Calypso Culture diaspora Ethnomusicology Festivals Music Steel Pan

Carnival, Calypso and Steel Pan:

A Bibliographic Guide to Popular Music of the
English-speaking Caribbean and its Diaspora

By John Gray

A companion to the author’s earlier volume Jamaican Popular Music, this landmark new work helps fill a major gap in the reference literature. For the first time ever it offers students and researchers an in-depth guide to the large body of materials available on masquerade and popular music traditions of the English-speaking Caribbean. Comprised of some 3400 annotated entries it documents a literature, both popular and scholarly, that now spans more than 85 years and ranges across disciplines as diverse as social and cultural history, anthropology, ethnomusicology, literature and economics.

The book’s main focus is on three tightly intertwined topics—Carnival, calypso and steel pan—and how each has evolved, both inside of Trinidad, their most important hub, and abroad in the large West Indian enclaves of New York, London and Toronto. The Carnival side of this trinity, a critical showcase for the region’s music and dance styles, is treated comprehensively. This includes an unprecedented level of detail on each of the four major Caribbean Carnivals—Trinidad Carnival, Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival, London’s Notting Hill Carnival, and Toronto’s Caribana—as well as important precursors such as Harlem’s West Indian Day Parades of the 1940s and ’50s and the early London Carnivals organized by Claudia Jones. Carnival’s musical aspects, both calypso and steel pan, are also covered in depth. In the case of calypso that encompasses all of its various forms, from its antecedents in kalinda stick-fighting to the “jump and wave” soca of today. A multitude of contemporary offshoots, e.g., binghi, chutney soca, ragga soca, ringbang, and gospelypso, are also documented in full. Numerous other sources help illuminate calypso’s central role as a vehicle for social and political commentary and its perspective on issues as diverse as immigration, race and gender relations, and national identity. Steel pan, calypso’s cousin, is discussed from the music’s introduction on the regional and international scene in the 1950s to its more recent role in the music programs of North America and Great Britain. A substantial Biographical and Critical Studies section documents the contributions made to these traditions by almost 600 individual performers and ensembles.

Citations span from 1852 to 2012, with the bulk having been published between the 1930s and 2012. They encompass musical and cultural analyses, ethnographies, oral histories, popular histories and reportage along with a wealth of archival, audio-visual, and electronic resources. The book concludes with an extensive reference section that includes a list of Sources Consulted, a guide to relevant Libraries and Archives, two appendices, and separate Author and Subject Indexes.

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Calypso History Music

Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putnam’s “Radical Moves”

The following review of Lara Putman’s Radical Moves was written by John Cline and published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, June 2, 2013.

IN 1987, THE EMINENT ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST Richard K. Spottswood compiled an LP for Arhoolie Records titled Where Was Butler? It was subtitled “A Calypso Documentary from Trinidad,” and features many of the stars of the island’s music scene from the 1930s, including Attila the Hun and Growling Tiger. While this record has never been re-released on CD, nor is it available on iTunes, its 16 tracks constitute one of the most fascinating calypso collections ever produced. Long before Public Enemy’s Chuck D proclaimed his oft-repeated maxim that hip-hop is the “black CNN,” calypsonians from Trinidad were narrating the struggles experienced by the island’s oil field workers, led by one Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler. In addition to being a labor leader, the Grenada-born Butler was also a Spiritual Baptist preacher, a faith practice then outlawed in Trinidad due to anxieties provoked by its Pentecostal-like emphasis on shouting and physical “possession” by the Holy Spirit.

You Tube – “Where was Butler”, Raymond Quevedo -Atilla The Hun.

Butler is a major figure in Lara Putnam’s Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age, his life illustrating the core thesis of her book. In her conclusion, Putnam states that:

black-internationalist and anti-colonial movements that would shake the twentieth century were rooted in the experiences of ordinary men and women — not only the cosmopolitan streets of Harlem and Paris but also in the banana ports and dance halls of the tropical circum-Caribbean.

