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Where Calypso Went

Keith Smith of Trinidad Express devoted three successive columns in tribute to the superior artistry of Brother Valentino. We have three examples of his work on the CD the Roaring 70s in the 2 CD set Sing De Chorus.

Where calypso went

Keith Smith
Monday, January 16th 2006

As the years pass I find I am able to frequent my old haunts less and less so here I am a young lad who used to "live" in the calypso tents turned into an aged man (well, aging at least) who can't tell when last he has been in one, which means were it not for the "just come" Radio Trinbago I might never have heard Brother Valentino's "Where Calypso Went?" (Anthony Emrold Phillip, just in case some child gets the question for homework although why any child should have to know the "real name" of any calypsonian beats me)

I remain sufficiently close to the calypso cognoscenti to have heard about it, calypso fans hailing it both for the capacity "Vally" showed for research and for his ability in putting it tunefully together even as they remain bewildered over its ouster from the Dimanche Gras finals last year. On the face of it (having heard the tried and tiring formulaic calypsoes that did make it I have to say they have a point notwithstanding the old judges' escape clause that calypsoes are judged on the day or night of performance and not in the relatively controlled environment of the recording studio.

You might think, even as you sympathise and empathise with the man who in the sizzling 70's, and after, was known as "the people's calypsonian" that what's done is done except that it is not done Valentino, himself and a loyal Luta carrying on the fight as you will see in this space over the next three days and as you will hear, hopefully every day over the next three days if, as you should, you keep your dial on 94.7FM where they have this happy habit of ganging up songs so that they end up having variations on a single theme, Phillip Simmons, Andre Williams and the rest gradually getting more and more into the hang of this calypso music thing. But, first, the calypso at the centre of the kangkalang:

First verse:

In 1912 in New York City they recorded the first calypso

By Lovey's Orchestra a band from Trinidad the record could show

This orchestra was led by George Bailey, the musician, not the mas man

The tune was entitled "Mango Vert" and so calypso recordings began

In nineteen fourteen, two years later, Julien Whiterose and one Jules Simon

Gave to calypso its first vocal recordings

In 1921, Railway Douglas opened the first calypso tent

And from then to now I keep asking where the hell the calypso went.

First chorus:

Since in the early twenties Sa Gomes sponsored Lion and Tiger

Our calypso music was attracted by a recording company called Decca

It was recorded before all that jazz and so much other music

But somewhere along the way calypso has lost its magic

Just when we feel the calypso would skyrocket all over the continent

It took a nose dive in the savannah and then back to the frigging tent.

Second verse:

In the early thirties Calypso reach Harlem's black community

Pioneered by Sir Lancelot, the Duke of Iron and Houdini

Sam Manning, Bill Rogers, the Duke of Marlborough

Not forgetting Gerald Clarke and Lionel Belasco

Look how long the calypso was on the international scene

Until a man name Morley Amsterdam brought it where the pasture was green

Rum and Coca Cola the Andrew Sisters said it all

The tune sold seven million copies and Lord Invader he had a ball.

Second chorus:

One hundred and fifty US thousand dollars he got for this calypso

And for composing the melody Belasco he got something also

Through Amsterdam and the Andrew Sisters calypso made the hit parade

Now today the same calypso ketching its arse to make the grade

Cause everyday now the people keep complaining calypso is dying slow

But it's all them calypso judges and promoters who have it so.

Third verse:

Calypso reach Greenwich Village, Calypso reach all over Broadway

Calypso sold its first million albums through Harry Belafonte

Nat King Cole recorded "Calypso Blues" in 1948

Chuck Berry recorded "Havana Moon", that calypso was really great

Robert Mitchum, Rosemary Clooney, the Langston Trio, Louis Farrakhan

All these people sang the calypso, Lionel Richie and Bob Dylan

Calypso it was acknowledged had an influence on the Motown Sound

Jamaica could say thanks to Calypso Reggae music is still around.

Third chorus:

A calypsonian told me a story about Bob, Peter and Bunny

Recording his calypso "where Sammy gone" they sang background vocals for he

Our first Independence Calypso King, Lord Brynner, who they send loco

Told me that Bob Marley and the Wailers pick up some vibes from we calypso

After all these people and places where the hell did calypso go

End up in some cheating competition on some blasted Dimanche Gras Show.

Fourth verse:

The first woman to enter a tent to sing calypso

Lady Trinidad was her sobriquet, the first to cut a record also

Thelma Lane was her name. I want them female calypsonians know

About a feminist in the art, a trail blazer and fighter of long ago

And then enter Harold Phillips a man who would create history

A calypsonian and a pannist, a concert promoter from Laventille

In his Colony Club in England where he promoted his calypso show

These white boys would walk with their guitars and together they would join the tempo.

