Calypso and rapso have lost an icon with the sudden death of Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba, artiste and activist, early yesterday.
He was serving as president of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) at the time of his passing, navigating the difficult straits the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the entertainment and arts sector.
His activism on behalf of two indigenous musical genres predated his time at the helm of TUCO and throughout his life he was inspired by the oral traditions that birthed both art forms.
But while he was known first and foremost as an exponent of the rapso tradition, Brother Resistance was always at pains to point out that he didn’t invent the art form.
As a 16-year-old poetry-living student at Queen’s Royal College, he was inspired by the music of rapso’s actual creator, the late Lancelot Layne. This was in 1970, a time of revolution in T&T, with events that led many to a deeper appreciation of their African identity. It was also the year when the first-ever rapso, Layne’s “Blow Way,” was released.
So began what became a lifelong musical and cultural pursuit for Brother Resistance. As the 1970s ended, he was emerging as an exciting new talent at the helm of the Network Riddim Band.
Influenced by the Black Power Movement, the music he wrote and performed contained messages about social justice, human rights and the environment. He seldom strayed from those themes and was never lured into the "wine and jam” which brought easy but fleeting success to some of his fellow artistes, giving us hits like Ring De Bell, Tonight is De Night and Mother Earth.
He defined rapso as "the power of the word, in the riddum of the word" and as its best-known exponent, promoted it well beyond T&T’s borders, performing and conducting lectures and demonstrations across the Caribbean, North America and Europe.
His decades of work as an activist, researcher and educator carved a niche for many artistes who have gone on to rapso success, among them the widely acclaimed 3 Canal, Kindred and Ataklan.
But he also worked to push the music into mainstream performance spaces, such as the seasonal calypso tents and music festivals, well beyond the fringe events to which rapso had been limited in its early years.
His efforts, however, were not solely about promoting and developing the genre. Brother Resistance also worked for the cause of culture at the National Carnival Commission (NCC), Copyright Music Organisation of T&T (COTT), Association of Caribbean Copyright Societies and other groups. He was also very close to the steelpan movement.
In 1992, he was honoured for his decades of cultural activism with the Humming Bird Silver Medal—an accolade he accepted with his characteristic humility.
To the end, Brother Resistance was known for his simplicity and authenticity. His Afrocentric style of dress, the poetry that was his lifelong passion, a disarming style and easy manner were his trademarks.
He never strayed far from his Laventille hometown, even as his musical influence earned him legions of fans from all walks of life.
But his passing, in a year where this nation has already lost other cultural icons — Singing Sandra, Torrance Mohammed, Winsford “Joker” Devine and Bobby Mohammed among them—plunges the cultural fraternity deeper into mourning.