with positive messages of overcoming adversity and ignorance; and Antigua’s “The Skin”, a film on Caribbean mythology, will play in Toronto.
“We are overjoyed to present the North American premiere of not just the latest Caribbean films, but the best of the brightest of Caribbean filmmakers at our September 2011 showcase,” said Frances-Anne Solomon, CEO of CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. She added that many other exciting films will be screened during the 10-day showcase which also features a market access incubator for Caribbean filmmakers.

Following the opening reception at Lakeshore Terrace on Wednesday, September 7, patrons will screen the Pascale Obolo-directed documentary about Calypso Rose, which will be followed by a live question and answer session with the uncontested diva of calypso music.

Living Legend, Calypso Rose

Calypso Rose, the “Mother of Calypso”, is a living legend, and the documentary features the many faces and facets of her life, including her reflective moments, a great passion for fishing and spirituality. It is a film not only about her vision and ancestral history, but also recounts the journey of a militant and impassioned woman, an Afro-Caribbean soul, and an exemplary artiste, who has touched the life of her people at home and many others in distant lands.

Watch a preview of Calypso Rose:
www.sflcn.com/multimedia.php?id=YtzCPDBA3So

On Tuesday, September 13, “Ghett’a Life”, by respected director Chris Browne of “Third World Cop”, premieres at the Studio Theatre. Ten years in the making, the wholly Jamaican film – funded by local investors and featuring indigenous talent and music – is a depiction of what life can be like in inner city Kingston. The “against the odds” drama – set in a politically turbulent community – tells the story of Derrick, a determined teenager, struggling to realize his dream of becoming a champion boxer despite a country, community and family riven by divisive politics.

On Friday, September 16, “The Skin”, a mythological thriller set in Antigua and Barbuda, will have its Red Carpet launch. A young couple encounters strange occurrences when they unearth and try to sell an ancient artifact. This is the fourth feature film by the husband and wife team of Howard and Mitzi Allen whose work is widely celebrated in Antigua.

The Toronto Showcase, among other goals, aims to raise the international profile of Caribbean film, support the growth of a vibrant world-class Caribbean film and television industry, and serve as a platform for promoting the Caribbean as a premier warm weather travel destination and location for film production.

The Showcase is co-produced with the Harbourfront Centre, and partners include Animae Caribe Animation and New Media Festival, The Consulate General for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in Toronto, First Fridays, Green Light Artist Management, the International Development Research Centre, Pennant Media Group, Planet 3 Entertainment, Taffe Entertainment, Toon Boom Animation, the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services at the University of the West Indies, and WHATZHAPPNG. For tickets, the schedule and general information about the CaribbeanTales Film Showcase and Market Incubator, visit www.caribbeantales-events.com.

For original article: Major Caribbean Films to Premiere In Toronto « Repeating Islands.