Fourth chorus:

And then Woody told me a true story, them white boys used to gig with he

About a historic concert they pull off in Hamburg, Germany

John, Paul, George and Ringo is Lord Woodbine made me to know

The famous Beatles from in Liverpool pick up some vibes from we calypso

After all these explorations how much further did calypso went

End up in all kinds of competitions and then back to the frigging tent.

TOMORROW: Stung by the rejection of this calypso Valentino in true, well, calypso warrior fashion, lashes back at the judges with what else but "Backlash!"

This great calypso sin

Keith Smith
Tuesday, January 17th 2006

So, as I was saying yesterday, Valentino has made his ouster from the Dimache Gras finals, even after he sang "Where Calypso Went" (the lyrics of which I published in the same column), something of a cause celebre among the calypso fraternity, and I won't be surprised if it now becomes one within the wider society, given the airplay he is getting on Radio Trinbago and the page-play he is getting here, the writer empathising with Valentino, not necessarily on the basis of his calypsoes-of-the-moment-though there are those-but because he may be getting the short end of the calypso stick, perhaps because his is a softer sound searching for space among the hard-edged singers.

Certainly, I have been among Valentino's fans for years, starting with my short-lived time in the University of the West Indies where I used to listen in the campus bar called "Infinity" to Valentino after Valentino, the students there rallying 'round his music and I, myself, to this day, counting his "Smokey Joe" collaboration with the late and much lamented Andre Tanker as one of the unheralded classics of the calypso pantheon.

His most popular tune is almost certainly "Life is a Stage", such an encore-getter more than 30 years later that it comes as a surprise to me (and I am sure to many) that it did not make the Savannah even though, let it be said, 30 years ago the quality of competition on those Dimanche Gras nights was a far cry from the schoolboy calypsoes that manage to make it today. "Valley" has a sound repertoire of songs including but certainly not limited to "Barking Dogs", "Stay Up Zimbabwe" and "Mad on a Soca Fad" (these two did carry him to the Savannah in 1979, his then "brother in revolution", Black Stalin, winning the crown that year).

Over all these years, Valentino has never really been out of the calypso picture, even as the form went through significant changes, not all of them, a man like Chalkdust will argue, for the better-indeed, he may well argue that not a single one of them has been. "Backlash", as I indicated yesterday, is Valentino's lash back at the judges with whom "Where Calypso Went" failed to find favour. Reading the lyrics on a page is one thing, but to see Valentino sing it in performance is quite another; not, mind you, that he ever works himself up into high dudgeon. Still, here goes:

First verse:

Of all the low down dirtiness I have experienced in calypso

The nastiest was these eight judges, one fiesta show

They victimise me openly the damn thing worse than a shame

For the whole calypso world to see their filthy political game

Sean de Freitas, Verbim Conolie, Gillian Henry

Lennox London, Milton Bassaw who did this to me

Ezra Joseph, Melvin Charles and Ezekiel Benjamin

In the name of calypso, you have committed the greatest sin.

First chorus:

Seven judges to officiate the rule state

When ah check them jokers ah counting eight

Fuss they want to fight me down

They decide they will bring in one more clown

But we done know they cannot fool the masses

These eight educated jackasses

Is to put all of them in one barrel

and look for the steepest hill.

Second verse:

They talk about equal rights and justice here in Trinidad

But in calypso the justice system moving very sad

It seems as though their policy is not based on any fair play

Because when the truth confronts them they always look the other way

These people have their own mind set and they blight just like cocobay

But one day one day congotay for this deed they will have to pay

Through all my years of competition this is what I observe

They never ever gave to me what I really deserve.

Second chorus:

They will never judge me on my merits

These set of bad minded hypocrites

They so vindictive and so damn wicked

In the eyes of the people they look so stupid

I don't know if is blood they want from me

With their blinking vampire mentality

I would like to push an umbrella where the sun don't shine

And open it up in their behind.

Third verse:

The whole of Trinbago, London, New York and Toronto

Everybody want to know why these judges treat me so

With their cut throat attitude they spite the "People's Calypsonian"

Through their bias ways these eight bimbos upset the whole nation

These criminals put some children in front this legend in calypso

Ah wonder if is the cash they do not want me earning on that show

But it is time they give me what is mine when it is due to me

And do not try to put me down for no mediocracy.

Third chorus:

Until I get my justice I will never stop

Chanting down these judges they too damn corrupt

Is genocide they committing in the art

These killers and dictators they have no heart

So my historic research they just reject

People like them so have no respect

They should be put away without no bail

in Carrera or the Royal Jail.

Fourth verse:

I wonder if these stooges committed this crime on their own

And why this evil act the people in authority condone

And when they do their wickedness they feel they accomplish something

But the sins of these people will fall on their offspring

Some of the greatest songs that I have sung never made it to the savannah

Including Life is a Stage, the Immortal, the ever popular

If these judges ain't pushing hatred and vendetta what could it be

Then the ones who control the calypso are the ones plotting against me.

