George D. Maharaj Selling His Famed Calypso Collection And Archive

By Colin Rickards Pride Contributing Writer

WST World News Division


TORONTO, Ontario: What is almost certainly the world’s greatest private collection of vinyl Calypso records and videos, as well photographs, posters, flyers and other historical memorabilia may soon have a new owner and a new home.

It will not be in Trinidad, birthplace of the art form, as successive Trinidad and Tobago Governments, though approached to help in creating a Calypso Museum or Centre, have shown no interest.

So, Trinidad-born, Toronto-based George D. Maharaj is now in negotiation with the Government of Barbados, which is interested in acquiring his unique collection for their National Library.

This sorry tale -- with almost Biblical “A prophet is not recognized in his own land” under- and over-tones -- emerged at the L'Amoreaux Community Center on Sunday afternoon as Maharaj launched Volume Two of his ground breaking study The Roots of Calypso.

In the Foreword to the book Maharaj details his efforts to interest successive governments in the land of his birth -- and of the birth of Calypso -- about the need to create a Museum or Centre for the preservation of materials on Calypsonians and their Calypsoes, and for research.

“As early as 1987, I approached the National Alliance for Reconstruction government to start to preserve the art form, but before they attended to my cry they dismantled [were voted out of office] and never addressed my proposals,” he writes. “I next approached the United National Congress government about the same proposal and had meetings with the culture, tourism, information, housing, [and] local government ministries and the Prime Minister.”

He says that “no one seemed to care.”

“In 2001, I decided to tackle the People’s National Movement government about the same project,” Maharaj says. “I had written communications with the Prime Minister, Culture Minister, Information Minister, Tourism Ministry and many other ministers but, again, no interest to date.”

He even “produced a business plan for the establishment of a calypso museum and research centre,” but it was “all in vain.”

In 2004 Maharaj published Volume One of his study The Roots of Calypso, and sold 4,000 copies worldwide. Launched in Toronto, it was subsequently launched in both Trinidad and Tobago, was accepted into the local school library system, endorsed by virtually every living Calypsonian, at home and abroad, and Maharaj received an enthusiastic letter from President George Maxwell Richards.

Yet Trinidad and Tobago is no nearer to the creation of a Museum or Centre for preserving its Calypso history, and Maharaj now despairs of any such activity.

“I have been collecting Calypso records, and doing Calypso research, since 1980,” he told Pride News Magazine. “I can safely say that I possess one of the -- if not the -- largest Calypso collections in the world.”

The oldest recording is one from 1912, made by Jules Simms, who was what was then known as a “Chantwell Singer.”

“I now have over 5,000 original vinyl records, from 1912 to 1989, the vast majority on Calypso, with some steelband, combo and limbo music,” Maharaj says. “I also have hundreds of items of printed materials, audio tapes, video tapes, photographs, posters and artifacts on Calypso.”

He told Pride that, as far as he knows, there are only four vinyl discs of Calypso recordings that he does not own, and he has a pretty good idea where to find these to complete his collection.

It is this archive that Maharaj is now talking about selling to the National Library of Barbados.

“Where is this history documented?” Maharaj asked rhetorically. “In my head. That should not be.”

Sunday’s launch of Volume Two of Maharaj’s The Roots of Calypso was a joyous occasion, which brought out Calypsonians and Calypso fans, as well as a quartet of speakers, and was under the distinguished patronage of Michael G-A Lashley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Consul General in Toronto.

“Both as an individual person of Trinidad and Tobago, and as the representative of the Consulate General, it is my responsibility to give support to all things Cultural,” Lashley said.

He spoke of various famed Calypsonians, and some who are lesser known, Seeing Calypsonian and composer Jason Perez in the audience, Lashley paid tribute to the Calypso “Mother and Daughter,” composed by Jason and performed by Macomere Fifi.

“It is by far the most beautiful Calypso I’ve heard in my Toronto lifetime,” he said. “The ‘Best of the Best’.”

Lashley paid tribute to the author’s diligence in research, saying that “it takes years of preparation of self, years of research,” to produce a book, and that Maharaj “gives not just his best foot, he gives his best feet and best hands.”

