Throughout October the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco)) will pay tribute to the late Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masima) who was their president at the time of his untimely passing earlier this year, with the theme for this year’s observance, De Bell Reigns. October was declared Calypso History Month in 2002.
The beauty and brilliance of the calypso art form are unmatched, often referred to as the voice of the people. It is described as “an editorial in song” (Mighty Duke), “By calypsoes, our stories are told, with this rhythm to touch the soul” (Mighty Sniper) and according to David Rudder “lyrics to make a politician cringe”. Many calypsoes have been written and sung over the years that document moments in T&T’s history like no textbook can.
According to professor of literature and calypso scribe Gordon Rohlehr: “It is possible to understand any given era in the Caribbean by studying calypso.”
The late Brother Resistance once said: “Calypso celebrates and analyses life and the way we live it.”
For example, attempts at Federation and Caribbean unity and integration have been an elusive dream of our region. The topical relevance of West Indian integration and federation have been the subject of many calypsos before, during and since the actual Federation which lasted from 1958-1962:
° Federation—The Mighty Sparrow
° Expedite Federation (1933)—Atilla the Hun
° Advice to West Indians (1939)—The Growling Tiger
° Montego Bay Conference (1947/8)—Atilla the Hun
In the 1950s:
° Federation—Lord Beginner
° Federation—The Roaring Lion
° Federation—King Fighter
° What’s Federation—Small Island Pride
° Trinidad Have Federation Already—Atilla the Hun
° We All Is One or Federation—The Mighty Sparrow
° Federated Islands—Bomber
° Referendum’ (1961/62)—Lord Laro
° Cry of the West Indies (1968)—Young Killer
° Caribbean Integration (1977)—Explainer
° Caribbean Unity (1979)—Black Stalin
° One Caribbean (1994)—David Rudder
The late Roaring Lion (Rafael de Leon) sang to welcome Pope John Paul II on his historic visit to T&T in February 1985. It was recorded as a 12 inch single and the calypsonian presented a copy of it to the Pope after singing it to him and receiving a papal blessing.
Hasely Crawford’s amazing feat at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, capturing T&T’s first gold medal, resulted in at least five calypsoes by Lord Kitchener, The Mighty Sparrow, Maestro, Brother Mudada and Striker.
The trial and conviction of Abdul Malik and others for the murders in Arima of English woman Gail Ann Benson and Trinidadian Joseph Skerritt inspired One to Hang from the Album “We walk 100 Miles” in 1973 by Lord Kitchener, as well as Stanley Abbott from the album “Tourist in Trinidad”, 1974.
Taxes it is said are as inevitable as death and in T&T we certainly have our share of them. Not to be left out, the voice of the people has been transmitted via the social and political calypsoes of the day to the extent that the Mighty Sparrow’s PAYE (Pay As You Earn) of 1958 captured the Road March title in that year. In the 1980’s the Value Added Tax (VAT) was introduced by the ANR Robinson-led government with Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, belting out his calypso No VAT. Then in 2010, T&T was faced with the property tax, and again the calypsonians’ voices were raised with calypsonians Tigress, Luta and Kurt Allen doing just that. Lady Tigress devoted her entire calypso, Don’t Touch Mih Cacada, to the controversial property tax.
With the threat of the globally rampant COVID-19 virus, Carnival was cancelled this year. Back in 1972 the threat of a polio outbreak led to Carnival being postponed from February to May and Ebola posed a threat but Carnival prevailed in 2015. When Carnival was eventually staged later in 1972, the rains came and virtually ruined the parade. This was vividly captured by Lord Kitchener in his 1973 Road March, Rainorama.
By calypso indeed our stories are told!
—Nasser Khan is the author of the book: “Heroes, Pioneers & Role Models of Trinidad & Tobago”, which is available as a free download at http://epub.safaripublications.com/profiles/. In it, many of our pioneering calypsonians are featured. His other publications include “History of West Indies Cricket Through Calypsoes” and “Celebrating Trinidad & Tobago’s Culture and the Arts”, the latter chock-filled with calypso-related information.