Kaiso No 24 - May 20, 1999
It's warm and wonderful up here in Alaska as we have full blown summer suddenly and it is glorious. Time to enjoy every minute outside. Baseball and soccer time is here. As John Fogerty sings, "Put me in, coach. I'm ready to play!" On the calypso front, one area of my recent research efforts have included locating some of the numerous travel books that have discussed calypso.
A Traveler in the West Indies
The earliest travel book that I know which gives a detailed account of calypso is Owen Rutter's A Traveler in the West Indies, London: Hutchinson, 1933. It describes a trip to the Railroad Millionaires Tent where Lord Executor sings a cheery commercial for a local beer:
If it hadn't been for the Walter Stout
The girls would have knocked us out
And he reported on an early bit of picong in the tent:
Suddenly there came a cry for "War!" and four of the champions appeared on the platform and in turn improvised stanzas in glorification of themselves and disparagement of their rivals, becoming more and more abusive as they proceeded. A couple of snatches were these:
When I'm in peace I'm like a cotton-wool,
But in anger I'm like an angry bull,
It was a mistake in Nature's plan
When you were created in the shape of man.
Angry Men, Laughing Men
Wenzell Brown in Angry Men - Laughing Men, New York: Greenberg, Publisher, 1947, reported on the 1946 calypso season and quoted at least a bit of one of Spoiler's first calypsos, Maravella Pork Vender:
Why she even stated to Spoiler
That the price of her pork was ten dollar
But before the Yankee man come round
The price was eighteen cents a pound.
The rest of that calypso I'd like to know. In looking for more information on Brown, I found he later wrote several mystery novels, including The Rum and Coca Cola Murders, New York, 1960. I have not gotten that yet!
Lastly, Oden & Olivia Meeker's …and Points South, New York: Random House, 1947, discussed meeting Sir Lancelot in Panama and hearing calypso in Port-of-Spain. They noted that calypso was a "vehicle for scandal, amorous boasting, neighborhood or international affairs, political criticism, satire and homemade philosophy". They mentioned calypsos on "the consumption of hot dogs by the King and Queen of England, and the great day in 1935 when a Port of Spain rum warehouse burned down and the product ran flaming in the gutters until people blew it out and drank it". Neither calypso is one I recognize!
The book also has a detailed report on a visit to Invaders' pan yard and a description of their reaction when the band began to play:
Then the music started. It was immense. And it was indescribable. Anyone whose soul failed to be rocked by the Invaders was a rhythmic and spiritual zombie.
Now many people - myself included - feel that way today walking into a panyard in Port of Spain, but few were saying that back in 1947!
Keep those email messages and news coming to the no longer Frozen North.