The Political Calypso: True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, 1962-1987

The Political Calypso: True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, 1962-1987

The Political Calypso: True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, 1962-1987

The Political Calypso: True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, 1962-1987


Calypso, a traditional form of music in the Caribbean, began in Trinidad & Tobago as a subtle protest against British rule. Influenced by African & native Caribbean rhythms, the calypso (along with Jamaican reggae) defines the music of the region. The author examines the evolution of the political calypso from 1962 to 1987, the period of Trinidad/Tobago's independence from Britain, & present the text of lyrics from this popular folk-urban musical form. Following the songs & their themes chronologically from 1962 forward, the author discovers the social history, cultural attitudes, & political commentary embedded within the music. He discusses the uneasy alliance between the performer & the politician, the political moods & postures emphasized in the songs, & the national identity of the calypso. Drawing upon voluminous research, the authors study brings to light little known & unrecorded songs. With a concluding chapter on the calypso's artistic & performance elements, it will appeal both to specialists in ethnomusicology & to general readers who enjoy the calypso.


At 0001 hours on Friday 31 August 1962, the red, white and black flag of the infant state of Trinidad and Tobago replaced the British Union Jack atop the standard on the front lawn of the Red House, the parliament building in Port of Spain, the nation's capital. Two weeks before this signal event, however, the achievement of independence had been celebrated publicly in song at the finals of the first independence Calypso King competition staged at the Town Hall, Port of Spain.

All things considered, it was fitting that the calypsonian be the herald of independence because he had long championed the national forces and movements agitating for self-rule and statehood. Over the following 25 years, and beyond, he continued commenting on happenings in the political domain, communicating his views about politics, politicians and power sharing. Twenty- five years of his song have left us a priceless archive of social history which is at once the saga of independence viewed from the perspective of the urban, largely Afro-Trinidadian underclass, and at the same time, the dynamic story of a popular folk urban song form as it developed in a volatile time.

Sadly, many nationals do not accept the calypso as the national song. Some despise it as "rum music" (to quote Stalin "Wait Dorothy" 1985); others, remarking its intimate relationship with the carnival bacchanals, divine in it the hand of the Devil; still others decry its seasonality; while there are those who dismiss it as an Afro-Creole expression. To all these objectors, the calypso cannot qualify as "The voice of the People" much more (and here the conscientious shudder) "The voice of God".

It cannot be disputed, however, that the calypso enjoys national hearing although the calypsonian does not profit from this and is hardly aware of it until, paradoxically, he is engulfed in controversy. Stalin, in an afterword to the "Caribbean Man" controversy which raged over his "Caribbean Unity" (1979), commented: "In one sense I was happy because we was conscious even though we wasn't getting support from certain areas, people listening who we didn't even know was listening. . . ."

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