Radical Moves thus implicitly offers a corrective to conventional histories of African Diaspora. Paul Gilroy’s 1993 The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness stressed the international character of the literature and politics of African-descended peoples in the 20th century, and focused his attention on major figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and Richard Wright. In the ensuing years, scholars like Brent Hayes Edwards and Minkah Makalani have expanded on Gilroy’s “Black Atlantic,” focusing on metropolitan centers like New York, Paris, and London, filling in the details with somewhat lesser known individuals and organizations. These authors, like Gilroy, prefer to write about individuals with international profiles and concrete political movements, from Claude McKay to the African Blood Brotherhood in Harlem and from George Padmore to the International African Service Bureau in London. In Radical Moves, however, Putnam chooses to focus instead on “the forgotten editors of port-town newspapers and the many thousands of men and women who read their pages and debated the merits in rum shops and butcher store queues.” Within the historiography of the African Diaspora, this is a shift akin to that between the union-centric studies of the “Wisconsin School” of labor history and the opening up to the quotidian of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class.

For the full original report: Los Angeles Review of Books – Calypso and Caribbean Migration: Lara Putman’s “Radical Moves”

Calypso Culture Festivals Music

In Memory of the Reincarnation of O’Cangaceiro

Satelite Robber from Ken Archer on Vimeo.

May 17th 2018 marks the 8th anniversary of the death of Brian Honore
, who was known in the calypso world as Commentor and in traditional mas’ circles as the Reincarnation of the O’Cangaceiro, Midnight Robber. Brian dedicated his life to the defense and upliftment of the rich cultural traditions of the people of the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large.

Drop Your Keys and Bow Your Knees

Calypso Festivals Music

Calypsonian Penguin takes final bow

The Calypso Fraternity and all Carnival music aficionados and enthusiasts moan the passing of Sedley Joseph, who made tremendous contributions to the art-form, as composer, performer, teacher, and past president of the calypsonians’ organization. The following Trinidad Guardian article, written by Raphael John-Lall, pays homage to this stalwart.

Veteran calypsonian Seadley Joseph, who performed under the name Penguin was a “giant” in the calypso art form says fellow calypsonian Leroy Calliste, known also as Black Stalin. “We lost a giant in calypso music, we also lost a friend,” Stalin said by telephone yesterday.

Joseph, 70, brother of former national security minister Martin Joseph, and a former president of Trinidad Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), passed away yesterday morning after a prolonged illness. He won the Road March title in 1982 with the song A Deputy Essential. He won the Calypso Crown in 1984 with We Living in Jail and Sorf Man. One of his other hits was Look de Devil dey.

Stalin said Joseph will be missed by the calypso fraternity and by the entire country. “He will be missed. His contribution to the artform is too much to even mention,” he said.  Stalin said the younger generation of calypsonians and future generations who get into the calypso genre have a lot to learn from him.

“Apart from his involvement in the music he was also involved on the business side of things and the youths today can learn from how he did things,” he said. President of TUCO, Lutalo Masimba, also known as Brother Resistance, described Joseph’s his death a “great loss.”

“His death is a loss to the music of the world and to T&T as a nation. He was a gifted composer and in my opinion did not get his just due. He was one of the few people who won the Calypso Monarch and Road March,” he said. He said  Joseph’s contribution to TUCO was invaluable.

“What he did for the organisation was important. He pointed TUCO in a progressive direction and it was an honour to work with him,” he said. Winston Anthony Bailey, also known as the Mighty Shadow, was shocked by the news and told the T&T Guardian it was the first time he was hearing of his death but said he did “great work.”

“I knew at one time he was sick. We all have to leave this life at some time, but he did work and made his contribution to the art form,” he said. He added that the younger generation, if they listen to Joseph’s lyrics, might be able to learn something. “This generation if they listen to his melody and humour in his calypsoes could learn something,” he said.

For the original article: Calypsonian Penguin takes final bow | The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.

Calypso Music

‘Power’ laid to rest

The following article was written by Cecily Asson and published in the Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday, August 17, 2012. Asson reports on the funeral service held in the honor of the recently deceased calypso icon Sonny Francois, the Mighty Power.

Mighty Power performing at last year’s Veterans’ Calypso competition, singing ‘Island in the Sun.’ …

Within minutes of the funeral service starting yesterday for veteran calypsonian, Mighty Power (Sonny Francois) the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Gasparillo was transformed into a calypso tent.

