Calypso Music | Trinidad & Tobago

 Photo © Bear Family Records
Calypso music is a vibrant and rhythmic genre that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. It is known for its ability to tell compelling stories that reflect the region's social, political, and cultural issues. The origins of calypso music can be found in the African slaves that French landowners imported to Trinidad. They came from Grenada and other French-controlled territories. In the eighteenth century, the French plantation owners used the King of Spain's Cedula of Population to their advantage to populate the island.

As slaves were prohibited from practicing traditional African music and dance, they adapted their cultural expressions to the changing environment in which they found themselves. They began to create their own music using the drums and other percussion instruments available to them. This early form of Calypso music was known as "Kaiso," which means "to sing" in the West African Yoruba language.

In the early years of Calypso music, the lyrics focused on themes of resistance and rebellion against slavery and colonialism. The songs were often sung in a call-and-response style, with the lead singer delivering a verse and the audience responding with a chorus. These songs were used to communicate secret messages, as slave masters could not understand the lyrics.

As slavery was abolished in Trinidad in the mid-19th century, Calypso music evolved and expanded its themes. The songs focused on social injustice and inequality issues, as well as more lighthearted themes such as love, romance, and humor. Calypso music has also evolved to incorporate a wide range of instruments, including the guitar, violin, and trumpet.

In the early 20th century, calypso music gained popularity outside of Trinidad and Tobago and became a major export of the country's culture. In 1912, Lovey's String Band recorded the first calypso ever. In 1934, the first Calypso tent was established, which allowed Calypsonians to perform for larger audiences.

One of the most famous singers of all time is Harry Belafonte. Belafonte popularized Calypso music in the United States in the 1950s with his hit song "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)." Other notable Calypsonians include Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow, and Calypso Rose, who have all made significant contributions to the genre's development.

Today, calypso music thrives in Trinidad and Tobago and is celebrated during the Carnival festival. The music has also influenced other genres, such as soca and reggae music, and has become a symbol of Caribbean culture around the world.

In conclusion, Calypso music can be traced back to African slaves brought to Trinidad and Tobago. These slaves used their music to resist slavery and colonialism. Over time, Calypso music evolved, expanded its themes, and became a major export of the country's culture. Today, Calypso music remains a significant part of Trinidad and Tobago's cultural heritage. It has become a symbol of Caribbean culture around the world.

If you want to know the real story then go to the link below to learn about "The Real Calypso". The link takes you to the webpage for a very informative and revealing read. The story begins in Trinidad and that is something that many individuals are attempting to distort with stories about Calypso 'erupting all over the Caribbean region during the days of slavery. Obviously, they have confused folk songs with the style that became known as Calypso!

I have posted some of the dates of interest for Trinidad's Calypso music. Just take a look at the dates below (Did you know the following) with special reference to the facts presented about the first instrumental and first vocal recordings of Calypso. These are important dates and, I am certain, you will appreciate the fact that Trinidad is really "the well" from which calypso sprung and blossomed to what it is today. 

This blog has presented a list of calypso monarch winners and additionally, we add another important list - Leggos and Road March winners. In continuing with the presentation of historical data we list the winners of the famous 'Road March Competition' as it relates to Trinidad and Tobago for what was known as 'Leggos' and now called 'Road March' (officially from 1962).

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)
  • First-ever Calypso instrumental recording was done in 1912 by Lovey's Orchestra.
  • First-ever vocal Calypso recording was made in 1914 entitled, “Iron Duke in the Land” when Henry Julian a.k.a. Julian WhiteRose teamed up with Jules Sims for this RCA Victor recording.
  • First-ever Calypso tent opened in Port-of-Spain in 1921 was the "Railway Douglas Tent".
  • First-ever female to sing in a calypso tent was "Lady Trinidad" in 1935.
  • The first female Calypsonian to cut a record was "Lady Trinidad" in 1937.
  • First-ever "Young Brigade Tent" opened in 1947 by 24-year-old Lord Kitchener, featuring Lord Melody, Mighty Spoiler, and Mighty Viking. 
Continue your reading with the following articles/topics on Calypso and the culture of Trinidad and Tobago. Here are six additional articles:

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Calypso Songs