Archive for the ‘Calypso’ Category

Patrick Jones Tells the History of Calypso in Trinidad

November 12, 2015

LP-CoverPatrick Jones at age 71 Image from Cook Records 5016

Text by Caldwell Taylor from http://www.spiceislandertalkshop.com

Patrick (“Chinee Patrick”) Jones (1876-1965), pyrotechnician, political gadfly, human rights campaigner, anti-colonialist, Carnival band-leader and raconteur extraordinaire, is an unsung master of calypso.

He was a leading exponent of calypso‘s oratorical style, a form that characteristically contained four eight-line stanzas sung in the minor key. The oratorical was essayistic, expository and florid and it is no wonder that it was favored by calypso’s “connoisseurs of words”, including “Executor”, “Atilla the Hun,“ Growling Tiger” and “Pretender”. Echoes of the oratorical can be heard today in “Chalkdust”, “Valentino”, “Black Wizard”,  “Scholar”, and a Barbadian-Canadian bard  named “Structure”.

“Chinee Patrick” emerged in the first decade  of the twentieth century and in his heyday he did battle against songsters like “Fijonel”, “Executor” ,and “Chieftain Douglas”. In a 1956 interview with American folklorist Emory Cook,  Chinee Patrick recounted a 1920s lyrical “war”  against Lord Executor, then regarded as the preeminent extemporizer (“extempo artist) in the land and the true successor to “the greatest extempo calypsonian of all time”, the “Senior Inventor” (Henry Forbes).

Patrick Alexander Jones was born in Port of Spain, to a Chinese shopkeeper father and mixed (Euro-African) mother. Patrick’s father was a scion of
the Chen family, whose Chinese ancestors were known for their radical nationalist politics. Indeed, Patrick’s father and his father’s brother were both sent to the West Indies as indentured laborers, exile being punishment for the brothers’ radical  politics.

The following audio excerpts are from Emory Cook’s 1956 interview of Patrick Jones, released on “Calypso Lore and Legend”

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Calypso Roots

June 18, 2015

Calypso Dreams

May 1, 2015

from http://bestofcaribbeantales.wordpress.com:

The feature-length documentary film Calypso Dreams chronicles the fascinating spirit and traditions of Calypso music in the island country of Trinidad and Tobago, dating back to its complex Afro-Caribbean roots in the 18th and 19th centuries.

With narrative commentary by the popular Caribbean musician David Rudder, the film captures riveting, contemporary performances by a host of legendary Calypso performers with colorful “sobriquets,” including the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Lord Superior, Black Stalin, Mighty Bomber, Lord Blakie, Singing Sandra and Mighty Terror, and pays homage to recently deceased Calypsonians, including Lord Kitchener and Lord Pretender.

The film also includes a rare and exclusive interview with Harry Belafonte on the issue of his early involvement with Calypso and his complex relationship with Lord Melody in the 1950s and early ’60s. Using a rich array of archival footage and photographs, Calypso Dreams illustrates how the music was corrupted and homogenized by the American music industry in the 1940s and 1950s, only to survive and, ultimately, thrive in international anonymity.

As with The Buena Vista Social Club, Calypso Dreams provides a cultural rediscovery—in this case, of a musical tradition that has been bypassed by the mainstream for decades. It is a celebration not only of the music of Calypso, but of the intense sense of community it engenders in Trinidad and Tobago, and of the art form’s dynamic social and political roots, which sustain it.

Calypso Craze (Bear Family Box Set)

September 20, 2014

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from http://www.bear-family.com:

Calypso Craze (6-CD / 1-DVD boxed set (LP-size) with 176-page hardcover book, 173 tracks. Total playing time approx. 484 mns. – DVD: 14 chapters, c. 86 minutes)

From late 1956 through mid-1957, calypso was everywhere: not just on the Hit Parade, but on the dance floor and the TV, in movie theaters and magazines, in college student unions and high school glee clubs. There were calypso card games, clothing lines, and children’s toys. Calypso was the stuff of commercials and comedy routines, news reports and detective novels.

Nightclubs across the country hastily tacked up fishnets and palm fronds and remade themselves as calypso rooms. Singers donned straw hats and tattered trousers and affected mock-West Indian ‘ahk-cents.’ And it was Harry Belafonte – not Elvis Presley – who with his 1956 album ‘Calypso’ had the first million-selling LP in the history of the record industry. No wonder reporters and marketers joined the trade journals and fanzines in declaring a ‘Calypso Craze.’ In fact, by the time ‘Variety’ announced “Hot Trend: Trinidado Tunes” (on the cover of its December 26, 1956 issue), the Craze was already well underway.

How calypso came from Trinidad to America and found such celebrity, vying seriously (if only fleetingly) with rock ‘n’ roll for the affections of the nation’s youth, is one of the stranger tales of modern popular music. This collection offers an overview of calypso’s slow rise, heady prominence, and precipitous fall in America and beyond in the period surrounding the Calypso Craze of 1956-57.

•    Trinidadian calypsonians Lion, Atilla, Radio, and Caresser; Beginner, Invader, and Kitchener; Terror, Cristo and Panther
•    Trinidadian expatriates Wilmoth Houdini, Duke of Iron, Sir Lancelot, and MacBeth the Great
•    Other West Indians (and Bermudians) such as Lloyd Thomas, Lord Flea, Lord Foodoos, Mighty Zebra, The Talbot Brothers, Sidney Bean, Hubert Smith, Blind Blake, Enid Mosier, The Eloise Trio, Edric Connor, George Browne, and Frank Holder
•    Folksingers The Tarriers, Terry Gilkyson and The Easy Riders, Stan Wilson, and The Kingston Trio

Bonus DVD:
•    Unseen in over 55 years – a ‘Calypso Craze’ feature-length film never before issued on video or broadcast on television: ‘Calypso Joe’ (Allied Artists, 1957), starring Herb Jeffries and Angie Dickinson, and featuring Duke of Iron and The Easy Riders
•    Four short ‘soundies’ from the 1940s and 50s, with Sam Manning and ‘Belle Rosette’ (Beryl McBurnie), Broadway and big-band singer Gracie Barrie covering Stone Cold Dead In The Market, and Lord Cristo and the March Of Dimes Quartet

“Mary Ann”

April 28, 2013

John Specker of Andover, VT plays Roaring Lion’s “Mary Ann”:

edited from Kaiso Newsletter No. 25 – July 14, 1999:

Mary Ann was composed by Roaring Lion (born Rafael de Leon, 22 February 1908 – 11 July 1999).   Roaring Lion was a  calypsonian from Trinidad whose 65-year career began in the early 1930s. Lion stated that he composed the song during an all day party on Carenage Beach on St Peter’s Day in 1941 but that it only came to light in 1945.

In Trinidad, Mary Ann was especially popular for VE and VJ Day celebrations where Carnival, which had been banned during the war years, was suddenly given free reign.  Mary Ann went on to become one of the most well known of all calypsos and the folk group Terry Gilkyson and the Easy Riders had a popular hit in the United States with their ‘adaption’ of it in 1957.

The Roaring Lion started appearing in the calypso tents in Port-of-Spain in the late Twenties, although the exact year is not clear. He was always impeccably dressed and known for his lion headed cane, he was a strong singer, and was recognized as a composer of all the major styles of calypso. Respected as an ‘experimentalist’ in calypso, he could write calypsos on any theme and while never crowned a calypso monarch, he was one of its greatest practitioners.   He was originally known as Lion Flaps but that was dropped as he found more success and he became Roaring Lion.

Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band

December 12, 2012

bcd16057

from http://www.bear-family.com:

Calypso Dawn: 1912 (Trinidad String Band): 1-CD Digipac (4-plated) with 32-page booklet, 24 tracks, playing time approx. 72 mns.

This is the story of an exciting discovery. The very first recorded examples of calypso music.

