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Calypso: The Caribbeans Righteous and Rebellious Rhythm

Herb Black, member of the popular St. Lucian calypso duo, The Blacks.

The punk rock subgenre to Americans, Canadians and Europeans is what Calypso is to Caribbeans. Back in the mid 70s when punk rockers started to thrash and command themselves in to the mainstream, bands like the Sex Pistols, Clash and Ramones were creating sheer musical pandemonium. At a time where bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were controlling the radio channels and charts, these punkers wanted to shake things up a bit, make some noise and watch people in their audience punch each other in the faces and count the broken noses. As Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl, told Rolling Stone Magazine, “When I was a kid listening to punk rock, all I wanted was noise and rebellion, whether it was satanic death metal or industrial noise.”

Dave Grohl, you are the man.

Politics, of course, is deeply rooted in the origins of punk rock music. Rage Against the Machine is a perfect example of a band that found hundreds of different synonyms and metaphors to essentially say, “fuck you and your government and your policies and just fuck off or kiss my butt or both.” With songs such as Killing in the Name of and Testify, any 14 year old kid was bound to hate imperialists and filthy politicians.

Calypso originated in Trinidad and Tobago. It harbours an Afro-Caribbean bop and is said to have traces from the French colonial days. Much like the way any rebellious type of art form started - it was a voice: something that people could identify with and say, “Hey, I also would like to stomp on the establishment.” Slaves on the island utilized calyptic melodies to communicate in the fields to each other, since speaking was forbidden. Jokes on you colonials, what’s worse than being called a stupid idiot? Being called a stupid idiot in song so that you don’t know you're being called a stupid idiot.

The music developed and spread throughout the Caribbean and skimmed some parts of the world as well. However, calypso is extremely misleading for casual listeners. It’s misleading like how fibre is misleading; it sounds like a very good and pleasant idea, keeping your insides clean and all, until you have too much and realize that being anything past seven metres from a toilet is too far.

Calypso music has incredible melodies that you won’t find in other types of music around the world. It uses a plethora of instruments from the brass, percussion and string sections to create unparalleled cadences. The beauty of the instruments can overtake and control the messages of the songs, which are, more often than not, a punch to governments throat.

St. Lucia has a carnival during the summer months of July, June and August where there are different cultural events almost every day of the week. One of the largest and most popular events happens in June – a national calypso competition called the Calypso-monarch. The competition is a three-round musical cannon comprising of St. Lucia’s top calypsonians.

T. Blacks showing some passion at the competition.

Calypso’s founding roots of righteous and rebellious nature continue to be on full display, with artists singing about government scandals, distaste for the prime minister and anything else relating to anarchy and retribution. Many St. Lucian calypsonians, such as Walleigh, have quite the illustrious way of exhibiting their opinions on government and politics: “You think I’m afraid of you? I’m pissing much further than you.” Whatever that means, it’s brilliant and catchy when you put steel drums behind it.

It’s an eclectic barrage of culture, passion and individuality that creates a civil rebellion … if that’s possible. It’s pacifism if non-violence had a melody.

People in St. Lucia appreciate the political edge involved in the music: “What it does, is it keeps politicians in check; you understand?” says a lady attending the competition. Her friend offers a similar opinion: “[Calypso] really speaks for the people,” she says. “So whatever we are feeling, [but cannot say], calypsonians bring out.”

“Calypso in every country, is about issues of the day,” says St. Lucian calypsonian, Robbie. “Especially if you have a government who is doing wrong things.”

12-year old Mighty Sizzler making St. Lucian history by performing at the Calypso Monarch semi-finals in 2016.

Robbie is a recognized calypsonian that battled in the 2018 Calypso-Monarch semi finals. Although he didn’t make it to the next round, he still had two rounds to sing songs with tag lines such as, “Save us from this man, Allen,” (referring to St. Lucia’s current prime minister, Allen Chastanet).

For Robbie, it’s about sending a message and firing people up. “Its for people to get the message and go abroad,” he says.

There are ideological tendencies that are similar between punk rock and calypso. Musically, the two genres are further apart than a goat and a ripe orange. But according to activist and Rage Against the Machine guitarist, Tom Morello, the distance is shorter than you’d think. Morello once said in an interview with BANGERTV, “all music is an intrical part of our culture and what we hear and what we play affects who we are and that’s political.”

Tagged in : calypso, political music, caribbean, culture

1 Comment

  1. David Venn

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