August 31, 1999

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," said
                  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 at the
                  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 popular
                  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 for
                  more narrative calypsos," said calypso historian Ray Funk.

                  Calypso first surfaced in Africa as songs of praise and derision. In the 1700s,
                  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,"
                  Funk said.

                  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.