Grenada-born copyright lawyer and historian Caldwell Taylor said he is disturbed that “the people who are making the Calypsoes are totally, totally disregarded,” and are too often “quickly forgotten,” which he believes is wrong.

Taylor paused to remind the audience of the recent deaths of Montserrat-born author E.A. (Archie) Markham, who died while visiting Paris on Easter Sunday; Aime Cesaire, the world renowned Martiniquan poet, essayist and politician, who died in Fort-de-France on April 17; and Guyanese folklorist and cultural anthropologist Wordsworth McAndrew -- who popularized the folklore figure “Ole Higue” -- who died on April 25 in New Jersey.

“We have to remember our people of Culture,” Taylor said.

Calypso, the historian added, is an art form which has always crossed racial boundaries, and he spoke of “the great Surisma,” a Calypsonian of Carib descent, who in 1856 rushed to the defense of the music when a visiting American ornithologist made some ill-informed remarks about Calypsoes being no more than bastardized West Indian versions of well-known British ballads.

“Well, that got Surisma's goat,” Taylor told Pride later. “Surisma, who, among other things, theorized that calypso was derived from a Carib song form known as carieto, led a group that lampooned the American, calling him a monkey.”

Underscoring Taylor’s point about the multi-racial make-up of the Calypso community, Maharaj was able to report: “My book includes the contributions of Indo-Trinidadian, Chinese-Trinidadian and Syrian/Lebanese-Trinidadian Calypsonians,” and he has unearthed the names -- many of them long forgotten -- of 72 Indo-Trinidadian Calypsonians, 12 Chinese-Trinidadian ones, and four of Syrian/Lebanese descent.

Maharaj, said Taylor, by his work, was “saving these pieces of ourselves.”

This writer, noting Maharaj’s so far futile efforts to interest various Governments of Trinidad and Tobago in creating a museum and centre for the collection and study of the art form, suggested that a high level Association or Committee, involving academics, writers and Calypsonians -- both in Trinidad and abroad -- might be able to bring pressure to bear.

Academic and author Ramabai Espinet, supported the idea, saying she is enthusiastic about Marharaj’s call for a museum and centre in Trinidad.

“We cannot be remiss in preserving the tangible genius of our people,” she said.

The second volume, of The Roots of Calypso, which has the subtitle “Another Passage into the World of Calypso,” has already been launched in Trinidad -- actually in both Port of Spain and San Fernando -- as well as in Tobago, and 1,000 copies were sold in the first week.

Maharaj is well known as a dedicated cricket fan, so he also lists more than 120 Calypsoes on cricket.

The book contains a veritable cornucopia of facts, in the form of listings, contest results, mini-biographies of some classic performers, tidbits on classic Calypsoes, and much more -- “wonderful nuggets of information,” in the words of Espinet -- along with some 25 vintage photos.

“I’m just a guy who has amassed a lot of material,” says Maharaj, a self-effacing computer specialist. “I want to get some of it down on paper and make it available to Calypso lovers.”

Espinet, like Maharaj, from South Trinidad, called his Calypso collection “a storied one,” and added: “He has encyclopedic knowledge.”

It was a prophetic word, as Maharaj revealed that he plans to write two more books., one to be called Rum Shop Calypso Lyrics, which will be “a collection of 200 of the most requested Calypso hits of all time.” He will be assisted in this by Calypso enthusiast and lecturer Ray Funk of Alaska, and by historian Taylor.

“The fourth book will be a 900-page Encyclopedia of Calypsoes,” Maharaj told his audience. “I will be working with Barbadian historian Hilary Beckles, and the book should be issued in Jamaica by Ian Randal Publishers in 2009.”

Calypsonians Zado, Villaz, Connector and De Carra, and Drew Gonzales of Kobo Town, provided entertainment. Roger Gibbs, President of the Organization of Calypso Performing Artistes, was unable to attend, but sent a message, which was read by fellow Calypsonian Henry “King Cosmos” Gomez. Allan Khan M.C.-ed the event and virtuoso pannist Gareth Burgess got things under way with the National Anthems of Canada and Trinidad and Tobago.

Copies of Volume Two of The Roots of Calypso cost $20.00. A few copies of Volume One are still available. For more information, talk to George Maharaj at 905-621-6157, or visit .


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