Calypso Music

Topics: Calypso music, Harry Belafonte, Mighty Sparrow Pages: 12 (4398 words) Published: May 6, 2012

Calypso is one of the most significant traditions in the Caribbean Music Industry. ‘Come, Mister tally man, tally me banana, daylight come and me wan’ go home,” are the words to a famous calypso song recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1956. The Free Dictionary defines calypso music as ‘a type of music that originated in the West Indies, notably in Trinidad, and is characterized by improvised lyrics on topical or broadly humorous subjects’. It can also be said that calypso is a certain style of music which incorporates rhythms that are typical of African music. This type of music is seen played during Carnival by Calypsonians, singers, who have prepared for the event all season long. These songs usually poke fun at anything and anyone in the community, from politics to gossip and on special occasions some controversial topics come about in these types of songs. This paper discusses calypso music: the factors which played a role in its existence, rise and decline. It then will look at the lives and impact of two well-known and exceptional calypsonians. It further goes into the examination how calypso songs are written which will be done through analyzing the type of poetry, repetition, rhyming schemes and piling that are found within the calypso lyrics. Finally, it will review and touch on the impact of Calypso music here on the island of St.Martin.

There is a famous saying which states that ‘the past is the key to the present’. Therefore, it can be said that there must have been some past key which contributed to the present key of the calypso music industry of today. It is worldly known that ‘Calypso Music’ is famous for its sometimes humorous lyrics and social commentary. Calypso Music started off in Trinidad. Like several other Caribbean islands, Trinidad was colonized by Europeans. According to Tutwiler, what makes Trinidad’s colonial past unique is that it was colonized by the Spanish and later by the English, and also had a large influx of French immigrants. As a result, it is stated that the earliest calypso songs were not sung in English but in French-Creole, sometimes called patois. The history of calypso has more to do with just French immigrants in Trinidad. African slaves were also a part of the calypso history. African slaves were brought to Trinidad to work on the sugar plantations. These slaves were not allowed to communicate with each other. As a result, they began to sing songs from drumming. These song lyrics sang by the slaves were used to make fun or mockery of slave owners and upper class. The rhythms of calypso centered on the steel drum, which the rival groups used to beat out cadences (Tutwiler, 2009). Each year during competitions in Carnival, calypso tunes were sung. These tunes were led by chantwells (singers that led masquerade bands). It is stated in Tutwiler’s article that these Chantwells led their masquerade bands in call and response singing in calypso tents. Calypso tents are still a part of today’s carnival in Trinidad as a place where new music is featured. As time went on, the famous chantwells were later known as calypsonians, which is still known as such today.

The first Calypso recording was made in 1914. This specific year marks the landmark in the history of Calypso. During the mid and late 1930’s (known as the golden age of calypso), several people came forth in the industry (Farlex, 2011). This period of time is known as the ‘Golden Age’. Most of the top calypsonians from that age have been males. Males which included: The Growling Tiger, Lord Executor, Lord Pretender, Atilla the Hun, Roaring Lion, and Lord Invader, just to name a few. All of these exceptional people have made unforgettable impressions on the calypso music world. By the late 1930’s calypso music was on a rise.

With the ‘Golden Age’ or rise of calypso music, there was also a period of time, when calypso music started to fall, and many other forms of music started to rise. The...
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