Looking at the society through kaiso lenses

Roaring Lion and Lord Kitchener
Roaring Lion and Lord Kitchener

With Connector (Joel Davis), the Toronto Calypso Monarch), donned in a sexy dress singing ‘The Dress ’and  up-skirting  veteran performer Macomere Fifi last Sunday,  it’s time  for Eyes to reflect on Dr. Gordon Rohlehr’s : ‘Calypso and Society in pre-independence Trinidad.’ Ent?

Methinks enthused Eyesers at the packed Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre were singing from the same song sheet as Guyana-born Rohlehr when he noted “The Calypso has, in its long and fascinating journey reflected the multi-valence of societal process, and is one of the surest guides towards an understanding of our milieu and our moment.” Big words from the learned professor.

Now let’s take a listen to Calypsonian Atilla the Hun on women and men, with his song  Women Will Rule the World ( 1935). In this song  he gave warning:

“They say anything that man can do

They can achieve too.

And openly boasted to do their part

In literature and art.

You’ll will soon hear of them as candidates

For the President of the United States.

So I’ll warning you men to assert control

Or women will rule the world.

Prophetic? England, Germany, etc, with the United States next?

The fact that Atilla the Hun sang at least three calypsos on this theme should suggest that he took the matter of competition between the sexes very seriously indeed., according to Rohlehr.

To further quote Rohlehr: “He thus became the mouthpiece for some of the most reactionary anti-feminist ideology, and the spokesman for a most reactionary anti-feminist ideology, and the spokesperson for a rigid patriarchy that was incapable of transcending the narrow sexism of the age. Atilla ‘s description of the ‘women of long ago’ denies the presence and identity of large numbers of women who had never fulfilled the bourgeois ideal of wife  and homemaker in the nuclear family.”

There were also songs on prostitution, a vocation to which it appears many young girls were being forced.  Among the singers and songs: Growler’s In the Dew and Rain, Tiger’s Rats in Town, Beginner’s Second Hand Girls, Destroyer’s Night Hawks, Lion’s Girls of Today and Cobra’s Mamaguy Me.

“But Calypso won’t be complete so far

If you leave out the professor, Lord Kirchener.”

This was in fact the refrain in Kitch’s 1954 calypso: Professor Kitch.

Kitchener in Black or White raises issues of colour, class and snobbery, attacking the positions assumed by a stereotypical mulatto on the questions on African ancestry. The refrains warns the mulatto “No! You can never get away from the fact/ If you’re not white, you’re considered black.”

Melody with Discrimination and Kitchener with If You’re Brown, both of the 1958/59 period, record two different reactions to Jim Crowism in America. The tone of Discrimination is angry, the calypso ending with the defiant shout: “I’m not going back to Miami / if they pay me the whole statue of Liberty, underlining Black Power and Black Dignity, in the late sixties and seventies.

Ah, on  The Emergence of Sparrow? In 1954 when he was called Little Sparrow, he sang ‘The Parrot and the Monkey, ’a composition whose name suggests that it belongs to those comic fables that had grown popular since the emergence of Growler – ‘The Farmer and the Breadfruit Tree.’

Rohlehr recalled that Sparrow toured Guyana in 1955 in the company of Small Island Pride.  Sparrow’s experience in Guyana helped him improve his performance, and prepared him for the 1956 season, when he won the Calypso King title for the first of seven times until his retirement from the competition in 1974 and the Road March competition for the first of eight times in his career.

Describing the kaiso tradition as he knew it at the start of his  career, Atilla the Hun declared: “Fifty years ago you didn’t go to a tent and sing a Kaiso. You had to be acclaimed by the public outside the tents first.  The Kaiso man was a roving minstrel. H e would go to Sangre Grande and sing by the light of the flambeaux about the news of Port of Spain. Far from making money, he was not paid a cent for his labours.”

“The major challenge that has confronted calypsonians since that time,  – in the nineteen thirties-  has been one of remaining relevant to and rooted in what remains of their community, while meeting the conditions and seeking the rewards of the marketplace,” Rohlehr summed up.

Methinks, last Sunday at the OCPA Calypso Monarch Finals, with Connector as the winner,  was keeping up with the times….but still waiting for da money.