Nation e-Edition

The origin of calypso

The origin of calypso Gabby, the Pic-O-De-Crop winner for 2010. ((FP))

Thu, August 12, 2010 - 2:31 PM

IN RECENT times, there has been a national debate, due to the result of the 2010 Crop-Over Pic-0-De Crop calypso competition.  The Mighty Gabby was declared the calypso monarch of Barbados on Friday, July 30.  The controversy arose due to the calypso sang by Gabby, Ashe Ole.  Firstly, one will have to trace the origin of calypso. Calypso rhythms can be found in every Caribbean island as well as the main-land of South America.  Trinidad will be an ideal place to start. This Caribbean art form started on the sugar plantations, where the African slaves worked and would sing. These songs that they sang can be traced back to the West Africa kaiso.

What we all seemed to have forgotten is, that Trinidad was first colonised by the Spanish then the French and later the British.  When one examined the Caribbean, you will find in Suriname, calypso is done in Papiamentu, the same is found in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
By the way, migrants from the Caribbean were producing sweet music by beating oil drums (what we now called steelpan), in the early 1900s, when they worked the oil refineries in Curacao in 1918 and Aruba in 1926. This was long before the oil refinery was set up in Point of Pierre, Trinidad.

In British Guiana, calypso was called Bhagee. The Mootoo Brothers band was famous for playing Bhagee.

Early days

From as early as the 1920s, Mento was the calypso music of Jamaica. This music featured a banjo and rumba box, which is a bass instrument similar to the marimbula of Cuba.  This music art form of Jamaica was called kalypso or mento calypso and most of the times had a Latin “feel”.  Lord Flea, Lord Tanamo, Lord Messam, Lord Lebby, Count Owen, Count Sticky, Count Lasher and Stanley Beckford were some of the great mento singers.  In the French speaking islands, there is cadence and zouk, and the calypso art form in these islands is done in French Creole and English.  What we can clearly recognise is that in each island there emerged a diverse musical style.

The early form of calypso was sung in French Creole, what we called Patois, with a Latin flavour musical accompaniment.  These earlier singers were called griots.  After the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in the 1830s, the griot was then known as Chantuelle. Or the strolling minstrels.  Due to the banning of the drum during the era of slavery, bamboo tamboo was used in place of the drum.  The music of Trinidad did not maintain the traditional form that survived in Venezuela, Brazil and Cuba. Emphasis was concentrated on the lyrics and melody.

First recording
In 1914 the first calypso was recorded and by the late 1920s, the first calypso tent was set up by the calypsonian Chieftain Douglas.  Then from the 1930s they were called calypsonians.The band that accompanied the calypsonian comprised of the following; guitar, double bass, violin, trumpet and clarinet.  The musician played mainly in two styles, which was somewhat akin to dixieland jazz and the Latin flavour music, such as the mambo, bolero, meringue, cha cha, samba, and rumba.  The music of Venezuela, Brazil and Cuba.
Listen to a number of calypsos of the past, such as, Duke of Iron- Meringue Jenny; Charmer who later changed his name to Louis Farrakhan – Stone Cold Man; Atilla the Hun – Miss Bombilla Brown; Lord Invader – New York Subway; Lord Beginner – Always Marry A Pretty Girl; Small Island Pride Mama Loves Mambo; Lord Melody – Juanita; Lord Kitchener – When Man Is Born; Mighty Sparrow – Jean And Dinah and Marajin; Mighty Arrow – Soca Rumba and 0’  La Soca, Mighty Terror – i Had A Little Monkey and David Rudder - Bahia Girl.
I can go on and on listing many other calypsos that were done with a Latin flavour. There is no individual who can clearly define what are the boundaries of calypso.
Calypso is the music of the Caribbean and must be enjoyed in whatever flavour it is done in.


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Posted by Peter Ward 4 years, 2 months ago
Inconclusive historical facts can be meaningless and in this instance they are. Anyone with any interest in calypso can easily garner the facts given in the article.

The point is: Calypso, as we know it, originated in Trinidad. 'End of story.' Are you going to discredit Reggae's root's next. That music can be traced back to American Soul music but yet it remains distinctly Reggae, Jamaica's music.

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Posted by Ric 4 years, 2 months ago
I'm sorry Peter Ward, but you are just plain wrong. You obviously have a problem with historical facts as all ignorant people do. The facts as presented by Mr. Gittens are indisputable and should be read by every Barbadian and West Indian for that matter. As a student of history I know that the steel pan as a musical instrument was not created in Trinidad. Centuries ago, Africans were using metal buckets, pans etc., to create musical sounds. The truth is hard to accept when a lie has been allowed to live in perpetuity. Here's the truth Mr. Ward. There's not a single country in the Americas or the Caribbean that can lay claim to creating Calypso as a musical art form.

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Posted by Peter Ward 4 years, 2 months ago
Ric, using negative labels are not necessary to established truth. Icarus broke his neck while clothed in a chicken suit. Can we attribute the invention of the airplane to the Greeks base on that.
If you review the definition of a musical instrument you will notice that one thing has been constructed or modified for the purpose of producing music and the other can serve as a musical instrument.
Organology has no reference to African modifying steel drums into musical instrument. Organology does show that in 1953 Anthony Williams designed the "Fourths and Fifths" arrangement of notes, known as the cycle of fifths. At this point in time the oil drum went from an object that served as a musical instrument to one that was deconstructed and remade into a musical instrument.
I said: “Calypso in its current form is directly attributed to Trinidad.” Organology attests to that fact.

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