Kaiso No 7 - September 18, 1998

Greetings and apologies for the break in service.  Your humble editor is just back from his travels to Brooklyn and Hartford.  I had a great time though I did not get to do all I wanted.  I did get to hear all kinds of calypso, pan and more, and meet many folks I had not met before.  It will take quite awhile to sort out all the information and get it out.  So, patience please!  Meanwhile, I wanted to use this first newsletter to catch you up on a few books and magazines that you should know about.

Caribbean Music in New York

While in Brooklyn I stayed several days with Ray Allen, a professor at Brooklyn College, who took me to the panyards and jouvert.  Ray also presented a paper on Brooklyn jouvert at the Hartford conference.  He had been my host when I had come to Brooklyn for Labor Day Carnival 12 years ago, which is when I first bought a big batch of calypso/Soca records, met Gypsy, heard Sparrow, and feel in love with live steelband.

Anyway, Ray put together a conference in April 1985 on Caribbean music in New York City.  Now, a volume of papers from that conference has just been published, Island Sounds in the Global City: Caribbean Popular Music in New York, edited by Ray Allen and Lois Wilcken, New York Folklore Society, Institute for Studies in American Music, Brooklyn College, 1998, available from University of Illinois Press.  I just checked and it can be ordered from amazon.com among others.

This collection has solid articles on Puerto Rican, Dominican and Haitian music in New York (Gage Averill's has a long piece on my one of favorite Haitian bands, Tabou Combo) and three excellent ones related to calypso.  Don Hill's 'I am Happy Just to Be in this Sweet Land of Liberty: The New York City Calypso Craze of the 1930s and 1940s', traces calypso music in the city and the songs about New York.   Don is the major chronicler of this period of calypso history in the US and he has tied all the slim bits of information on that period together.

Ray Allen and Les Slater's 'Steel Pan Grows in Brooklyn, Trinidadian Music and Cultural Identity' gives an overview of the way pan has expanded in Brooklyn.  Perhaps this article has a special resonance for me after spending time in the Brooklyn pan yards Friday night with Ray and Les, then on the next night to New York Panorama and running with the steelbands on Labor Day jouvert morning.  Despers New York won with an arrangement by Denzil Boten, Scipio Sergent and Oumert Frankua of Rudder's Montserrat. I was also quite taken with Silhouettes performances of Rudder's High Mas arranged by Boogsie Sharpe.   But jouvert was a delight.

Philip Kasinitz's 'Community Dramatized, Community Contested, The Politics of Celebration, I: the Brooklyn Carnival' traces the history of New York Carnival to the present in some detail and notes a few of the calypsos that touch on it, such as Invader's Labor Day from 1955, when it was still in Harlem:

Labor Day I felt happy
Because I played Carnival in New York City
Seventh Avenue was jumpin'
Everybody was shakin'
From 110th to 142nd
We had bands of every description…
This is the first time New York ever had
Carnival on the streets like Trinidad
Fittingly, a calypsonian was there to chronicle it.  Since then, many calypsos make at least passing reference to Eastern Parkway.  I am working on a list of calypsos that discuss or mention New York Carnival.  I'll try to get a preliminary list out soon.

The Drama Review: Special Issue on Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

After Brooklyn Carnival and interviews with several calypsonians, I took a Greyhound to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut for the World Conference on Carnival.  What a stupendous event!  It was jam packed with events from panels, academic papers, performing artists, and fun events of all types.  The main problem was I couldn't be three places at once with so much happening.  I expect over 100 people from Trinidad were up, and brought Trinidad Carnival in all its richness to the conference.  There was a dramatic version of Earl Lovelace's The Dragon Can't Dance, a masked ball, an evening of Trinidad folk music and dance, ole mass and extempo traditions, an outdoor concert in a downtown park and a final concert with Rudder and Gypsy.  Peter Minshall gave a powerful presentation on the evolution of his mas designs from an early bat costume.  He also acted as the important counterbalance when the academics got too mired in theory or in a search for origins.  Don't analyze, play mas!  Chalky gave a fine overview of calypso history getting everyone in the auditorium to sing along with him as he illustrated the history with numerous examples.

However, the conference while having a central focus on Trinidad Carnival, it also had talks and presentations on a variety of Carnival traditions from around the world.  I saw several exciting presentations on Brazilian carnival from samba history to certain traditions in Bahia and other places, Cuban carnival, traditions in Uruguay how tango started out as Carnival music - and others too numerous to mention.

One of the events of the conference was the launching of a special issue of 'The Drama Review' on Trinidad Carnival, guest edited by Milla Riggio who ran the conference.  The issue is to be blunt, great, 250 pages with tons of photos, that no lover of Trinidad Carnival should be without!!  It focuses primarily on mas and old mas traditions but is superb in its scholarship and solid details and breadth of coverage.  It something everyone should own.  Get it!  While you should buy it, the full text with photos is on the web, http://mitpress.mit.edu/journals/DRAM/42-3/contents.html   The only direct calypso article is another fine piece by Gordon Roehler, 'We Getting the Kaiso That We Deserve: Calypso and the World Music Market'.  Chalkdust has a piece on the African origins of Trinidad Carnival and Commentator has one on midnight robbers.  There are great pieces on devil mas, a long interview with Peter Minshall and much much more!

The only complaint I have is that all the photos are in black and white.  At the conference, I saw the slide show of color photos by Jeffrey Chock whose images are throughout the TDR volume and it makes me yearn to see them again.  I am told many of them will be forthcoming on the website for the Carnival conference.  I'll keep you informed.

So Yu Going to Carnival

During breaks at the children's carnival, panorama and dimache gras programs behind the Brooklyn Museum, I hung out with Carl Hall, who runs Ah Wee Tours, a travel agency specializing in Carnival travel.  For several years he has been producing a bi-annual glossy photo filled guide to Carnivals around the world, called 'So Yu Going to Carnival'.  Over a hundred pages with all kinds of useful contact info if you are traveling to a Carnival you know nothing about.  He has started running more and more articles of a more substantive and historic nature.  The last two issues featured a two-part article by John Cowley on early calypso records.  It also has a photo of Trinidad's Miss Universe in costume during last year's Carnival.  Copies are $3 each, two for $5 available from Ah Wee, 411 Utica, Brooklyn, NY 11213 or monjump@aol.com.  Check their website, www.carnival.com   Carl Hall is a strong support of calypso.  For the last two years, he has sponsored the New York Calypso Monarch competition and ran the Fresh Water Yankees tent in Port of Spain for '98.

OK.  Much more to tell!  I'll be back next week with a review of Rudy Ottley's latest 'Calypsonians from Then to Now Part II', which is also an essential item.

Ray Funk

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