Calypso focus

Chalkdust playing a tune on his guitar.
Chalkdust playing a tune on his guitar.

Legendary calypsonian Chalkdust is suggesting that regional body, the Caribbean Examination Council, place greater emphasis on calypso.

Professor Hollis Liverpool, who delivered the organisation’s 40th anniversary lecture at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford last night, said that calypsonians are social scientists and the lyrics of the calypsos must be emphasised in future CXC examinations.

“If only because calypso is to a large extent the defining art form of Caribbean regional integration. It’s more than Federation was the clarion call to bring the disparate groups of oppressed people together after emancipation,” he said. He further noted that it fuelled carnivals and rituals, it had retained its African rhythmic characteristics driving people to gay abandon and everyone could bask in its messages and also it carried the news in the absence of CNN and was “our hidden transcripts” of the dispossessed.

The seven-time calypso king of Trinidad and Tobago spoke on the topic: The Calypso as a Caribbean Art Form for Institutional Studies: Resistance, Acceptance and the Journey Ahead.

Punctuating his lecture by singing verses from several calypsos from Lord Kitchener, Swallow, Mighty Sparrow, Gabby and Lord Blakey among others, he had the audience that included members of the CXC, the University of the West Indies, and calypso aficionados, singing along with him.

chalkdustlectureadosmokeyThe turn-out to hear the head of The Academy for Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs at The University of Trinidad and Tobago was so large that some members of the audience who did not get seats opted to stand instead of missing out on the experience.

Liverpool noted that the road ahead had already been paved “by the beautiful and conscious lyrics that underscore the calypso” which was also its strength.

“Of course there are many lessons to be learnt from its musical strength in terms of the key used and … in terms of the melodic sequencing and in terms of its chord,” he said.

Using Gabby’s Emmerton as an example, the first Professor of Calypso Art at UTT said the time had come for CXC to show the youth the role that calypso and calypsonians and musicians played in the Caribbean.

“When I first heard [Emmerton] I realised that if ever there was a manifestation of God that melody is it … and there are so many questions to be asked by CXC.

“To whom is Gabby addressing the song. What a wonderful opportunity to use a verse of calypso as a tool for examination and for learning by asking students in the realm of music and the social sciences to comment on its musical and structural elements.

“The calypso by Gabby is rhyme, it is history, it is historiography. What have they done to Emmerton? What have they done to Emmerton physically? What have they done to Emmerton affectionately? The values of a society crushed! And there are those who feel that Africans have rhythm and percussion but not melody: who say so? Emmerton is proof of the sweet melody associated with Africans and with some calypsos and the way ahead in terms of the calypso as a tool for institutional study is in the field of ethno-musicology.

“Ethno-musicology teaches us that you cannot separate music from a person’s culture, you have to look at all the constructs that lead to the music. Pan is not simply pan, kaiso is not simply kaiso but the life of a people expressed in its lyric.

“For us in the Caribbean and in CXC, ethno-musicology is the way to go in the future. Ethno-musicology teaches us that music carries with it all the manifestations of a people’s culture. So the musician and the musicologist sees and hears the minor key in Emmerton but the ethno-musicologist sees and hears the music as well as the bulldozers pushing down the houses.

“They see the values gone, they hear the traditions bulldozed, they see the labour of the enslaved to build Emmerton, they see the many souls who perished to build Emmerton, they see the many sou-sou they saved to build their homes. They see the many grandmothers who socialised their children in the Bajan way of life and they see all the African habits of the African peasantry,” Liverpool said.

He said that melody and lyrics in calypso could also be examined given the many themes that were involved such as the narrative, political, humorous, and philosophical as well as the commentaries, topics about man and woman relationships, identity, race and Caribbean unity all expressed within the lyrics of the art form, to show students the role and function of calypso and calypsonians.

“When these concepts are examined then will our youths see that the calypsonian, humble and lowly esteemed though he maybe has climbed to great heights on the ladder of critical thought. Then will the youths see that the calypsonian is a social scientist in his own right,” Liverpool said. (DS)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *