I found myself listening to and sharing some back in times calypso yesterday and was marveling at the poetry, the writing, the gifts that these people had; their ability to weave exotic tapestries of images on just about anything and put it to catchy rhythms and original music was mesmerizing.
What talent, what blessing.
When you say Calypso, most people expect the conversation to revolve around Sparrow and Kitchener and instinctively reach for their more famous ditties with little mind share given to others who I think were more than capable of holding their own alongside these two giants. Please don't misunderstand me, I acknowledge the absolute greatness of these two pioneers in their own right, but I also know of many who were deserving of similar stature that, were it not for timing, economics and politics (sounds like a civics lesson eh?) would be soaring at those lofty heights as well.
Lord Nelson, Singing Francine, Explainer and Calypso Rose; talk about a concert worth promoting at Queen's Hall and NAPA. Shorty and Merchant were two artists who are desrving of much study, especially with regards to where they were going on that particular side road they were cutting off of calypso. As an aside, I am sure that what passes for the genre now called Soca was not what they had in mind back then.
Johnny King's 'Nature's Plan' was/is truly local music that speaks to the plight of a people in the style of the Jamaican's Bob Marley, and, together with the likes of 'Jhagi Bhai', 'Nah Leaving', David Rudder's 'The Hammer' and King Austin's 'Progress' should have been compiled (with other noteworthy, well written, thought provoking pieces of course) into poetry text books for our colleges and convents, to not only promote and enjoy what we have, but to preserve the artform by encouraging the youth to pick up the baton of their own culture; instead few people even know those songs, much less who sang it and what exactly they were trying to say, but could recite the nonsense of Rihanna and Brittany Spears by rote.
Why aren't men like Chalkdust and Short pants, or even TUCO for that matter, not agitating for this?
Relator, Gypsy, and the Mighty Duke, men of satirical eloquence and debonair performance were men who specialized in stage craft.
'Tonight the Black Man Feeling to Party' had such a groovy feeling I used to wish I was black just to be able to sing that song and mean it, but 'The Caribbean Man' put Black Stalin alongside the greats for all eternity in my humble opinion.
David Rudder's 'Calypso Music' is an intimidating idea for any writer to follow, and the opening line of his 'Madness' is still regarded by this writer as one of the best openings I have ever heard in a song (ah jump de wall 'round twelve o'clock an ah gone inside - the absolute determination and malice in his right to party summed up succinctly the mood of the whole song).
'Ethel' and 'Rebecca' promised what 'Soca Baptist' delivered, and Blue Boy is another absolute giant worthy of much recognition and appreciation.
There are people that tell you that there is no international market for our traditional calypso on the world music scene, who either fail to see or conveniently overlook the blond haired blue eyed children of Europe and America shaking imaginary 'locks' to the plight of the Trenchtown ghetto experience.
What hypocrisy in the face of evidence to the contrary. Other forces had to be at work here, either diabolically conscious and dedicated to the destruction of 'our' art, or unconscious and based on our colonized minds, ashamed to claim what we birthed, and unfortunately netted the same results.
Calypso as a genre of music found such a rich vein of talent here on the backs of brave men and women who defied oppression to speak truth to power at great risk to themselves. (Apparently It's not just nowadays that politicians try to interfere with freedom of speech), and the artists had to take great pains to write in a way that empowered the listener while not exposing themselves to personal harm.
It was not until Chalkie 'kick down' the door and say 'who vex loss' was a way cut for the likes of Aloes, Watchman and Cro Cro to 'ramajay' over the 80' and 90', but, besides Singing Sandra (the official ambassador of Ghetto Life), who besides Kurt Allen (an unapologetic and brilliant writer and performer) is carrying on this tradition?
Where is the idea, the poetry, the effort to at least turn a phrase?
I could sing word for word almost every song King David Rudder put out from Calabash to 'Trini to de Bone', (with 'The Engine Room' being in my top ten list of ALL music for all times, genres and styles) but could not tell you the lyrical content of one jump and wave song.
The Blueboy that sang Ethel, Rebecca and Soca Baptist also sang so much drivel at the end of his drug soaked career he definitely needed two different sobriquets or we would have had to note it in a 'before and after' 'Get Something and Wave'.
It is noteworthy and a pity that the rest of the 'imitators' seized on the drivel he ground out season after season to support his habit and left the good music behind. His own daughter and heir to that throne is sadly included among that lot.
This goes beyond plain economics, and many of these 'performers' (note I didn't use the word artists) are going to arrive at the end of their days wondering what exactly did they give their lives to, their talents, their gift?
It should also be noted that the Soca spin off, 'Chutney' Music, is an insult to East Indians at most times who either don't seem to notice or care that they are being painted as rum soaked drunken sex fiends.
Not to say that the new genre does not have potential, as the same mind that gave us the silly 'Rum Till Ah Die' also gave us the landmark 'Rajin', but which one is being immortalized?
We are a foolish, foolish people, who have no idea of what our combined heritage is or what was born right here. Everytime someone says the steelpan was invented here, you could almost here the unsaid 'so where we money.' Nobody is going out of their way to claim Limbo because nobody has found a means to capitalize on it financially, so 'they' could have that.
We are fools, peasants and plebs.
Rubadiri Victor and others are fighting to at least document and record for posterity and for the benefit of future generations what we have and possess before it dies away completely, alongside people like Geoffrey MacClean and Citizens for Conservation, who are in a similar and desperate fight to save and record our architectural heritage from termites, rot, and uncaring governments. These people are demonstrating what cultural patriotism is all about, and they desperately need our support.
Like pearls before swine (you know I HAD to use the analogy) we have been blessed with so much abundance of culture and expression one wonders why in the world we would ever sit indoors. Our rich Caribbean diet is producing super sportsmen and sportswomen that are dominating the world of sport at the expense of the 'Amercanization' of food, through the use of a nutritionless base dipped in high fructose corn syrup and artificially flavored.
We are plebs, peons and lemmings. We feel like we are 'something' if we could eat in Ruby Tuesday and Burger King while, surrounded by the proverbial Horn of Plenty of abundance, choose fad over identity.
Our unwillingness to see each other as one family has allowed others to further divide us and colonize our minds. Culture by default has left us with nothing. Our musical presence in the world has been reduced to a stain of what once was, the end result of an all out assault on 'what was local' by 'what was foreign'. Calypso artists are treated as fringe acts, while 'wine down low and jam it so' has become our culture. We are making electoral choices based on American styled campaigns that do nothing to follow through after the hype.
This willingness to accept odor over suibstance has left as grasping at air instead of claiming what is truly ours and, to quote my friend Melissa:
"You want it?"
"Inhale, all is yours."