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Who's killing kaiso now? Part II

By Terry Joseph
January 07, 2005

It is at least extraordinary that a country which, over the past three decades, warmly embraced foreign-language music like "Oye Como Va", "The Click Song", "Sayonara" and "Kuch Gadbad Hai", could today generate arguments against young soca singers based on inability to decipher their lyrics, that predicament often a casualty of unwillingness to listen; some even finding such a proviso impertinent.

Infusion of Jamaican slang by new wave singers is separately upsetting to calypso purists, who accuse them of supporting alien culture, as if Sparrow never sang "Calypso Twist" and Kitchener hadn't recorded "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 Bump", an equally pathetic attempt at mimicking American pop music.

Curiously, Leston Paul's "Get Up and Dance" has a chorus dominated by patois phrases, which clueless Trinis simply made up stuff for and sang along with no diminishing of enthusiasm.

But perhaps strongest resistance to change resided in the contention that these youngsters were deliberately stringing together inanities, foisting upon us rapid-fire twaddle that betrayed fundamentals laid out by Fearless' seminal work, "Five Rules of Calypso". While this may have been so at point of entry, they have certainly matured into storytellers, weaving tales with a sense of theatre.

Modern approaches might not conform to the purist stencil but the youngsters have demonstrated dedication to the cause and, like their predecessors, refuse to be instructed in the handling of themes. In "Earthquake", Maximus Dan posits that the power of soca could placate even polarised world leaders and-for that matter-terrorists, although in not quite the same language as David Rudder speaks to a similar passion in "Calypso Music".

Hear Maximus:

"Play de music in
Buckingham Palace
Make the Queen turn
Play de music in the
White House
Make the President
jump and shout
Play de music in Parliament
Beat the desk with an excitement
Play the music in the
Taliban cave
Bin Laden go jump
and wave, now."

Bunji Garlin, in a radical treatment of the theme used by Black Stalin in "Bu'n Dem", updates the scenario by calling for a flick of the BIC, using a show of cigarette lighters as both symbolic flames of hell and visible demonstration of solidarity with choices he consigns to fire and brimstone, not historical figures like Queen Victoria and Cecil Rhodes, but persons guilty of contemporary social disruption. This is Bunji:

"Get them fires out of control
Blaze them till you
sure dey not cold
Bu'n dem boy who
love people gold
Bu'n dem boy who
take people soul
Bu'n dem boy who leave
them to roll
On parole, for t'iefin
clothes off people pole
Who push coke inside
their nose-hole
Put all that inside
the grave/hole."

KMC loves a good narrative. In "First Experience", the calypsonian relates his debut as a masquerader, recognising only this past season he had been depriving himself of a major part of the revelry all the while and vowing to take in the full measure, from Jouvert to whatever time he flakes during the two-day street parade, coining his tribute to the festival thusly:

"Last year for Carnival
First time ah played mas
Me and mih woman
On the trailer truck
And we taking in the brass
Is all walks of life
Wining in the hot sun
If you hear them shout
They make me realise
For all these years
What I was missing out."

It's not "Phillip, My Dear" or "Progress" but global reach of the new wave soca has extended well past that of such traditional calypsoes, with the likes of Montserrat's Arrow, India's Kanchan & Babla, Barbadian Rupee and Vincentian Kevin Lyttle copying not the traditional template but styles from younger singers-each in his time-and chalking up unit sales numbering millions, a far cry from the whispered belief among older calypsonians that dedicated practitioners of the art must learn to live on small money.

Interestingly, the youngsters have handled highbrow ostracism magnanimously, countering it with open arms and inclusiveness. Rocky and Ghetto Flex riding on Kitchener's "Mr Sobers" rhythm to conjure up "Carnival is Bacchanal" or Maximus Dan's remake last year of Gypsy's "Soca Train" are seen by the singers as tributes to the greats.

Machel Montano embracing Nelson and Black Stalin for collaborative reprises of their more popular vintage songs and even more recently attracting internationally acclaimed hip-hop giga-stars like Jaye-Z, Doug E Fresh and Wyclef Jean to partner with him on recordings and concerts are developments in calypso that should not be taken lightly.

Of course, available space does not allow full ventilation of the point but, surely, evidence cited above, while not exemplary in language tricks, show no devaluation of core elements governing calypso lyrics and as we shall see in next week's conclusion of this argument, the young singers are certainly on the pulse of Carnival, going with the flow instead of trying to dictate direction.

Any study of evolution of the art shows it taking revolutionary turns on occasion, variations that have invariably redounded to the benefit and furtherance of calypso-not killed it.

Who's killing kaiso now? Part I

Who's killing kaiso now? Part III

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