Led by Community Development Minister, Winston “Gypsy” Peters, and Mighty Composer, several calypsonians among them Chalkdust, Allrounder, Ellsworth James and Sugar Aloes took over the altar as they delivered their eulogy to their colleague, in song.

To the accompaniment of a drum, the calypso bards had mourners singing along to a medley of Power’s best known calypsos, including his hits like “Culture” “Ah Coming” and “Keep He Dey,” and “Lucy”. Power was a member of the Gasparillo church.

SERENADE TIME: Minister of Community Development, Winston 'Gypsy' Peters, centre, and Michael 'Sugar Aloes' Osuna, and other calypsonians serenading Sonny Francois  Mighty Power  at his funeral service yesterday, at the Sacred Heart RC Church in Gasparillo.

Power, 78, of Caratal, Claxton Bay, died last week Thursday at the San Fernando General Hospital. He had been undergoing tests for cancer, relatives said.

But it was Parish Priest Fr Steve Duncan who stunned the congregation with his wide knowledge of calypso, calypsonians and controversial issues within the fraternity when he delivered his homily.

He told mourners Power was a regular member of his congregation, and among his favourite Power calypsos were “Tun Tun” and “Culture”.

Duncan explained, “That was my era when he composed that tune I would have grown up listening to that tune never quite understanding it.”

It was in his later years, Duncan said, he understood the double entendre and warned that “be careful little mind what you think.”

For full report: Power laid to rest


Harry Belafonte on His New Memoir, ‘My Song’

The following feature was written by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and published in the New York Times Magazine on Oct. 9, 2011.

Belafonte waves to Martin Luther King Jr. (right) at a 1965 civil-rights march in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis)

In 1956, a Harlem-bred child of Caribbean immigrants released the first million-selling LP in history—Harry Belafonte was bigger than Elvis. But where Elvis built Graceland, Belafonte used the proceeds from Calypso to bankroll his friend Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement for civil rights. In an absorbing new memoir, My Song, as well as an HBO documentary, “Sing Your Song,” Belafonte recounts a life that took him from an impoverished childhood in Harlem and Jamaica to studying theater, as an angry young man in the postwar Village, with his close friend Marlon Brando; to finding pop success, in the fifties, as a smiling folksinger and America’s first black matinee idol; to becoming, in the years surrounding John Kennedy’s assassination and the March on Washington, perhaps the key go-between for King’s movement and the federal government. The only man to speak to both King and Bobby Kennedy on a daily basis through those years, ­Belafonte also persuaded JFK to approve airlifting a planeload of Kenyan students to America in 1961. That a certain Barack Obama Sr. was on that plane, one feels, isn’t the sole link to draw between his son and a figure whom the future president’s mother grew up adoring as “the handsomest man in the world,” according to one account. West Indian–American, angry charmer, elder radical, critic of a president who would not have been possible without him—Belafonte is a man of many conflicting identities, all of which he’s needed to help change the world.

You were born in Harlem, but your mother who raised you was a Jamaican immigrant. How do you think your Caribbean roots shaped your experience growing up?
Harry Belafonte:
People from the Caribbean did not respond to America’s oppressions in the same way that black Americans did. We were constantly in a state of rebellion, constantly in a state of thinking way above that which we were given. My people were gangsters and lived in the underworld. And I don’t mean major American crime; I mean, as an immigrant, if you can’t find work inside the law, you find work outside the law. Running numbers and so on. Which is, of course, a characteristic of the poor, who find ways to break the rules, since the rules are always stacked against them.

You moved back and forth often between Jamaica and Harlem, sailing on the banana boats your father worked on as a cook. How do you think that movement, going between New York and the islands, shaped your understanding of race?
I had no particular crisis with white people. Because I never really saw them as in any way superior. Americans—black Americans—had crises, because not only were they forced to believe that white people were superior, but in many instances they bought it. And they made peace with it; we didn’t.

When you began singing folk songs in the early fifties, you were really coming out of the theater.
That’s right. I had come out of the dramatic theater, where the great writers of the day—Clifford Odets, Sean O’Casey—were concerned with politics, with working people. And those were the concerns I heard in Lead Belly, Seeger, when I was first hearing that music. Being involved in a lot of campaigns, helping people unionize, at rallies, helping them organize, picking up a picket sign, and walking in a picket line. And you sang songs on the picket line. So my engagement with the politics of music, and music as a political force, and using it specifically for that, came very early.