Fourth chorus:

My people no matter what I sing

Every year with these judges is the same damn thing

What the hell they want me to sing again

Jah Jah how long shall the wicked reign

But my wife Peggy told me jokingly

If you want to vie for this Monarchy

You got to stand up on your head and sing upside down

If you want to win this crown.

TOMORROW: Luta joins Valentino's struggle

Three is calypso company
Looking for the lyric

Keith Smith
Wednesday, January 18th 2006

Anti-establishment calypsoes have long been a part of the calypso tradition. In fact they began the tradition and, today, whatever the prevalence of the so-called "wine and jam'' calypsoes (and I am wondering who first came up with that sneeringly derisive nomenclature. Sounds like something "Chalkie'' would come up with but I am not sure and I am not about to make a federal case of something so trivial, since next thing you know every Tom, Dick and Theresa claiming: "Was me! Was me''!)

The really substantial point is that the tradition is alive and well although you wouldn't think so listening to some of the old-stagers they, themselves, down-playing the reality of their own steady work what with soca's easy popularity, to say nothing, of the soca money earned on the party circuit both here and abroad that the conventional-style calypsonians can only hear about-jealously!

The thing about anti-establishment calypsoes, though, is that they are not exclusively anti-government. There have been thousands such over the years but they can also be "anti'' all the estates of the realm and some, not a few of them like Valentino's "Backlash'' which we published yesterday, anti-judges no less a star than Sparrow lashing out at the judges with "Robbery with V'' when he lost to Dougla with his "deep croon'' and "same melody'' (Sparrow good, yes the dead Dougla's "Lazy Man'' and "Split Me In Two'' having stood the test of time).

Then, of course, Shadow had the "judges jumping'' and there are any number of calypsonians smarting, to this day, over what they perceived to be "wickedness'' on the part of the men and women chosen to "Dimanche Gras'' judge them Duke, to this day, certain that the then Carnival Development Committee (CDC) wickedly prevented him from winning his fifth straight calypso crown by giving it to Sparrow one of whose songs was "Drunk and Disorderly'' (my friend Duke good, yes, "Drunk and Disorderly'' going in to win the Road March, albeit helped by a rainy Carnival, as also standing the test of time).

What struck me about Luta's 2006 endorsement of Valentino's dey-put-me-down position (as outlined in the two calypsoes published in this space Monday and yesterday) was that I can't recall any calypsonian publicly taking up a brother calypsonian's dem-blasted-judges cause. Ah mean, as opposed to meeting him in the road and muttering sympathetically:

"Boy, dey teef yuh!''

Which is why I sat up when I heard Luta (who, incidentally, may have good reason to feel himself harshly done by the judges in last year's "Independence'' calypso competition) with this one:


Verse One:

I can't tell the last time ah hear a calypso to compare with this classic on the history of calypso

From since nineteen twelve to now all where Kaiso went and how documented and sung by Valentino

Calypso lovers out there hail the song as song of the year .

They say Valentino must be a finalist

But some amazing men and women with clipboard paper and pen sit down and they don't want that song on they list (so I tell Valley)


Jam another one Valley; jam another one

Life is a stage so yuh say and is a part they come out to play

Jam another one Valley; jam another one

Remind birds that fly high got to fly back down to die

Jam another one Valley; jam another one.

Verse Two:

When you hear a good kaiso instinctively yuh does know

Shortpants say yuh does feel it in yuh belly

When I heard Valley kaiso ah felt it from meh head to meh toe

But them judges don't hear and feel the same things like we

After workshops and seminar it's only natural to expect better

But it eh easy to teach a old dog new tricks

If he was singing for the party at least he would win a category

because the judges don't make joke with they politics (but I tell Valley)


Jam another one Valley; jam another one

You are the true opposition and we eh want no revolution

Jam another one Valley; jam another one

It must fly up in they face when they run out of time and space

Jam another one Valley; jam another one.

Verse Three:

The research alone which was done deserve high commendation plus the craftsmanship to put it in kaiso

What again must this brother do to get his rightful due

I'm asking you and you please tell me if you know

Rumours and speculations among the calypsonians

The judges taking bribe big money does pass

Them only want to kill kaiso they don't know they eye-hole from they elbow

Crazy say the judges want a kick in they rass (but I tell Valley)


Jam another one Valley; jam another one

Is you who say this place nice and Trinidad is a paradise

Jam another one Valley; jam another one

Keep on singing Smokey Joe, to hell with they blasted Dimanche Gras show

Jam another one Valley; jam another one.

Calypso insiders will note the references in this clever little song to some of Valentino's past hits but all I have been trying to do is to point you to a certain symmetry in these three calypsoes as played on Radio Trinbago (94.7) as I keep looking for lyrics the task, this year made radio easier for a fan unable to get around as much as he used to the judges having their jobs to do without fear or favour and, indeed, party affiliation or class position, the only thing to consider being the power of the performance on the competition night in question.


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