CalypsoCalypso is a music genre originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, an island in the Caribbean. The genre developed in the early twentieth century and grew in popularity not only on the island, but in countries around the world, including North America and in Europe. The unique beats accompany lyrics that focus on topical and political issues. It has been a great influence on other music genres and continues to grab new fans.

What is Calypso

Calypso is a type of folk music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. It has grown in popularity in other islands in the Caribbean, and in other parts of the world. The songs take the forms of rhyming ballads. That is, four line refrains follow eight-line stanzas. The singers, or calypsonians take on inventive and fanciful stage names such as the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso Rose, Attila the Hun, and Lord Kitchener. Calypso is typically performed and enjoyed during the carnival season, when calypso shows and competitions are held.

Origins of Calypso

Calypso developed out of kaiso music. Kaiso music originated on the slave plantations. African slaves sung kaiso as a form of communication. A lot of early forms of calypso was sung in the local Trinidadian patois. The first official calypso recording was made in 1914. In the 1920s, calypso tents started to pop up. The calypso tents were a place for calypsonians to come together and practice, and also to hold competitions. In 1956 calypso gained further international recognitions when Harry Belafonte recorded his album, Calypso. The album contains the famous Banana Boat (Day-O) song. The Calypso album was the first to sell over a million copies. Over time, calypso became a medium to discuss topical and political issues in society. It often takes on a humourous and satirical view of current events. Not all calypso is political and social, but also takes on risque topics, involving relationships and sex, utilising double entendres and sexual innuendos.

Components of Calypso Music

What makes calypso unique and distinct from other music genres?
Political/social commentary - Calypso typically involves social commentary oftentimes laced with humorous satire on current events. Calypso is the voice of social conscience.
Satire – a method of combining criticism and scorn (of social ills and human vices) with humour and wit.
Double entendre: words or figure of speech used so that it can be understood in two ways, one of which is usually sexual or slighting.

Extemporaneous singing: with little or no preparation or forethought, impromptu, improvised

Rhythm: A familiarly African beat. Typically 2/4 & 4/4. It is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. Poets use rhythm to bring out the musical quality of language, to emphasize ideas, to create mood, to unify a work, or to heighten emotional response.

Personal/unique style & character: Names that reflect some aspect of personality. Stage performances.

Calypso and Politics

Calypso music is known for its social commentary on topical and political issues. Calypso has been known to reflect the current political mood of the population. It has even faced censorship from the government for its lyrics and messages. Calypsonians have addressed issues related to race, poverty, gender relations and crime. The titles reflect some of these commentaries: "Prison Improvement," "Shop Closing Ordinance," "The Commissioner’s Report," "The European Situation," "Devaluation," "Slum Clearance," "Reply to the Ministry," and, fittingly, "The Censoring of Calypsoes Makes Us Glad.". Even though calypso songs can communicate criticisms of politicians, national policies and current events affecting the citizens, calypso can also be highly patriotic.

Calypso and Women

Calypso is a male dominated genre and musical culture. It represents a lot of the wider gender structures present in the Caribbean culture. Much of calypso tends to exalts male sexuality, making women the central role in many of the songs. Some calypso songs have been criticised for promoting stereotypes of women. On the side of the singers and performers, women were and are not in the forefront of the genre. Early on in the inception of this music form, it was not perceived as proper for women to perform music publicly, especially calypso. This hampered women’s participation in calypso tents and competitions. However, women have been making strides and progress in the calypso music scene. Many female calypsonians represent feminist ideals in their lyrics and stage performances.

Calypso and Soca

Calypso music lead to the formation of another new music form: soca. Soca developed in Trinidad in the mid 1970s. Soca’s development has been credited to Garfield Blackman (also known as Ras Shorty I and Lord Shorty). Unlike, calypso, soca has a faster tempo, a heavier beat, and a bass drum pattern. Soca is more of a party music than calypso.

Famous Calypsonians

Mighty Sparrow: Sparrow's lyrics are famous for being witty, ironic, and ribald. He tells some outrageously frank tales of sexuality in "The Lizard" and "Big Bamboo." And there is humorous commentary on West Indian culture to be found in "Obeah Wedding" and "Witch Doctor."
Sparrow also frequently comments on social and political issues in his songs. During his early career he was a supporter of Eric Williams and his People's National Movement (PNM). Songs such as "Leave The Damn Doctor Alone" and "William the Conqueror" mentioned Williams directly and "PAYE" (supporting the PNM's pay-as-you-earn tax system) echoed PNM positions. Calypso Rose is considered the leading female calypsonian in the genre. She’s considered the Queen of Calypso. Born in 1940, Calypso Rose started her career at the young age of fifteen. She started by writing music. By 1964 her career became more professional. It was difficult for her as a woman, in a predominantly male environment. Much of her music took a feminist spin, commenting on the conditions of women. In 2017,she won the World Album of the Year Award in France. Harry Belafonte was influenced by calypso in his childhood. After years of acting and singing, he released his album Calypso in 1956. This album was the first to ever sell over one million records in the United States. As such, it transformed not only the music industry but calypso itself. Harry Belafonte helped to make the calypso genre more popular in the United States. David Rudder began his music career at a young age. In his teens he was a backup singer for Lord Kitchener’s calypso tent. He released his first album in 1988 to positive reviews. One of this most popular calypso songs is “Rally Round the West Indies” which became the anthem supporting the West Indies cricket team. Lord Invader took calypso to various parts of the world as he toured and performed the unique, Caribbean genre of music. His calypso Rum & Coca-Cola was performed by the Andrews Sisters of the United States, gaining much popularity and influencing other singers. Unfortunately his permission was not sought for use of the song and Lord Invader moved to court. After a long court battle he won his case.


Article written by: SarahAjaoud
Times read: 4070x
Added: 22-02-2017 19:46
Last modified: 22-06-2017 09:38

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