When researching aspects of the history of the Caribbean, American ethnologist Dick Spottswood unexpectedly uncovered an unknown musical treasure. From the depth of a library he fished out several flat cardboard boxes containing matrixes. The accompanying note said the recordings were made by a 12-piece jazz orchestra from Trinidad in 1912: Lovey’s Trinidad String Band.

          Who were these musicians We do not know much about them, and the internet doesn’t either. It is known, though that in May 1912 the dance band embarked on a tour to the United States of America as reported by the ‘Port-of-Spain Gazette’ a couple of days before their departure. The ensemble had been founded by violinist Lovey (real name: George R. Baillie) during the last decade of the 19th century. So by 1912 they were by no means unknown in their home country.
         We can’t say for certain which cities, festivals and ballrooms the Trinidad instrumentalists visited in the U.S.A. But this is clear: they stayed in New York City from late June into July 1912 where they recorded several songs of South American rhythms, first in the studio of the Victor Talking Machine Company, then at the Columbia Phonograph Company. In doing so, George R. Baillie and his men made musical history; they were the first to bring the sound of Calypso onto records.
        Recording technology back then was in its infancy and scratches and noise were common. So it’s amazing that the sound of these old, uniquely important recordings is actually pretty clear. They sound no worse than recordings from the ’40s or ’50s, says Richard Weize who has restored and issued many Calypso pearls from the early days of shellac records on his Bear Family Records label. For the restoration of these historic recordings he couldn’t have secured the services of a better man than mastering expert Chris Zwarg from True Sound.
          These completely restored masters should be of special relevance for the state of Trinidad and Tobago. Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1962, the islands finally became independent from Great Britain. The people celebrated carnival for a week, remembering and celebrating their own identity. Half a century earlier, Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band had played a substantial role in developing and promoting the identity of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Marvellous Boy”

