Calypso and Calypsonians of Trinidad

Calypso and Calypsonians of Trinidad

Some of the great past masters of the art form are pictured here in all their glory

Calypso and Calypsonians of Trinidad
Calypso and Calypsonians of Trinidad

Long Live Calypso!

 Aldwin Roberts aka  ”Lord Kitchener”
Aldwin Roberts aka ”Lord Kitchener”
“Calypso Outlived Rock and Roll and Calypso Will Outlive Soul”
 Lord Kitchner
Although it is little known outside of the English speaking Caribbean – formally known as the British West Indies – the Calypso tradition of Trinidad is one of the great contributions to twentieth century music.  Like all great art that rises up from the folk, this music is a sound portrait of the Trinidadian people, a sonic mirror that reflects the deeper precincts of their souls.
Although I have never visited Trinidad, a short coming that I shall soon correct, I have met and befriended many of them here in New York City – the most cosmopolitan city in the world –where there is a sizable Trinidadian community.  I have found them to be a physically beautiful people who are more often than not charming, eloquent, and swift on the cap –which is to say smart as whips.
In my extensive forays among the Trinis I have never had an unpleasant moment, nor have I ever met a Trinidadian that I didn’t like.  There is no other group of people about whom I can say that – not even Afro-Americans – and I’ve met so many people I feel like I’ve been around the world and spoke to everybody twice.
Try as I might, have been unable to muster any armaments to defend against the Charms of Trini Women – From hot chocolate honeys with thick succulent lips and jaunting gluteus maximis, teasing tan Mulattresses, long haired honey brown Dougla gals ….and down Coolies too.  And when they wind it makes me lose my mind!
It could be that I have been lucky enough to only meet the best Trinidadians, the exceptions.  But I think the mathematics argues against it.  For my contacts with Trinis have been too random…too unconnected.  Hence I tend to believe that the Trinidadians that I have met are a representative sample; and what I see is what you get from these delightful, graceful, people.
Thus it seems in the nature of things that Trinidadians should produce an art form that is optimistic, humorous, ironic, highly intelligent, inventive, and filled with joi de vivre!  That is what we have in the art of Calypso.  It is a musical literature for the masses that explore al the issues great literature has always addressed.
It’s themes are universal and address the entire human condition – triumph and tragedy; the nature of morality; the consequences of technology; local politics; world politics, history – ancient and modern – sports, religion, sex, or any issue or topic that should arise in the news of the world and attract the interests of their audience.  Calypsonians are the great bards of the people and they have an intimate relationship with their enthusiastic audience.
It is a unique relationship between artist and audience that can elevate the spirit of a nation and provide clarity on the issues, personal and political.  That’s why the Trinidadian political philosopher / cultural critic /  Pan-African revolutionary /and  intellectual polymath C.L.R. James – one of the great independent radical thinkers of the twentieth century – suggested that since the Caribbean politicians couldn’t figure out how to construct a functional federation perhaps “Sparrow should write a Calypso about it” to show them the way.
As lyricists Calypsonians employ all of the devices used by great poets: complex allusions, graphic imagery, extended metaphor, rhythmic complexity, double entendre, allegory, satire, parody, burlesque, pathos, bathos and symbolism.  And like the Bard of Avon, the father of all poets who write in English – although Hip Hop poets owe more to the French Playwright Moliere  – they tell complex tales in verse.  It is difficult enough to write good poetry, but the Calypsonians’ task is complicated by the fact that they must write serious poetry to music.  And all the masters have managed to pull it off marvelously!

Kitchener Lord

However, the full effect of Calypso is realized when the text is accompanied by great instrumental music.  Some of the best trained musicians in Trinidad work in the calypso tradition.  Each band offers an opportunity for instrumentalists, composers and arrangers.  The traditional bands that accompanied the great bards usually consisted of a rhythm section and horns, brass and reeds: trumpets, trombones and saxophones.

The horns imitate the sound of voices and punctuate the Calypsonians lyrics, which are delivered with panache as the storyteller assumes the dramatis personae of his characters, and they even laugh and cajole the singer.  The Calypso is a unique expression of the universal character of West African derived music.  Antiphony, Polyphony, complex poly-rhythms, etc.

