Calypso Rose: Taking calypso to the world

By Dave Douglas

Living legend, charismatic performer and Queen of Calypso McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis aka Calypso Rose shows no signs of slowing down and at age 74, her performance at the Revival nightspot, one of the venues for this year’s Small World Music Festival, last Sunday night was simply riveting, exhilarating and exciting.

Rose entered the stage and immediately got down to business. Dressed in a two-piece African print suit over a satin yellow vest, she opened her set with her new hit I am an African from her soon-to-be-released CD.

She went on to explain that she had lost her voice in Montreal earlier in the week. However, judging from the range and power as she belted out her lyrics “I got rhythm … rhythm … rhythm … African rhythm,” she seemed to have recovered fully.

It took mere minutes for her to take command of the audience, many of whom were already dancing and singing along with the Queen of Calypso in the front, side and back of the packed hall. Her dance moves captivated her fans, especially when she rolled her torso and demonstrated the Caribbean cultural skill of wining – what some now call twerking.

Accompanied by the Toronto-based band KoboTown, led by Trinidadian Drew Gonzales, the atmosphere was filled with pure energy, good vibrations and plenty tassa rhythms. In response, the crowd yelled and cheered in appreciation.

The Queen of Calypso gave her audience a captivating performance for an hour and a half, stopping to credit her fans as the source that keeps her going. It was great to see this tremendously talented Tobagonian, calypsonian/ songwriter and icon continue to receive wider recognition.

Before Rose took to the stage, I was ushered to the green room to meet the only woman to be crowned Calypso King at a competition in 1978, causing the Trinidad Calypso organization to change the title to Calypso Monarch. I asked what her next destination was after Toronto. She gave me her full touring schedule for the rest of 2014.

“Well, this is the end of my tour with the booking agent for this year, because for this month, I was on the road from the seventh of September to now. We went from Belize to Chicago to Albuquerque City in New Mexico to Wisconsin. Then from Iowa to Montreal to New York and Toronto. We came in today and we leave on Monday. But thank God, when I get back to New York, I’ll have a few days rest.”

Next Friday, she heads to Miami where she has been nominated in three categories in the Martin Culture Reggae and World Music Festival Awards (IRAWMA). Then she will go to Trinidad where on Oct. 21 she will receive an honorary doctorate, DTTLS, which is Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies.

“I’ll be in New York on the 23rd and then, on the eighth of November, I’ll be back in Florida to do gospel. On Dec. 20, I’ll be performing with the Mighty Sparrow at the New York Casino,” says Rose.

It is incredible how this woman keeps up with such a rugged schedule but that was not the end – to top it off Rose says she also got a call for a performance on New Year’s Eve.

A trailblazer, a pioneer, an advocate, a living legend and a cultural ambassador, McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis, Calypso Rose is all that and more wrapped in a package.

But most of all, from our conversation, she displays simplicity, kindness, humility, a person filled with a lot of love and passion for humanity, country and culture.

Photos by Peter Tang

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