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Calypso’s “Kitch” of the Day

by Von Martin written for the “WASHINGTON POST”

February 20, 2000

published at the request, and with the expressed permission - of the author

“I wrote for the Washington Post commemorating “Lord Kitchener.” This was done in 2000 using material from an interview I did with Kitch in 1988. I think its a doozy. Cheers, Von”  

If Aldwyn Roberts, the calypsonian known as Lord Kitchener, had been born in a metropolitan country instead of the island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, he might have been considered one of the greatest composers of this century.

But then he would not have contributed so much to calypso music. For more than 50 years, Lord Kitchener, who died Feb. 11 at the age of 77, gave calypso some of its wittiest and most infectious musical compositions.

Calypso, a genre grounded in the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, is both poetry in music and editorial in song. Calypso songs praise or condemn their subjects. The lyrics tell of the life of the island’s people and echo the social activities of its leaders, prominent citizens and the average man on the street.

Lord Kitchener, affectionately known as “Kitch,” composed a wide range of topical songs on a variety of national and international issues. In “Africa My Home,” he reminded many Caribbeans about their own history. “Play Mas” encouraged people to participate in liberating Carnival festivities. And “Pan in the 21st Century” looked at the development of steel drum music, which didn’t always get the respect it deserved.

His musical compositions were diverse and melodic. Kitch blended calypso with jazz, particularly bebop. He once paid tribute to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker in a rhythmic calypso tempo.

But most important of all was Kitchener’s marriage of calypso with Trinidad’s other indigenous musical form, pan, music played on steel drums. He composed and sang songs to be played on the steel drums during Carnival season. In 1944 he composed his first pan calypso, “The Beat of the Steelband,” which initiated a wonderful alliance between the steel drum movement and the calypsonian.

Kitch spent some of his early years in London, where he cultivated an international audience for calypso. He also was popular in Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone and Ghana, where his music was played at the 1957 independence celebrations.

Encouraged by fellow calypsonian the Mighty Sparrow to return home, Lord Kitchener moved back to Trinidad in 1963 and injected much-needed vitality into the calypso movement.

Calypsonians adopt titles of nobility or strength or power, hence the “Lord” or “Mighty” in their names. Roberts dubbed himself Lord Kitchener. No other calypsonian has been able to achieve a coveted title of champion while away from home. Lord Kitchener did just that. He won the Road March title 13 times. You win the Road March when most bands parade the main stage area of Queen’s Park Savannah playing your music. For this achievement he was dubbed the Road March King.

Despite his outstanding career, Kitchener remained a humble man. Two years ago, I visited him at his home in Diego Martin, a village outside the Trinidadian capital of Port-of-Spain. He stammered a little as he greeted me, and was concerned whether I was receiving the records I needed for my “Caribbeana” radio show. He was even more concerned, though, about the next generation of calypsonians.

During Carnival, Kitch always sang at his Calypso Revue tent, a place where the public was invited to hear calypsonians perform. Throughout his illness and his passing, his tent has remained open to the public.

The revue management believed that Kitch would want it no other way.

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Von Martin
Von Martin


Von Martin - Steelpan Documentarian
Chief Executive Officer & Founder
Caribbeana Communications Inc.

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