When you hit with Calypso in 1956, you gained fame very quickly. But just as quickly you sought to use that platform for other ends: in your work with Martin Luther King and then in your friendship with Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Bobby especially. In the beginning, though, you and Martin were quite suspicious of them; Bobby had been an ally of McCarthy, the blacklist.
We knew [before the 1960 election] that we must deal with reality. Somewhere down the line, we knew, we’re going to have to make the federal government yield to us. And I ­suspect that somewhere in this young man lies … good. So let’s put aside all his transgressions—the House Un-American ­Activities Committee, etc.—our task is to find his moral center and win him to our cause. Up until the day he died, we had a strong bond. But it wasn’t that way in the beginning. We circled one another for a long time; we kept a distance, even if we found reasons to use one another.

I know you’ve been spending a lot of time recently in your old neighborhood, Harlem. What strikes you about how the neighborhood has changed since your own, shall we say, delinquent youth there? How has the community changed?
One of the foremost things that we suffer from, for children, is the lack of models, of tangible role models. A lot of us, as kids, had no such problems. Because then, a lot of the achievers, they were also required to live in the middle of Harlem, or in the South Side of Chicago. “Rich nigs” couldn’t go anywhere. We saw Robeson. We saw Duke Ellington; he lived with us. Now none of those heroic figures live in Bed-Stuy or the heart of Harlem. Now they live in Martha’s Vineyard, Fire Island. In California, they live in Beverly Hills. So there is a definite segregation between role models. They’re not in our midst.

(Photo: Victoria Will/AP)

When you were close with the Kennedys, in those years when JFK asked you to help lead the Peace Corps, you persuaded him to sponsor African students to come to America, one of whom was our current president’s father.
We had the airlift, right. Myself, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a woman called Cora Weiss. And we brought Kenyan students, before independence. To the chagrin of England. There was a huge foreign-policy glitch—England protested bitterly that the government permitted us to do this, without Kenyan visas. That we got them visas to enter American universities. And one of our lifts—and we didn’t have many—on one of those planes, we had Barack Obama’s father.

You praised Obama mightily when he was elected; you’ve now become highly critical of him. What do you think has happened to the president?
I don’t know that anything’s happened to Obama. I don’t know Obama. One can make assumptions, and you can glean things from what he says in his book, but it’s all pretty pat. I don’t know what Obama was intending to be, I don’t know what his game was. Being a community leader, being at Harvard … it’s all so squeaky clean. And I don’t know if he’s got a rabbit in the hat, that he’ll pull out at some point, startle all of us. But there has been no indication whatsoever that there is a rabbit in the hat. There’s been no indication that he even has a hat. So I treat him like I would treat anybody who sits in the seat of power. You push them as much as you can, awaken social consciousness, and try and go out there and make him do things.

My Song
By Harry Belafonte.
Knopf, $30.50.

Sing Your Song HBO.
October 17.

For original report: Harry Belafonte on His New Memoir, ‘My Song’ — New York Magazine.


“If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me.”

The following article was posted by Michael Eldridge on August 14, 2011 on the site, Working for the Yankee Dollar.

MacBeth the Great (Patrick MacDonald), probably at Renaissance Ballroom, July 1947 | From the William P. Gottlieb Collection of Jazz Photos, Library of Congress

I keep coming across bits of trivia I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled upon before.  I already knew, thanks in part to Garl Jefferson, something of how calypso shared fans and venues with bebop in late 1940s Harlem.  Turns out they even shared bills.  Here’s a lovely anecdote from a famous piece previously unbeknownst to me, Paul Bacon’s “The High Priest of Bebop: The Inimitable Mr. Monk” (published originally in The Record Changer in 1949, it was reprinted in Rob Van der Bliek’s Thelonious Monk Reader):

There is, in Harlem, a monstrous barn of a dance-hall called the “Golden Gate”; quite a number of affairs are produced there every year, and the usual system is to have two alternating bands working–in the last few years the two bands have been one bop group and one Calypso band.  (There are a couple of remarkable calypso bands in New York, playing a real powerhouse music which is closer to Harlem in 1928 than Trinidad in any year.) The occasion I’m thinking of took place there in 1947…Macbeth’s calypso contingent shared the stand with a bop sextet fronted by Monk; the boppers were second in line, so, after a long set by Macbeth, Monk’s band wandered desultorily to the stand.

