“Calypso as Music of Resistance” workshop at Harriet Tubman Centre, York University

By Henry “King Cosmos” Gomez

John “Jayson” Perez

Well, we are now into February, also known as Black History Month (BHM) and recognized as the time of year when we focus more deeply on the many aspects of our history and culture.

It is also the month of carnivals, which have deeply influenced our sense of self, and continue to pull at our cultural navel strings. So, the Carnivalists, who have the time and can afford it (I understand that airline tickets are very expensive), will be heading to warmer climates for fun in the sun and all the stimulation that carnival brings. The sunshine and natural infusion of Vitamin D will be a bonus. And some diehards have told me, that they “doh care how much the ticket cost, ah still goin.” “An Covid or no Covid, ah love mih carnival.”

I also love my carnival and most of what goes with it, but I will be staying put. Right here in the T Dot, or TheSix, in this shortest and coldest month of the year. I have teamed up with fellow calypsonian, researcher, musician and folklorist Roger Gibbs to focus on the role that Calypso has played as a music of resistance, and to present our research at a “talk” at the Harriet Tubman Centre, York University.

We will present this non-traditional look at Calypso under the auspices of the Organization of Calypso Performing Artistes (OCPA), which has joined Tubman for this event.

Henry “King Cosmos” Gomez

Roger and I have known each other for some time. We are both members of OCPA and have performed together. We have also conducted a calypso workshop at Harbourfront; but Calypso as Music of Resistance will be our first joint venture in an academic setting.

We are both of Caribbean background – he is from Barbados, and I am from Trinidad and Tobago – and we both have extensive track records in education and the music/entertainment industry.  

Roger Gibbs, also known as Rajiman, is the founder and leader of his c SHAK SHAK, a band which performs at various venues in Toronto. He has also performed in the Caribbean and North America as a singer with The Merryboys and Sandpebbles. He has been actively involved in the Toronto arts scene for many years and has worn different hats during this time.

Calypso Stars at Harbourfront and Barbados by The Water are events that he initiated and/or produced for a number of years. He has also worked with artistes outside the Calypso genre and designed and conducted many workshops on Calypso rhythms. He has presented some of these workshops internationally, and has toured with dance companies.

I also go by my calypso sobriquet, King Cosmos. I had a long career as an educator with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), and I am a Canadian Calypso Monarch. I am also an actor and someone who has been actively involved in the Caribbean carnival arts community for many years. I recently completed a Master of Arts degree at York University, with my thesis titled, The Caribana Parade: Storming and Issues of Power and Control. 

Last year, I composed, produced and performed 55 Still Alive, my music video that paid tribute to fifty-five years of Caribana/Toronto Carnival and some of the pioneers in the carnival arts in Toronto. I have performed extensively as a calypsonian and actor in and outside Canada, toured internationally with Dance Caribe Performing Company, and worked closely with La Petite Musicale of Toronto. Recently, I co-wrote and co-produced a Caribana documentary which is now in its editing stages.

Roger and I will combine our knowledge, musicianship and performance skills to present our paper in a most informative and entertaining manner, placing Calypso music in the context of slavery, colonialization, oppression, struggles for emancipation, and migration.

We will base our presentation on calypsos taken from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Canada, spanning more than two hundred years and thousands of miles. We will  demonstrate how these calypsos inspired and rallied people who felt it necessary to resist oppression and demand their human rights.

So, as many leave the cold of February to “go home” or “go dong” for carnival in T&T, those who remain will have the opportunity to participate in an historic edutaining event in the warmth and comfort of the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University on Thursday, February 16. The presentation will be virtual also and may be accessed through the Tubman Centre website.

Whether in the Caribbean or Canada, Calypso and carnival are integral parts of our Black History. This year, let us make it a Tubman/OCPA experience as well.