MORE WRITE-UP

CALYPSO AND CALYPSONIANS

It is thought that the name "calypso" was originally "kaiso”, meaning ‘go on!’ or ‘continue’ in two African dialects, to urge someone on or to back a contestant.

The term "calypso" is recorded from the 1930s onwards when the early European settlers put the word into print. (Best known from Homer's epic, the Odyssey, Calypso was a nymph who enticed Odysseus into a cave for seven years.)

The first identifiably calypso genre song was recorded in 1912, by Lovey's String Band while visiting New York City. In 1914, the second calypso song was recorded, this time in Trinidad, by ‘chantwell’ Julian Whiterose, better known as the Iron Duke. Jules Sims would also record vocal calypsos.

Perhaps due to the constraints of the wartime economy, no recordings of note were produced until the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the "golden era" of calypso would cement the style, form and phrasing of the music.

Calypso evolved into a way of spreading news around Trinidad. Politicians, journalists and public figures often debated the content of each song, and many islanders considered these songs the most reliable news source. Scandal, gossip, innuendo, politics, local news, bravado and insulting other calypsonians were the order of the day in classic calypso. The music sparked shock and outrage in the moral sections of society.

An entrepreneur named Eduardo Sa Gomes played a significant role in spreading calypso in its early days. Sa Gomes, a Portuguese immigrant who owned a local music shop in Port of Spain, promoted the genre and gave financial support to the local artists. In March 1934 he sent Roaring Lion and Attila the Hun to New York City to record; they became the first calypsonians to record abroad, bringing the genre out of the West Indies and into pop culture.

The first major stars of calypso started crossing over to new audiences worldwide in the late 1930s. Attila the Hun, Roaring Lion and Lord Invader were first, followed by Lord Kitchener, one of the longest-lasting calypso stars in history – he continued to release hit records until his death in 2000. "Rum and Coca-Cola" (1944) by the Andrews Sisters, a cover version of a Lord Invader song, became an American hit. The year 1956 saw the massive international hit "Jean and Dinah" by Mighty Sparrow.  The year 1956 also showed Dave De Castro and the Calypso Bandits spreading calypso across North America, from Montreal to Las Vegas.

Calypso's roots are somewhat unclear, but can be traced to 18th century Trinidad. Modern calypso, however, began in the 19th century, a fusion of disparate elements ranging from the masquerade song ‘lavway’, French Creole ‘belair’, and the stick fighting ‘chantwell’. Calypso's early rise was closely connected with the adoption of Carnival by Trinidadian slaves, including ‘canboulay’ drumming and the music masquerade processions.

Early forms of calypso were also influenced by jazz. In extempo (extemporaneous) melody, calypsonians lyricise impromptu, commenting socially or insulting each other, "sans humanité" or "without mercy" (again a reference to French influence).

(The above is edited from the TUCO website)


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Lord Kitchener performs on the BBC TV programme "Caribbean Carnival", in 1951

(l-r) Kitchener on bass, Superior on guitar and Lord Melody doing vocals, in Guyana 1962

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(l-r) Lord Invader, The Mighty Growler, Attila the Hun (in dress) and The Roaring Lion at Fort Read Army Base, Central Trinidad, in 1943

Roaring Lion: best known for his composition "Ugly Woman"

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The Mighty Terror with singers Carol Addison, left, and Ella Andell

Kitchener on a postage stamp

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Blakie won road march in 1962 with 'Maria'

Lord Creator, left, with calypso star Mighty Sparrow. Sparrow won his first Road March and Calypso King titles in 1956 with "Jean and Dinah".

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Roy Cape, left, with Brother Valentino in the early days

Mighty Duke won the National Calypso Monarch title four consecutive times, from 1968 to 1971

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Small Island Pride, King (Mighty) Sparrow and Sir Galba

Sparrow performs for the Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, and his guests

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Shadow, in his trademark black hat and cape

Lord Shorty, the father of Soca, on the cover of a 1974 album