Monk fussed with the piano, discovering that it was a pretty venerable instrument…Close examination showed him that the pedal post was shakily attached; he jiggled the whole piano apprehensively, then shrugged his shoulders and concentrated on some music left behind by Macbeth’s pianist.

A little later I became aware that Thelonious was doing something extraordinary…as I watched, mesmerised, I saw that he was yanking at the pedal post with all his might (first he kept up with the band by reaching up with his right hand to strike an occasional chord, but he had to apply himself to the attack on the post with both hands, and get his back into it, too). There was a slight crack, a ripping sound, and off came the whole works, to be flung aside as Monk calmly resumed playing.  He never looked at it again, but when Macbeth’s man came back on the stand he stopped short, stunned.  It was obvious that here was a new experience, something outside the ken of a rational man; for the rest of the evening he looked upon Thelonious with a new respect.

(Bacon, the designer of dozens of classic albums for Blue Note and Riverside in the 1950s and one of Monk’s early journalistic champions–jazz nerd and Down Beat writer/photograph Bill Gottlieb was another–was interviewed at length last year by Marc Myers for his blog JazzWax.)

Thelonious Monk at Minton’s Playhouse, ca. September 1947 | From the William P. Gottlieb Collection of Jazz Photos, Library of Congress

So Monk’s Caribbean connection wasn’t just second-hand.  He grew up in San Juan Hill, an African-American neighborhood on Manhattan’s west side with a heavy West Indian presence.  As Robin D. G. Kelley tells it in his magisterial biography of Monk, “With the music, cuisine, dialects, and manners of the Caribbean and the American South everywhere in [San Juan Hill], virtually every kid became a kind of cultural hybrid,” and on the radio, at block parties, and through his neighbors’ victrolas, Monk inevitably “absorbed Caribbean music” (23).  His drummer Denzil Best, co-composer of the calypso-inflected “Bemsha Swing,” was the child of Bajan parents.  (“Bimsha” is a phonetic approximation of “Bimshire,” one of Barbados’ nicknames.)   His admirer and sometime student Randy Weston recorded “Fire Down There,” a/k/a “St. Thomas,” almost a year before Sonny Rollins did.  (In fact, Weston once told Rhashidah McNeill that his waltz “Little Niles,” composed in honor of his young son, was inspired by a “swinging quadrille” played for him by MacBeth.)  And while Monk’s go-to bassist and Weston’s childhood friend Ahmed Abdul-Malik, better known for his shared love (with Weston) of North African music, liked to tell people that his father was Sudanese, Robin Kelley claims that Abdul-Malik’s given name was Jonathan Timm and that both his parents were from St. Vincent.  (The bassist covered “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” a road march claimed by Lord Invader but associated with the Duke of Iron and Virgin Islands carnival, on his 1961 album The Sounds of Ahmed Abdul-Malik–again, a year ahead of Rollins.)  I’ve heard it rumored, moreover, that Abdul-Malik played for a time in MacBeth’s band.

MacBeth the Great, “Calypso Holiday” (Time Records S2144, 1961)

As for MacBeth himself: born Patrick MacDonald in Trinidad, he made his first big mark as a performer singing with Gerald Clark’s band at the Village Vanguard in 1940. The stylistic contrast between MacBeth and one of the other featured singers, Sir Lancelot, was marked; as the Afro-American saw it, MacBeth “[stole] the show.” Short in stature, he nevertheless cut quite a figure: “Gayly dressed in red satin trousers, black loosely-belted tunic, casually draped black and green turban, the ends of which fall over his right shoulder, he sings the clever, clever words of the songs, shaking maracas.”[1] MacBeth recorded one tune, “I Love to Read Magazines,” with Clark for Varsity before the war, then more sides for Guild/Musicraft in 1945, Asch/Disc in 1946, Jade around 1949, and Monogram in the early 1950s. He participated in the famous “Calypso at Midnight” concert at New York’s Town Hall in 1946 and subsequently organized his own twelve-piece orchestra. (“Macbeth’s Calypso Band” also appeared on screen with Lord Invader in the “Pigmeat” Markham vehicle House-Rent Party that same year.)  Besides playing in New York, where for many years he took part in Carnival balls in Harlem, Macbeth also performed up and down the East Coast. According to one account, his band was in such demand that it sometimes had to be “split into two groups in order to fulfill engagements which were scheduled on the same night.”  After his death, the sides that MacBeth had done for Bob Shad‘s Jade label were collected on a 1964 album called Calypso Holiday, released by the legendary producer, jazz fan, and A & R man’s latest venture, Time Records.  (Time was superseded by Mainstream, which was eventually acquired by Sony Legacy, who may be behind a recent digital reissue of MacBeth’s Jade sides–along with scores of other Mainstream titles.)  MacBeth’s son Ralph MacDonald, an accomplished percussionist and sometime arranger for Harry Belafonte in the early 1960s, got his start in his father’s band.

