Calypso Music Categories 1 | Political, Social & Humor

Photo © Sanch Records Trinidad
What is Calypso? Calypso is a style of music that came out of slavery in the Caribbean and is credited to Trinidad and  Tobago. Some will disagree that Calypso started in Trinidad but just about every major achievement and every major event regarding this music genre are credited to Trinidad. The fact remains that any historical record on this genre originates out of Trinidad. However, before we get into the substance of this post let's take note of some of these achievements.
Did you know the following?

  • Calypsos were first sung in French Creole then a mix of Patois and English
  • The Rhythm of Calypso  (beat) is done in 2/4, 4/4 time (see "Meter" at  this link for an explanation of Rhythm (beats in the music)
  • The first-ever Calypso instrumental recording was done in 1912 by Lovey's Orchestra.
  • The first-ever vocal Calypso recording was made in 1914 when the "Duke of Iron" teamed up with Jules Sims. “Iron Duke in the Land” is a calypso by Henry Julian (a.k.a. Julian Whiterose)
  • The first-ever Calypso tent opened in Port-of-Spain in 1921 was the "Railway Douglas Tent".
  • The first-ever female to sing in a calypso tent was "Lady Trinidad" in 1935.
  • The first-ever female Calypsonian to cut a record was "Lady Trinidad" in 1937.
  • The first-ever "Young Brigade Tent" opened in 1947 by 24-year-old Lord Kitchener, featuring Lord Melody, Mighty Spoiler, and Mighty Viking.
That was a minor historical review of Calypso. If you want to get more information we recommend the Trinidad and Tobago government site NALIS. Having said that, you can also review our Calypso post. Link to the post here: Trinidad's Calypso Music.

Now that we have your attention, the fact that you are reading this article could be that you are just curious about this site or you want to gather information for a project. Maybe you just love the culture are want to learn as much as you can about culture and especially Calypso, the mother of SOCA music. This article provided some information about the categories of Calypso music. Within Calypso, there are different types of Calypso songs or categories. 

This post will feature the following categories Political, Social, and Humor. The second post will feature the rest, Party, Extempo, and Nation Building. Now let's take a look at the six categories both post one and two will feature. 

Calypso categories:
  • Political
  • Social
  • Humor
  • Party
  • Extempore
  • Nation Building
  1. Political Calypso songs are used to express political views and opinions. They are often used to criticize politicians and their policies. 
  2. Social Calypso songs are used to address social issues such as poverty, crime, and unemployment.
  3. Humorous Calypso songs are used to entertain listeners with witty lyrics and humorous stories.
Part two of the Calypso Music Categories can be accessed here: Party, Extempore & Nation Building

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Political Calypso:
If you consider the calypsonian the peoples' watchman or the voice of the people then it is easy to understand the role of political songs in the politics of the nation. Calypsonians could be bitter and come down like a sledgehammer on the ruling party. That was the case when Gypsy's 'Sinking Ship' and Deple's 'Vote Dem Out' were used by the opposition NAR to unseat the PNM government. The people's voice, the people's champion does more damage to a politician's future than articles in the daily newspapers. Many Calypsonians sang songs that made the politicians take notice. The Mighty Sparrow, Sugar Aloes, Duke, and many others influenced the way politicians conducted business. If you want to learn more on this subject, link to this article: credit BBC  The subversive power of calypso music

The British, who ruled Trinidad during the formative years of Calypso music tried to stifle the development of the music because the songs empowered the people.  Who could not read, could hear, and understand the songs of the day; that was not in the interest of the British government for that period. As mentioned above, the first Calypso tent opened in 1921, and because of the growth and popularity of Calypso, the ruling administration wanted to take control of the lyrical content of the songs. In 1934, a daily license fee was required from the tents; the enacted law was the 'Theatres and Dance Halls Ordinance' (1934-51). The purpose of the license was control! The tent owner had to submit the lyrics for all songs to be sung for review by the British Colonial government. Any song that portrayed a negative view of the government was censored and could not be performed unless any considered damaging content was revised in the interest of the colonial power. (credit 'The Sun/Domica" for this information). 
Political Calypsos for your listening pleasure

Social Commentary Calypso:
If you want to know what is going on in society today the internet will provide more than you really want to know. However, there was a time when people depended on the daily newspapers and radio to keep track of what was taking place. Those two formats were sometimes or most times overlooked by the general population but that was not the case when a calypsonian decided to address a topic that was of interest to society. The social commentary could be loaded with advice and warnings but if the tone was bitter then the impact of the song ended up as 'the talk of the town''. 
Social Commentary Calypsos for your listening pleasure

Humorous Calypsos: 
As the name implies, this is all about humor; not just to put a smile on your face but to have you rolling and crying with laughter. One of the most popular humorous Calypsos is Lord Nelson's King Liar. It may not be the funniest, but it will surely put a smile on your face. 

The art of singing humorous calypsos is not an easy one. It is not just about telling a funny story, the words must be accompanied by music that will be remembered for years to come. When the music starts, the words to the song should be recalled with ease. The combination of music and funny lyrical content should fit hand in glove. The YouTube player below has a listing of some very good songs for your listening pleasure. Enjoy.
34 Funny Calypsos for your listening pleasure

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