July 12 2000
By Terry Joseph
The acknowledged inventor of soca music, Ras Shorty I, died last night at
Shorty, 59, passed away shortly after dusk, after a battle with multiple
myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.
His calypso colleagues expressed shock although admitting that his death was
not altogether unexpected. Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Association
(Tuco)_president, Seadly “Penguin” Joseph was speechless, turning us over to
public relations officer, Michael “Protector” Legerton, who praised Shorty’s
strength in his twilight days.
“We are all grief stricken,” Protector said. “We are still trying to come to
terms with his death, although it is not a total surprise, because we knew
his situation. No one here has really been able to speak since we heard the
news.” The organisation will release a full statement today.
Calypso King of the World, The Mighty Sparrow, speaking from his New York
home, described Shorty’s death as a shocker. “What a shocker,” he repeated
several times. “I did not think it would be so soon. I am really at a loss
for words. I am dumbfounded. I still cannot collect myself,” he said,
audibly breaking into tears. “I just want to, at this time, extend my
condolences to his family and pray that they stay strong,” he said.
The mood was the same from other calypsonians who called the Express upon
hearing the news.
Shorty, whose calypso sobriquet was a parody of his imposing height, first
came to public attention in 1963 with the song “Cloak and Dagger,”
catapulting him to the art’s major league at a single bound.
A close friend and associate of the acclaimed calypso composer Maestro,
Shorty carved his own space from the 1964 Carnival and rose swiftly in the
calypso world. His first title came in 1970, when he was crowned Calypso
King of San Fernando, beating former monarchs Bomber and Black Stalin into
second and third place respectively.
By 1984, the was able to command the respect and trust of a stable of
superior singers, who he presented for that calypso season in the yet
upscale setting of Queen’s Hall, as The Professionals.
But he was best known for premiering a new rhythm that fused Indian
percussion instruments with the traditional calypso engine room to produce
soca, defining the new beat as “the soul of calypso”.
In that vein, he produced some of calypsoes enduring masterpieces, including
the seminal Endless Vibrations album. Apart from its infectious title-track
and other catchy songs like “Zena”, the album offered an insight into
revolutionary possibilities for calypso music, most notably the
Hindu-oriented “Om Shanti”, a song that caused more than a mild uproar in
certain quarters for its use of the chant in its chorus line.
Shorty went on to become The Love Man, singing songs in that idiom, some of
which caused him to run afoul of the authorities. He was, however equally
adept at social commentary, with his “Money Eh No Problem” (1984) becoming
one of calypso’s all-time classics.
But by the turn of the 1980’s Shorty became disenchanted with the very image
and music he had created, saying that soca was being used for all the wrong
He then underwent a dramatic change of image, taking a deeply spiritual
direction and going back to nature. In the process he became Ras Shorty-I,
changing his style to composing and singing deeply devout songs.
In 1997 he released “Watch Out My Children” an anti-drug song that stayed at
the number one slot throughout the Caribbean for many weeks and sold well in
North America and the UK. The song was translated into several languages.
Just last month, Shorty and his family (called The Love Circle) released a
new CD, containing his greatest hits -- or at least those which he had no
objection to including.
It was about then that he broke his right arm in a fashion that caused
doctors at the Port of Spain General Hospital to further investigate, when
he checked into the institution for tests aimed at discovering why he was
experiencing mobility problems.
The doctors found that Shorty was afflicted with multiple myeloma, the same
disease that took the life of Kitchener last February.