Though it was Wilmoth Houdini who crowned himself “King” of the New York calypsonians, in July 1947 Houdini, the Duke of Iron, Lord Invader, and MacBeth the Great, along with “dark horse” the Count of Monte Cristo (the Duke’s brother), staged a monarchy competition at Harlem’s storied Renaissance Ballroom and Casino to determine “the undisputed right to the title of Calypso King.”  (I suspect that’s where William Gottlieb’s “Portrait of Calypso” shots were captured.)  I don’t know which of the rivals prevailed, or whether his victory was ever in fact disputed.  But of course MacBeth’s kingly stature was implicit all along.

[1] “New Kind of Singing: Calypso has Four Parts.” Afro-American  22 June 1940: 13

For original article: “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me.” « Working for the Yankee Dollar.


The Calypso Queen

The following article was written by Tony Hiller for World Music, 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

Festivals Music

Drop your keys and bow your knees

For I, O’Cangaciero has come forth

May 17th 2011 marked the 6th anniversary of the death of Brian Honore, who was known in the calypso world as Commentor, and in traditional mas’ circles, as the Reincarnation of the O’Cangaciero, Midnight Robber. Brian dedicated his life to the defense and upliftment of the rich cultural traditions of the people of the twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean at large.

His commitment as a cultural activist fueled his development as a composer and performer of calypsos with incisive social and political commentaries, which he performed in the calypso tents, communities, and as a member of the People’s Cultural Association. His love for the theatrical arts led him to study at the Creative Arts Centre of the University of the West Indies, and he played significant roles in some of the Centre’s signature productions: Sing the Chorus, Ah Wanna Fall, and The Roaring ’70s. These shows featured calypsos, calypsonians, and the social and political conditions of the historical periods engaged in these musicals.

Brian Honore – Midnight Robber. Photo:

Among the traditional mas’ fraternity, Brian earned the deepest respect and the highest of accolades for his annual portrayals of the Midnight Robber, and his tremendous efforts to revive and propagate these doughty characters of the Trinidad Carnival. He paid homage to the “ole timers” of the art, developing a solid friendship with the late Anthony “Puggy” Joseph with whom he produced a recording of “robber speeches.” One of Brian’s biggest accomplishment, with regard to this art form, is the overt fusion of boasting bravado of robber-talk and the social/political commentary of calypso.

This was first revealed in his seminal calypso – The Opera of the Midnight Robber, a song that imaginatively dealt with the numerous exposures of corrupt business deals in the upper echelons of Trinidadian society and government in the early 1980s. The Satellite Robber, which focused on cultural imperialism, and the growth and impact of satellite television on “home-grown” artistic production in Trinidad, is another of Brian compositions that embodies this style:

The Opera of the Midnight Robber


Tell Minshall gih mih back mih crown, gih mih back mih crown, gih mih back mih crown

Tell him ah say, ah want back mih crown, I am the King Robber in the de town


Stop! Stop! Stop!

