Calypso suffers as new music influences Trinidad and Tobago
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- As Trinidad and Tobago celebrated 37
years of independence Tuesday, the famous calypso music that nurtured it
through colonial domination, racial tension, attempted coups, labor riots and
social upheaval is itself suffering.
"We tried to pass it on to the young fellas, but they doing their own thing,"
Lord Blakie, a calypso player. "Calypso supposed to tell a story. They running
from calypso. Calypso is a message. Them fellas running from the message."
Blakie spoke during this year's Calypso Week, which culminated with a
calypso music competition.
With socially and politically charged lyrics, calypso's influence has been
core of many of the nation's most critical moments.
When a fundamentalist Islamic group, the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, tried to
overthrow the government in 1990, one of the first things coup leader Abu
Bakr did was take over a television station to play calypso songs criticizing the
The 30-year reign of Eric Williams' People's National Movement party, which
ended in 1986, was at least partly due to support from The Mighty Sparrow,
perhaps the most revered of all calypso musicians.
And singer Sugar Aloes set off a controversy at this year's carnival by
performing a calypso that likened the wife of Premier Basdeo Panday to a
tramp. In an address to the nation, Panday referred to the uproar and noted
that a calypso by Barbadian Adonijah called for the recognition of women as
mothers, wives and friends.
But lately, Jamaica dance hall reggae -- called "dub" in Trinidad -- is
with young islanders. They combine it with Calypso-style lyrics, which satirize
everything from sex to politics, and the beat from American hip-hop. The
result is called "rapso."
"Kids raised on rap and TV soundbites aren't as likely to have the patience
more narrative calypsos," said calypso historian Ray Funk.
Calypso first surfaced in Africa as songs of praise and derision. In the
slaves used calypso to communicate covertly, thumb their noses at their
masters and also as a rhythm for the grueling labor into which they were
It evolved into the "music of the people" throughout the Caribbean and
musicians were subject to reprisals from their colonial masters if their calypso
lyrics were deemed too seditious.
Calypso hit its zenith abroad in the 1930s when it became popular in the
United States. Singers like Harry Belafonte, singing the famous "Banana Boat
Song," brought it to the rest of the world.
But the music suffered in the 1970s with the emergence of Jamaican reggae,
and now faces perhaps its toughest challenge -- the influence of Western
music and culture via cable television and the Internet.
"The nature of changing media influences is changing traditional art forms,"
Calypso singer The Mystic Prowler said young people were turning to other
forms because calypso is difficult to master. "Calypso is the hardest musical
form in the whole world," he said. "Even performers like Michael Jackson
won't try it."
He, however, has no worries about the future of calypso.
"There will always be calypso; it's such a strong art form," he said.