Observers who know what they are looking for can easily identify these characteristic in Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazillion, Afro-American music et al, although each have created their own distinct genres. However the inventiveness of Calypso music in instrumental terms is best demonstrated in the art of the Pan.  I would argue that the Trinidadian pans, upon which a Chopin etude or the re-bopped be-bops of Charlie can be successfully performed, is the only new acoustic instrument that enriched Western music in the twentieth century.

In the Trinidadian pans we can clearly observe the relationship between culture and environment.  For instance, the invention of the musical pan would not have been possible if there had been no oil industry in Trinidad.  The pan is half of an oil drum, two thirds of a barrel or the entire drum – depending upon whether the instrument is pitched in the bass, alto, or trebel clef.  The great Trinidadian craftsmen convert these oil drums into musical instruments by tuning the metal to the notes in the European scale. This enables the skilled musician to perform a wide repertoire.

All of the things that I have described can be clearly observed in the music of great Calypsonians such as Lord Kitchener, Crazy, Chalk Dust, Calypso Rose, The Mighty Sparrow, Black Stalin, et al.  They are an interesting and eclectic group of personalities, and each speak in a unique voice.  This is a basic requirement for Calypsonians; just as to win the respect of one’s colleagues and gain a following a Jazz musician must find his own voice on his instrument.

The Calyponians also bring different gifts to the art form.  For instance Chalk dust holds a PhD in history from the University of Michigan, and Lord Kitchener is a first rate musician who plays the double bass.  Hence if you listen to the Calypsos of Chalk Dust you will hear the most artful blending of historical analysis and narrative poetry one is likely to find.  Watch his performance of “I in Town Too Long,” on You Tube *(see link below”) it is history epic poetry, Homeric.

Chalk Dust

Griot of the Nation
In his narrative of life in this Trinidadian town Chalk Dust aka Dr. Hollis Liverpool, relates the saga of a nation.  His performance is deeply moving.  This is no accident, for Dr. Liverpool believes that the analysis of society rendered by Calypsonians is just as incisive and it should be considered on par with academically trained social scientist.

Chalk Dust aka Dr. Hollis Liverpool

In a 2008 speech at the University of Trinidad and Tobago UTT  – where he is Honorary Distinguished Fellow,  he offered the following analysis.  “Most governments never recognized calypsonians as being intellectually stimulating in the same way as social scientists…. governments don’t see artistes as capable of research.” But he argued that both groups analysis “depend, to a large extent, on common sense,” and that compared to the work of social scientists the observations of Calypsonians were just as “potent, authoritative, and true…and their conclusions are the same in most undertakings.”


To hear Kitchener in all of his glory as a virtuoso instrumentalist just check him out on Be-Bop Calypso, a panegyric to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, two Afro-Americans who created a genre of instrumental music so complex it demanded virtuosity from every member of the band.

Calypso rose

Kitchener and his boys swing very hard, playing the” re-bopped be-bops” that Ralph Ellison heard in Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse without accent!


 crazy ll

Spouting Prophetic Visions

Looking like an old testament prophet in space age robes, Edwin Ayong, whose stage moniker is “Crazy,” is a great Calypsonian.  He can write “Jump Up” music for bacchanals, or brilliant social and political commentary that incites the imagination such as “In Times to Come.”  This moving Calypso, an epic poem whose arresting imagery and intoxicating beat captivates the careful listener, combines a broad intellectual grasp of current events, technological developments, social and cultural criticism, a sharp irreverent wit, and the apocalyptic vision of a futuristic prophet fired up on high grade wisdom weed.


Crazy recalls proudly that when he predicted America would have a black President “They say I singing stupidness.  They pelt the tapes at me!”  He dismissed them as “Doubting Thomases” and declares “I am happy to live to see history in the making.  I may not live to see my other predictions.  But I live to see this one.  This is the big one, baby, as Sanford would say.”


