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Carnivalitis: The Conflicting Discourse of Carnival


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A Tribute to Pan and the Calypso Pioneers
By Dr. L. Trevor Grant

Pan, Calypso and the Calypsonian

A Recognition of the Calypsonian and Pan

The history of music in Trinidad and Tobago is rich and exciting and continues to be influential in the potpourri of musical genres throughout the musical world. The calypso, soca, chutney and parang are all musical expressions that were given meaning to in Trinidad and Tobago and continues to make an impact throughout the Caribbean region, America, Canada and England.

Desperadoes on stage for Panorama 2008

The steelpan, which endured many negative influences from its inception in the tumultuous 1940s, has progressed to become one of the most dynamic and enthralling musical instruments of the 21st century. The steelpan is now a permanent fixture in most orchestras and big bands and could be heard as a solo instrument on television and radio programs. Pan giants like Len Boogsie Sharpe, Robert Greenidge, Clive Bradley, Jit Samaroo, Pelham Goddard, Bertie Marshall and Ellie Manette have taken the innovative instrument to the top of the musical ladder and it is beyond one’s imagination to tell the future of this acoustic instrument.

The calypso however is not progressing like the pan at least not now. But then, the calypso has reached its pinnacle already and has received its fair share of international recognition and exposure. The exposure from the Andrew Sisters (Patty, Maxene and LaVerne) alone in 1945, when the calypso ‘Rum and Coca-Cola’ was the number one record on Billboard magazine for seven consecutive weeks, and in the top three for 13 consecutive weeks. After that, Harry Belafonte used his dynamic repertoire to fuse and sing Melody’s (Fitzroy Alexander) calypsos to gain riches and popularity in the United States. Others like Attila the Hun (Raymond Quevedo), The Roaring Lion (Raphael De Leon), Growling Tiger (Neville Marcano) and Spoiler (Theophilus Phillips) also contributed to the calypso art form in the early years.

Albert Reid, Winston Scarborough (The Original De Fosto), Pelham Goddard

Sparrow (Slinger Francisco), Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), Rose (Linda McArthur Lewis), Sandra (Sandra De Vignes), De Fosto (Winston Scarborough), David Rudder and others have the task of maintaining the rich quality of the calypso art form and making it vibrant and entertaining to the younger generation who are influenced by other musical genres like reggae, soca, hip hop and R & B. However, with proper marketing and promotion, the calypso can continue to influence musical genres with its unique message and conscious lyrics – something that the other genres do not have.

"Band From Space"  - (Amrit Samaroo) - Crazy

Provided with the expressed permission of the composer

Sparrow, the Supreme King of Calypso has literally kept the art form alive for the past 45 years and continues to be the most sought after calypsonian in the business (and rightly so). Sparrow is dynamic, entertaining, creative and basically in a class by himself. He has influenced many of the new crop of entertainers wherever calypso is heard and is a great inspiration to many. He has also become a smart entertainer. As an older, more mature calypsonian, he uses his experience and stage performance to keep the audience spellbound and to get them to reminisce on his earlier years when he was young, robust, energetic and exhibited wild stage performances.

Calypsonians have a different responsibility today to maintain the legacy while at the same time opening new doors and new horizons for the music. The future is not as bright as the steelpan but then, it would only take one new generation calypso or a remix of an old calypso, to hit the international market for the genre to return to the glory days (years) of the 1940s. Do you remember Anselm Douglas hit ‘Who let the dogs out? ’ Well, it is still being played at baseball, soccer, football, basketball and hockey games in the United States.

Dr. L. Trevor Grant is the author of several books including Carnivalitis: The Conflicting Discourse of Carnival. Website www.yacos.org

CALYPSO - the predecessor of Reggae, Soca, Rapso, Chutney and other styles popular today.
Song form native to Trinidad, originally improvised social commentary and medium of poor people's information, from West African praise singer (trad. recorder of tribal history, commentator, celebrator, satirist). Terms calypso and kaiso used interchangeably in Trinidad, where 'Kaiso!' is often heard in calypso tents as patrons wish to show approval: probably comes from West African Hausa term which depending on context can mean regret, triumph, contempt, etc. Possible derivations of 'calypso' incl. West African 'kaiso', French patois 'carrousseaux', Spanish 'caliso', Virgin Islands topical song 'careso', etc. First appeared 1900 spelled 'calipso'. According to legend, the first 'chantwell', or singer of what became calypso, was a slave, Gros Jean, in the late 18th century. Rhythms and melodies are predominantly African, but melodies infl. by nearby Venezuela: identified early 20th century by terms 'pasillo' or 'paseo', a Venezuelan dance form. Music of French, Irish and English origin has also been incorporated; French was basis of patois or Creole lyrics through 19th century.


Pan, Calypso and the Calypsonian
One cannot have a serious conversation about pan, and the development and history of the pan movement, without talking about the role of the first music of the steelpan - Calypso music, and of course, the Calypsonians.  Over the next few weeks WST will focus on these great griots and troubadours.
Send your articles and/or pictures for consideration to whensteeltalks@hotmail.com

Pan, Calypso and the Calypsonian


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