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Message Icon Topic: Calypsonians grow old, but beat is still strong Post Reply Post New Topic
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Quote harmac Replybullet Topic: Calypsonians grow old, but beat is still strong
    Posted: 24 Feb 2007 at 8:52am

Calypsonians grow old, but beat is still strong

Saturday, February 24, 2007

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Trinidadian calypsonian,
the Mighty Sparrow

The Chalkdust is a leading
calypsonian in Trinidad

David Rudder, one of the
popular Trinidad calypsonians

Rose of Trinidad

Trinidadian calypsonian

Port of Spain, Trinidad (Reuters):  The black-clad old man crept gingerly onto stage wearing a mournful expression, more funeral director than musical legend.

Then Shadow, a Calypso legend, jolts to life with an upbeat riff punctuated by body-popping dance moves that had the audience shouting for more.

“If ya’ coulda, ya’ woulda, ya’ shoulda,” he sang later, in the chorus to a clever meditation on life’s many regrettable decisions.

To really take the pulse of Trinidad and Tobago, skip the newspapers and television and go straight to the nearest Calypso tent.

On a recent night, you could hear Hindu Prince philosophise about gambling, Brother Mudada hit back at doomsayers predicting the death of Calypso, and The Xplainer explain why there are no real innocents in a crime wave that is afflicting the once peaceful Caribbean twin islands.

“Tell me who is the predators, it’s we; we are the predators, it’s true; oooh, we livin’ in a jungle.”

Since long before it took the United States by storm in the 1950s, Calypso has been part of Trinidad’s fabric both as entertainment and as a subversive outlet for political and social frustrations.

Born out of African slaves’ need to disguise their conversations from their masters, great Calypso has made and broken governments.

Through double-entendre and subtle allusion it delivers a biting commentary that would land a newspaper editor or politician in court.

The Mighty Sparrow, an all-time great, helped prop up the government in the 1960s and 70s. Rulers from the British colonial powers to the Indian-dominated government of the late 1990s have tried to muzzle unrelenting Calypso criticism.

Fading out?

Calypso gossip relegates political and other news to the inside pages at this time of year, when Carnival turns this multiethnic island into a big party of music and debauchery.

This year, one singer’s appeal to the country’s High Court to get himself reinstated in the annual Calypso Monarch contest was feverishly covered on the front pages for days.

Crime was the hot topic in the tents as the country’s best Calypsonians, all of them household names here, joined battle for the annual Monarch title.

More mundane concerns are also fair game - Green Ninja, for example, had a warning for Prime Minister Patrick Manning that further alcohol price rises could make him and others vote for the opposition.

“Patrick Manning, boy is time you think, raising rum can’t stop a man from drink; The higher the price, the less the grocery, as an alcoholic that is stopping me; I’m a forgetful fella’ when it comes to my liquor; and once he raise whiskey and brandy, I might forget and go vote UNC.”

Where clumsy government coercion has failed, though, the passage of time and new musical influences may be succeeding in threatening one of the world’s great oral traditions.

Few of the Calypso singers appeared to be under 60 years old and the audience was not much younger. On the same night a few hundred people paid about $10 to enter a Calypso tent, thousands paid about $30 to get into a concert dominated by Soca music, another native Trinidad sound that emphasises pounding beats and dancing over lyrics. Western music is also taking its toll as the i-Pod generation tunes out.

“It’s not really my style,” said Ryan Dick, an 18-year-old who was at a Calypso event for the first time to accompany his uncle.

Calypso audiences remain seated, tapping their feet and occasionally singing along, a stark contrast to the frenzied dancing and sexual energy of Soca.

Kenson Neptune, who performs as Green Ninja, said Calypsonians were rarely invited to perform at schools as they had been when he was a child. Radio stations are also dominated by Soca.

“If Calypso continues to go like it is, the tents might close down,” the 41-year-old told Reuters.

Still, Calypso has shown a deep capacity to reinvent itself and inspire new forms of music. Soca itself is a souped-up offshoot of Calypso (its name reflects its original intent to be the “Soul of Calypso”) as is “Rapso”, which combines the hip-hop style with Trinidadian lyrics and rhythms.

“I think it will always be with us because it’s part of who we are ... it’s the template” said Khafra Rudder, a singer and writer of Rapso.

“But to be honest, since globalisation and the Internet, Trinidad as a whole hasn’t felt as together as it used to be.”

Khafra’s father, David Rudder, has been called the Bob Marley of Calypso for his scathing lyrics, covering everything from politics and race to faith and global poverty while blurring the rhythmic boundaries among traditional Calypso, Soca and other styles.

The last word on Calypso’s future goes to Brother Mudada, who sang defiantly that predictions of his art’s decline had been around for years. If Country and Western music could still thrive, why not Calypso?

“It’s greater than human, much larger than man; so if they think it’s over, it’s only began.”

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