No Stranger, This Calypsoman Shadow

by Dalton Narine

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Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine

We were writers on the prowl.

It was 1971 when Errol Pilgrim and I walked into Port Services to catch the Mighty Shadow’s first songs at a public venue.

Amid the sparseness, the stage was as dark as the mood.

Then a small crowd started to build, and a figure in drag, so it seemed, walked across the stage as a skeleton.

Shadow had arrived. That’s how we viewed the histrionics.

It was such a rich moment, we embraced the hell out of it.

He opened with Modern Housewives, a funny paean of praise for the lady in the house.

Indeed, you cannot talk about him without mentioning her. So, Shadow found his crease and the audience was simply bowled over by him.

Then came The Threat — a challenge to his fellow Calypsonians.

I quite agree Kitchener is great
But in ’71 he must feel mih weight
If those steel band boys give this tune a little try
Kitchie boy, water in yuh eye

Winston Bailey - Shadow

Nuff said. I became an instant fan of this colourful Kaiso man till the day I heard that he’d kicked the bucket.

The Wrightson Road Fete

Well, true to form, I hustled down to catch the bearded one.

Patrons had become antsy; the orchestra was full of intrigue, and Shadow stood pat at my side. We would, God willing, later share our feelings over a proposed documentary about his life and voice, the songs of his spirit.

But now, he’s turning his head toward the orchestra and sucking his teeth.

The crowd is appealing to him to crank it up. When the music begins, his tension waxes.

Shadow goes off the rails. Against assorted musicians fiddling with their instruments. Against the band without an elite sound.

Apparently, they don’t know that Shadow is a workaholic perfectionist.

They get their cue anyway.

Song after song, tune after tune, disaster fights back, and Shadow stews, fuming at the musicians inability to work hand in glove with him.

He screams at them, again and again, in the middle of a Ruso, at the end of a Kaiso. You get the drift.

Shadow walks off the stage, bellowing at the horn men, the drummer, among others.

So I walk with him, far from the raging musicians and partygoers bawling for Shadow to come back.

Or, not to behave so.

Many of the party people begin to walk in his footsteps, but nobody catches Shadow on the warpath. It is always his way.

Several years later, a Sunday morning on Wrightson Road, I was with Shadow and his friends at a conference now winding down.

We’re roadside at his car.

Shadow opens the trunk. Lots of shiny CDs rush up to escape the heat. They stare me down.

Shadow grabs a bundle, shoves the pack in my hands. Giddy as I was, I rested them on the back seat of my car, then walked back to him with as much money as I could afford humming in my hands.

“That’s for you,” Shadow says.

“And so is this,” I shoot back.

Shadow turns away, heads back to the conference.

We never got a chance to do the documentary.

Oh, sure we did. It lives in my head. Round and round it goes.

Bet on it.

Looking For Horn On Frederick Street
Three Hours Before J’Ouvert
   Mighty Shadow Yuh Lookin’ For Horn

Yuh looking for Horn, one of Bradley’s best arrangement ever. Solid like a rock lyrics.

Caught the Band opposite St. Mary’s, Park St. in a hush about 3 a.m. J’Ouvert.

The best Shrove Monday dance music I’d experienced in YEARS.

Why did it have to rub up on Lent?

Lots of people, though, taking in DESPERS’ Horn, including tourists chipping and wining for hours to Shadow’s slow-jam masterpiece. They smoke a little Tampi, sip rum from flasks, their cell phone jammed into a hip pocket, and HORN, spiritually symbolic, — no, wait — Horn so allegorically significant that on that horny morn, the rays of the sun climbing atop Laventille hill, both Shadow and Bradley transcended human understanding.

Every bit of it.


In front of St. Mary’s? Why not?

The mystical body of Christ rising up from the mas.

Memorable, to say the least.

Lordy, why stop the Carnival in its tracks?

The best lagniappe:

When Shadow rose, nature played a trick on him, and now that he’s back to Earth, his songs spill away from dreams and fall softly like rose petals in his space.



Dalton Narine
About the author, Dalton Narine

Dalton Narine is a Belmont-born Trinidadian who dabbled in the arts and wrote about Trinidad & Tobago culture. He spent the other half of his career as a filmmaker and TV broadcaster during T&T’s annual Carnival. Narine is an avid collector of calypsos by The Mighty Shadow, a singer, he says, who had a knack for telling stories on himself and his own country that, at last, has embraced him.

contact Dalton Narine at:

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