Here Crazy was referring to Redd Foxx’s sitcom character Fred Sanford.  This reference is an indication of how Calysonians gather ideas from all forms of popular culture.  On Barack’s election he says “This is great for America.  This is fantastic for black people all over the world.”
Finally there is The Mighty Sparrow’s erudite and uplifting Calypso “Barack the Magnificent.”  No American songwriter to my knowledge has written anything that remotely approaches the intelligence and esprit de corps of this insightful panegyric.  It is no wonder CLR James thought Sparrow could instruct the politicians on the problems of Federation in the West Indies.
Through the magic of You Tube, all of these Calypsonians can be seen and heard everywhere in the world 24/7, with just click on the links at the bottom of this essay – often they are performing live before their primary audience.  Check them out; they are the greatest song poets in the world!
Dr. Francisco Slinger aka The Mighty Sparrow

Caribbean music
this is the well accepted tune around the world. this type of music an exclusive music and each island has their own rhythm.Caribbean citizens are well known around the world for their play and music. The islands have produced many famous artists who have left their sign on world music. Now a day’s Caribbean music is the well accepted tune around the world. This type of music an exclusive music and each island has their own rhythm. The music is entertaining and wonderful. It is lively and be able to increase you up.
 The music is very easy and comforting yet lively and base tapping melody.

Definitely, Caribbean music is the best music for Caribbean people. Reggae is one kind of genre. It has divided into many genres mainly European, Indian, African, as well as native. This type of music was not a real form of tune but a mixing of many cultures. At first, this type of music was formulated by African salves. There are some famous style of Caribbean music such as reggae, zouk, calypso, salsa, and punta. Generally, it is slow and is extremely comforting.
On the other hand the most important form that changed it to get familiarity was genre and the singers who prepared reggae was the well-known Bob Marley. The Caribbean music styles were sorted into classical, folk, etc. But there are some of the styles pondered the European affect on the melody for instance the Puerto Rican and the Cuban music. The music had firm European influence. In the beginning of 1948 beyond changing of huge figures of Caribbean begun and the move is to England.
Together with them came form the Caribbean and thereafter its popularity got international acclaim. It can be listened to anytime and anywhere. It is a genre that can be played all seasons. There is no particular time or no particular mood required to listen to this genre. The music originating in the Caribbean islands is peppy and jovial. It is primarily intended to boost you up and makes you automatically tap your feet to dance.
Caribbean music was never a pure form of music but an amalgamation of various cultures as explained above. Over the period of time the music was picked up by artist's world over and merged with other forms of music to develop fusion. Besides the merging of Caribbean music with other forms artists also began to remix the music.
Remixed versions of Caribbean music were big hit is discotheques and pubs. The music is simple without any complications and easy to sing along with. A band called UB 40 too popularized Caribbean music in the west. Their remixed versions of Bob Marley numbers became instant hits with music lovers.

You can buy CDs, DVDs, and MP3s to listen to Caribbean music or just go online and download for free all the music available on the free downloading sites. The best known forms of Caribbean music are chandracha, listera and the mambo. Caribbean music is evergreen and will reside in the hearts of music lovers forever. You can also listen to the FM which is streaming music all over the world.



Lord Invader & His Calypso Rhythm Boys
















The Roots of Calypso Music:

Calypso is a genre of Afro-Caribbean music that comes primarily from the island of Trinidad (though calypso is found throughout the Caribbean).
Like most genres of Caribbean music, calypso is heavily rooted in West African traditional music, and was originally used as a means of communication between slaves, as well as a form of entertainment.

The Sound of Calypso Music:

Because Trinidad was, over time, ruled by the British, the French and the Spanish, the African rhythms that form the roots of Calypso music blended with the European folk music of all of these places to give us the heavily rhythmic but still pleasantly melodic sound that we now recognize as Calypso. Calypso is generally played on folk instruments, including the guitar, banjo and various types of percussion.


Calypso Lyrics:

The lyrics of traditional Calypso music are generally quite political in nature, but because of strict censorship, are cleverly veiled.
Calypso lyrics, in fact, are so carefully structured on events of the day that musical historians can date many of the traditional Calypso songs based on their lyrical content.
The Worldwide Popularity of Calypso Music:
Calypso music became something of an international craze when Harry Belafonte first scored a major U.S. hit in 1956 with "Day-O" (the Banana Boat Song), a reworked version of a traditional Jamaican mento song.

Belafonte later became an important figure in the folk revival of the 1960s, and although critics say his music was really a watered-down version of Calypso, he still deserves credit for popularising the genre.

Harry Belafonte Biography:
Harry Belafonte was born in March, 1927, in New York City. He grew up in his grandmother's house in Jamaica until high school, when he returned to New York. After high school, he joined the Navy and served in World War II.

