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
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
- the predecessor of
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.