December 17, 2009

Trinidad and Tobago: The land of Calypso, Steel Pan, Soca, Chutney and Limbo...

The twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago boasts that it is the land of Calypso, Steel Pan and Soca (the list is a long one so I will stick with these three for now). We announce it to the World and when you Google anyone of these key words the search engines provide information related to Trinidad and Tobago. However, is this really true? Or have we taken from others and claim it to be our very own?  Hold on now and don't get upset (no need for milk of magnesia just yet).  There are many discussions taking place on the Web regarding the claims made by Trinidadians and it appeared to me that I have been living in a vacuum because I am all about 'my culture' and did not pay attention to others.  The islands of Caribbean have a lot of people whom are literally 'pissed off' with Trinidadians and the claims of land of calypso, carnival, 'steelpan' and most of all 'Soca'.

I have seen pages and pages of bitterness and nasty fighting taking place about Soca music in particular and the extended discussions about Trinidadian feeling that they are the center of the 'Caribbean Culture Universe'. has a menu that carries the name  "Backchat" and in that forum there is thread entitled, “Lord Shorty Did Not Create Soca...mudderwuk!!" by someone named "VINCYPOWA".  He is very passionate and is fighting off anyone who supports Shorty as the creator of Soca.  Now that is a discussion that will go on forever (many have claims to the creation of Soca). Much of the discussion revolves around or 'black listing' of music and musicians experimenting with music during the same period that Shorty, Shadow, Wellington and others were trying to improve on Calypso to make it a better marketable product for the international community.

Information has been presented showing that many small islanders were singing calypso during the early years just as in Trinidad but I am yet to see any information going back to the early 19th century when the very first recording of calypso was done in 1912 by Lovey's orchestra (an instrumental version) then in 1914 when the Duke of Iron with Jules Sims had the very first vocal recording. Lovey's recording is the only folk music recording (outside the US) that is part of the US Library of Congress music that was archived for posterity in the United States of America. Some have said that it is because we had the Americans in Trinidad that so much attention has been placed on our nation as the founder and innovator of Kaiso, Soca and our Carnival celebration.

Are we that obnoxious to the point that we have erased the impact and contributions of the smaller islands of the Caribbean region? We know that Soca is full fledged Caribbean music but why are people trying to discredit Trinidad and Tobago as the birthplace of the music genre?  Yes the music has changed and yes people from the other islands have impacted it but in my humble opinion the music started in Trinidad. If you want to argue whether or not Soca is an infusion of Indian and African rhythms mixed into Calypso music that Shorty termed "The Soul OF Calypso" as compared to "American Soul music and Calypo music" fused together,  by all means let's discuss it. But the discussion has now moved away from this to lay claim to the music outside of Trinidad. Should we bother and simply consider it Caribbean music?

Well my friends there is something called "intellectual property" and most countries around the World are moving forward to protect that which is theirs, Trinidad and Tobago is no different. This does not have to become a crusade but everyone should be aware that there are forces out there trying to give themselves credit not because of their achievements but by discrediting the achievements of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. So my advice to you if you are here now is to learn the history of our republic and most of all research our culture and musical heritage and get ready to defend your birthright!



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