When he returned from the War, Belafonte started studying theater in New York, and eventually won a Tony Award.
Harry Belefonte
His music career began in the clubs of Manhattan, fronting the Charlie Parker Band and singing pop songs.
After some time, he became increasingly interested in traditional folk music and inked a deal with RCA Victor in 1952 to record folk songs.
Harry Belefonte
He soon became one of the most popular purveyors of calypso music, after scoring an enormous hit with his 1956 album Calypso, which is credited with introducing American audiences to that form of folk music.
Harry Belefonte
Harry Belefonte
In the 1950s, he became largely involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
He was also one of the chief organizers of the "We Are the World" campaign in 1985.
To this day, Belafonte continues to be politically active, and to speak out for civil rights and justice.
He also continues to perform to sold-out audiences around the country.
In addition to his numerous awards for acting (he was the first African-American man to win an Emmy Award), Belafonte has received Kennedy Center Honors and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award


Lord Kitchener (18 April 1922 – 11 February 2000)
 Also known as Aldwyn Roberts, was the son of a blacksmith, Stephen, and homemaker, Albertha. Kitchener's success began after he moved to England. His fame continued throughout the 1950s, when calypso achieved international success. Kitchener's compositions were enormously popular as the chosen selections for steel bands to perform at the annual National Panorama competition during Trinidad Carnival.
Live Performances:
 Lord Kitchener- Pillow Fight
Lord Kitchener on his childhood and musical influences
Lord Kitchener- Pan in A Manor
Lord Kitchener- Old Lady Walk Ah Mile
Mighty Sparrow or Birdie (born July 9, 1935, in Grand Roy, Grenada, West Indies)
 Might Sparrow’s Official Website
Mighty Sparrow is a calypso singer, songwriter, and guitarist. Known as the "Calypso King of the World," he is one of the most well-known and successful calypsonians. He has won Trinidad's Carnival Road March competition eight times and has been named Calypso Monarch eleven times.
 Live Performances:
 Mighty Sparrow- Jean and Dinah
 Mighty Sparrow- Mae Mae
 Mighty Sparrow- I’m A Slave

 Ras Shorty I (October 6, 1941-July 12, 2000)
Born Garfield Blackman in St. Julien, Trinidad and Tobago, was a Soca musician, known as the Father of Soca and The Love Man. Shorty came to fame as Lord Shorty with his 1963 hit "Cloak and Dagger". He started out writing songs and performing in the calypso genre. In the 1970s, he began experimenting with calypso by blending it with the local chutney—the music of Trinidad's East Indian population.
Live Performances:
 Ras Shorty performing in Trinidad

 Mighty Shadow (Born October 2, 1941)
Also known as Winston Bailey, was born in Trinidad. Shadow spent his childhood years in Les Coteaux, Tobago. He won Road March titles in 1974 and 2001 with "Bassman" and "Stranger," respectively. He won the Calypso Crown in 2000 with "What's Wrong With Me" and "Scratch Meh Back." In addition to his music, Shadow became renowned for his unique dance in which he jumped to the tempo of his music in "skip-rope style," with both feet in the air at the same time.
Live Performances:
 Mighty Shadow- Dingolay
 Mighty Shadow- Yuh Lookin Fuh Horn
Calypso Rose (Born April 27, 1940 in Bethel, Tobago)
 Calypso Rose Webpage
Also known as McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis, Calypso Rose began writing songs at the age of 15, and has written over 800 songs. In 1966 she wrote the song “Fire in Me Wire”, which has become a calypso anthem. Rose was the first female to win the Trinidad Road March Competition, in 1977 with her song “Tempo.” She won the Calypso Queen title five years running. She has also won both the Trinidad Calypso Crown and Road March competitions in 1978, the Sunshine Award in 1989 and the Trinidad and Tobago Hummingbird Medal in 2000.

Calypso Rose Interview 1
Calypso Rose Interview 2Live Performances:
Calypso Rose- Fire Fire
Calypso Rose- Solomon
Machel Montano and Xtatik featuring Calypso Rose
Calypso Rose- Ju Ju Warrior

David Michael Rudder (born May 6, 1953, Belmont, Trinidad and Tobago)

In 1977, David Rudder joined Charlie’s Roots, one of the top bands in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1986 he came to fame with his album The Hammer, which produced two megahits, “The Hammer” and “Bahia Girl”. In 1988 Rudder released his album Haiti, a tribute to the strife and successes of Haiti; “Engine Room”, which captured the energy of the steel band; and “Rally ‘Round the West Indies,” which became the anthem of West Indies cricket. In 2008, David Rudder did a Soca collaboration with fellow Trinidadian Machel Montano, “Oil and Music” on Machel’s 2008 albumFlame On.

David Rudder MySpace Page

Live Performances:
David Rudder- Calypso Music
David Rudder- Haiti

Chalkdust (Born 1941 in Trinidad and Tobago)
Chalkdust (or Chalkie) is also known as Hollis Urban Lester Liverpool, and has been singing calypso since 1967 and has recorded over 300 calypsos. He is an eight-time winner of Trinidad’s Calypso Monarch competition, most recently in 2009. Chalkdust, who holds a Ph.D. in history and ethnomusicology from the University of Michigan, is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is the author of the books Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago and From the Horse’s Mouth, a socio-cultural history of calypso from 1900 to 2003.

Live Performances:
Chalkdust- I In Town Too Long

Chalkdust- Just Do

Chalkdust- Chauffeur Wanted

Black Stalin (born September 24, 1941 in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago)
Born Leroy Calliste, Stalin began singing calypso in 1959, but did not join a calypso tent until 1962 when he joined the Southern Brigade. In 1967 he joined Kitchener’s Calypso Revue tent and managed to place in that year’s Calypso Monarch competition.

Stalin won the Calypso Monarch competition for the first time in 1979 and went on to win it again in 1985, 1987, 1991 and 1995. In 1987 he was awarded the Hummingbird Medal for his contributions to culture. Black Stalin became Dr. Leroy Calliste on October 31, 2008, when he was conferred with an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine for his tremendous dedication and contribution to Calypso music and culture in Trinidad and Tobago.

Live Performances:
Black Stalin- Sufferers

Black Stalin- Bun Dem

Black Stalin- We Can Make It

King Short Shirt (born February 28th, 1942)
King Short Shirt MySpace Page

Also known as McLean Emmanuel, he first entered the calypso competition in Antigua in 1962 but did not pass the elimination rounds. Short Shirt first successfully grasped the crown in 1964 with his songs “No Place Like Home” and “Heritage.” This was the beginning of a new era in Antigua’s calypso heritage. His power, diction and clarity, distinguished Short Shirt as one of the calypso greats. His 1976 album, Ghetto Vibes featured his own band (Ghetto Vibes), and is still considered one of the very best calypso albums ever produced.

Live Performances:
King Short Shirt- When 
King Short Shirt at the 2006 OECS Awards
King Short Shirt at UPP Whistle Stop

Mighty Power

Born Sonny Francois, Mighty Power is sometimes referred to as just “Power.” At the 2007 Veterans Calypso Monarch competition Power (Sonny Francois) sang “My Intention” which was well received by the audience. His second song “Line Up” was a reflection on how people have to line up for everything, including justice. Sonny Francois, the Mighty Power won second place in the 2008 Calypso Monarch Competition with his rendition of ”Democracy” and “Yuh Wasting Time”.

Live Performances:
Mighty Power- Respect Our Culture
Mighty Power- Jessica

The Mighty Duke (1930 – 2009)
Born Kelvin Pope, The Mighty Duke was a Trinidadian born in Point Fortin. Pope left his job working at Shell Oil to perform calypso music. In the 1950s, he played locally in his hometown, and then began playing in San Fernando at the Southern Brigade Calypso Tent. In 1964 he relocated to Port of Spain. He won the National Calypso Monarch title for four years straight (1968-71), and was noted for exploring ideas such as black consciousness and global politics in his lyrics. Pope died on January 14, 2009 in Saint Clair, Trinidad and Tobago.
 The Mighty Duke Interview
Live Performances:
 Mighty Duke- De Whole Thing Change Up
 Mighty Duke- Help
 Mighty Duke- Victims
 Mighty Duke reflecting on the year 2000
 Mighty Duke in NYC

Gary Trotman – (DofM)

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