December 11, 2000

In Trinidad and Tobago, elections have a calypso beat

                  PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- Centuries ago, the native Carib people
                  called Trinidad the land of the hummingbirds. It still hums with music
                  -- especially at election time, when candidates campaign to a calypso beat
                  and rallies seem more like rock concerts.

                  Before the politicians even spoke, thousands of people gathered on grassy
                  fields and danced to calypso -- and its faster-paced cousin soca -- at campaign
                  rallies before Monday's general election in the twin-island nation of Trinidad and

                  "I am not a very good talker, but I can sing," calypso star Sugar Aloes said as he
                  took the microphone at a rally for the opposition People's National Movement.

                  Music mixes with politics around the world, of course. Bill Clinton ran for U.S.
                  president in 1992 with Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow"
                  as his memorable theme song.

                  But while music makes a back beat for election campaigns in most countries, in Trinidad it takes
                  center stage around election time -- the season of calypso, some in the former British colony call it.

                  Aloes sang to a beat so loud it shook the air near towering speakers. People in the crowd were
                  soon whistling, stamping their feet and swaying their hips to the music.

                  "They don't care nothing about the poor man," Aloes sang. "We're supposed to
                  live in unity." Then another singer took the stage and sang about corruption:
                  "Where 'de money gone?"

                  Young men wove through the crowd, drumming on pipes and empty buckets as
                  ralliers held up stems of the balisier, a crimson flower that is the symbol of the
                  party, which is dominated by descendants of African slaves.

                  Nearby, the calypso had a distinct East Indian sound -- it's called "chutney" -- at
                  a rally for the ruling United National Congress, which is largely made up of
                  descendants of indentured laborers from India.

                  A lilting carnival music born in Trinidad in the 19th century, calypso at that time
                  included protests against the colonizers and slave trade. Today it's used to
                  critique society and criticize politicians -- sometimes very effectively.

                  Many say a calypso song by Winston "Gypsy" Peters -- now a ruling party
                  candidate -- helped bring down the National Movement government in 1986 with
                  the words: "Captain, the ship is sinking. Captain, the seas are rough."

                  In the calypso singer, "the people have their own spokesman," said Fitzgerald
                  Hinds, a National Movement candidate who is running for re-election to
                  parliament. "He expresses the sentiments of the masses."

                  Increasingly, though, political parties are paying singers to bring their messages
                  to the masses. Musicians are a regular fixture at campaign rallies and this year
                  parties have commissioned competing songs.

                  "Nothing for them. Not a vote, not a seat," goes a song commissioned by the
                  opposition party and performed by Marvelous Marva.

                  The ruling party paid a singer known as Emba to exhort people to vote for the
                  party "if you care about your children's future."

                  Calypso has always been linked to Trinidad's elections, said Hollis "Chalkdust"
                  Liverpool, a calypso singer who teaches ethnomusicology at the University of the
                  West Indies. But, he said, "in the past, more calypsonians used to stay out of the
                  parties and on the sidelines."

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.