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