You mocking pretender

Get down from my thrown

Peter Minshall that Midnight Robber

Was only a mas ah bone

When he come out to kill or slay

He has to point revolvers at men

But when this Robber want to plunder

All I need is a ballpoint pen

I aint pulling off no robbery

Or risking shoot out with Randy B

When I could open an agency

for some airline company

The Satellite Robber


Ah meet a robber in town

with a Devilish frown and a big, big dish on he back

He say drop on your knees

Surrender your keys and get ready for my attack

He say, ah bring you a dish

To fulfil your wish

For cultural subversion

To dazzle your eyes

Till you conceptualize

That you belong to Uncle Sam


Call Toll Free

Join the US army

No Scouting with Holly B

When ah dishing the Dynasty

I am your satellite robber

Your midnight deceiver

What you can not tote you will drag

I’m here to ripe out your heart

Tear your culture apart

Till you worship the Yankee Flag

Solid Gold

Brian Honore’s work in the arts was but a part of a larger commitment he held for the noble ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Thus he took the passionate fire in his soul to the trade unions, into the sectors in which he labored, and the communities in which he lived.

Tributes to Brian – Web sources


In a Calabash or In de Savanah Party: Pelham Makes Music


Musician, arranger, and composer Pelham Goddard has been involved in the musical life of the Caribbean for over 4 decades. Pelham was born into a musical family that includes the renowned steelpan leader, George Goddard. His mother played the piano and his brothers were all actively involved in the steelpan movement in west Port of Spain, Trinidad. The music of the Goddard household took hold of Pelham at an early age, and he took up playing the piano.

Growing up in the town of St. James, with a proliferation of steel orchestras and Hosay yards in close proximity, significantly impacted Pelham musical drive. By the 1960s he actively participated as a drummer in the annual Hosay festival. He also became an in-demand keyboard and bass player for numerous musical aggregations participating in the burgeoning combo culture among young musicians in Trinidad at the time. During the late 60s Pelham made his foray into steelband as a five-bass player with Starlift Steel Orchestra.

The 1970s saw Pelham blossom forth in even greater demand, particularly for his keyboard/paino skill. He was invited to join the musical band, the Dutchy Brothers led by Pete de Vlught. Among the respected musicians he played alongside in this band was Earl Rodney, revered pannist and steelpan arranger. Following this experience with the Dutchies, Pelham was encouraged by the late Clive Bradley, talented musician and pan arranger, to join the Esquires, a combo led by Bradley.

Pelham Goddard – The Combo Experience from Ken Archer on Vimeo.

In this setting Pelham was driven to enhance of knowledge of music theory, and to write and arrange music for the Esquires with Brass. By the mid-70s, Pelham also became a steady studio musician and a stable member of the Art de Coteau Orchestra, which provided accompaniment on many calypso recordings and toured throughout the Caribbean, performing in many Carnivals, festivals, and shows around the region.

The 70s also herald two additional aspects of Pelham musical career. The decade saw Starlift Steel Orchestra endure significant ruptures that led to former members founding Phase II Steel Orchestra led by Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, the now-defunct Pandemonium Steel Orchestra, and the Third World Steel Orchestra. Pelham was recruited as the musical arranger for Third World, which was located in his native St. James. This marked his foray into the world of steelpan arranging, and he has gone on to be one of the foremost steelband arrangers, especially for his work with the Exodus Steel Orchestra.

Change and experiment also characterized the musical environment of the 70s, and Pelham was at the forefront of this. He was intimately involved in the advent of Soca music, performing with the late Garfield Blackman – Ras Shorty I, who is credited with development of this innovative genre in calypso music.

Pelham also played and recorded with Ed Watson, Dr. Soca. This bandleader, arranger, and composer is recognized for his contribution to the Soca genre, and is known to have arranged music for a number singers at the time, including Ras Shorty I and the deceased Aldwyn Roberts – the Lord Kitchener.

Pelham’s sterling contribution to this genre crystalized as founder, leader, and musical arranger for the Charlies Roots band, which became internationally respected for its calypso music played at Carnivals and festivals across the North and South America, Europe , and the Caribbean. Over that period Pelham penned arrangements for 13 road marches in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and produced music for some calypsonians such as: Calypso Rose, David Rudder, Austin Lyons – Superblue, Chrisopher “Tambu” Herbert, and Cecil Hume – Maestro.

In the following video Pelham Goddard speaks about his early life as a musician in Trinidad; the different influences that shaped his development: his family, the steelbands of St. James, Hosay, and the developing combo scene. Great information, not only about Pelham’s formative years musically, but also the various bands existent at the time. Pelham – The Beginnings