August 31, 2012

from Honest Jon’s Records:
The inter-war dance bands of British West Africa are often strikingly similar in sound to Trinidadian orchestras like Lovey’s String Band (credited with the first calypso recordings, in 1912). However, the first West African calypso recordings in the modern style are from Freetown, Sierra Leone in the early 1950s, by Ebenezer Calendar and Famous Scrubbs. In arrangements blending African and European instruments, the brass plays out the legacy of colonial military bands, albeit hair-down and a little ramshackle now; and the beautiful creole lyrics are as upful, quick, current, musical and intimate as any classic calypsonian’s.
Decca also organized the first calypso recording session in Ghana, down the coast, where a sound interchangeably designated ‘calypso’ or ‘highlife’ ruled urban dancefloors, courtesy of The Tempos — fronted here by Julie Okine — and its spin-offs The Black Beats, The Red Spots, and finally The Rhythm Aces.
The invasion of King Mensah of Ghana, and The Tempos’ money-spinning tour of Nigeria at the start of the 1950s sparked a decade of musical innovation. Bobby Benson’s new highlife eleven-piece included the great trumpeters Victor Olaiya and Roy Chicago — both leaving to lead the bands featured here, the Cool Cats and Rhythm Dandies — and his calypso Taxi Driver was their first, huge, signature hit. (By contrast, little is known about the Nigerian Rolling Stone, whose real name was Roland Onaghise, singing here in the Bini dialect with such rootical frankness.)
The Mayor’s Dance Band was the second lineup run by the celebrated Erekosima ‘Rex’ Lawson, after the Nigeraphone Studio Orchestra Of Onitsha, and highly successful throughout the 1960s. With Lawson’s trademark blend of Igbo lyrics over a Calabari rhythm, reflecting his mixed parentage, and his superb, Caribbean-flavoured trumpet-playing, Bere Bote is the latest of the recordings here.  Like Lawson, Steven Amechi was from eastern Nigeria — the guitar solo on Nylon Dress is by the king of Igbo highlife, Stephen Osita Osadebe.
The Tempos’ drummer Guy Warren once recalled a trip to London, where he’d played in Kenny Graham’s pioneering Afro Cubists: ‘When I was in London I went to the Caribbean Club somewhere near Piccadilly, the haunt of a lot of West Indians. It was all calypso every night… When I came back I brought some of these records and we learnt to play them as I knew straightaway that these musical inflections were so highlifish.’ And most likely he would have thrown in some of Ambrose Campbell’s London recordings of calypso highlife with the West African Rhythm Brothers, including horn players from the Caribbean — at that time making an epochal impact back home in Nigeria.
And saxophonist Chris Ajilo was likewise deeply impressed by the Afro Cubists, forming his band The Cubanos on his return to Lagos in 1955, after studying at the London School Of Music. (Baba Ani, aka Lekan Animashaun — stalwart of Fela Kuti’s music, from the Koola Lobitos to Egypt 80 — was in later lineups.) A tribal ‘woro’, ‘fire dance’, from Egun country, obviously Ariwo isn’t highlife-calypso, it’s cooking afro-cuban jazz with traditional roots; but it exemplifies the open hybridity of all these forms, and the receptivity of their West African milieu to inspiration abroad, as throughout the 1950s West African musicians like King Bruce of The Rhythm Aces, the Sierra Leonean calypsonian Ali Ganda, E.T. Mensah and Zeal Onyia all checked out London’s burgeoning West Indian and West African scenes.
By the early 1960s, calypso was fading in West Africa. US soul and rhythm and blues were poised to replace Caribbean influences, even as there was also a turn towards more traditional, local, African musical material. Still, the dying embers would produce its most classical exponent, Godwin Omabuwa, Nigeria’s own Lord Kitchener, ebulliently singing here about a famous victory of the middleweight Dick Tiger. Another graduate of Bobby Benson’s orchestras, his band the Casanova Dandies at this time included the jazz modernist Mike Falana, on the eve of his departure for London, where he would join Peter King’s African Jazz Messengers. In the face of changing tastes, Omabuwa cut only a few records, and his live audience was steeply reduced to prostitutes and their customers in a Lagos Island dive, but his mastery of the genre was a fitting end to the heyday of calypso in British West Africa.

Calypso at Midnight

April 7, 2012

from http://research.culturalequity.org

Learning that Town Hall (in NYC) could be rented cheaply after regular theater hours, Alan Lomax produced a late-night concert series called The Midnight Special, which was thematically organized as Blues At Midnight, Ballads At Midnight, etc., and sponsored by the People’s Songs Collective.  A live recording was made of “Calypso At Midnight,” a concert held at Town Hall on December 21, 1946. The calypso concert recordings, made at Lomax’s request and later found by chance in a closet by Bess Lomax Hawes, may be the only extant record of this series. “This concert is a fascinating document of an American presentation of Trinidadian calypso at a time when interest in the genre was spreading from New York City into the mainstream of popular music in the United States” (Donald R. Hill and John H. Cowley, Calypso At Midnight [Rounder 1840]).

This material (newly available online) from Alan Lomax’s independent archive (over 17,400 digital audio files), begun in 1946, which has been digitized and preserved by the Association for Cultural Equity, is distinct from the thousands of earlier recordings on acetate and aluminum discs he made from 1933 to 1942 under the auspices of the Library of Congress.  Attempts are being made, however, to digitize some of this rarer material, such as the Haitian recordings, and to make it available in the Sound Recordings catalog. Please check in periodically for updates.

LISTEN TO “CALYPSO AT MIDNIGHT” HERE.

Macbeth

The Sly Mongoose

October 2, 2011

For the Western MA Apocalypsonians:  Roaring Spider,  Mighty Rabbit, Growling Vole, and Biting Tick,  please check out Maharajah’s mighty calypso blog:  http://theslymongoose.blogspot.com/

and Yoyo’s incomparable Caribbean (and more) blog at http://listentoyourears.blogspot.com/search/label/calypso

Many treasures to be found there.

“Roosevelt in Trinidad,” by The Atilla: