Kaiso No 36, 28th April 2000

While I have spent my time primarily focused on calypso in Trinidad, the strength of calypso in other places is on the rise.  I have been fascinated by the United States Virgin Islands for several years though I have not been able to get there.

St Thomas Carnival is currently in full swing with the calypso competitions coming up shortly.  Full information on this year's Carnival is at http://www.vicarnival.com  The website also offers a tribute to Lord Kitchener.  Several Virgin Island radio stations are on the Internet and it is possible the competitions will be broadcast over the air.

Just this past January, Lord Superior opened the Kaiso Bar and Grill in downtown St Thomas.  Located at 17 Main Street, this new establishment at present is open for lunch six days a week for lunch from 10 to four.  The chef is Supie's son, Trevor Marcano who has extensive experience in the Marriott chain of hotels and is excited to be on his own.  The Kaiso Bar offers a full line of lunch specials and refreshments.  Lord Superior often solos on steel drum during lunch and is starting to expand this establishment to offer music as time and his performing schedule permits.  Recently, he has started a lime on the weekends in commemoration of Lord Kitchener, with various guests singing Kitch songs and reminiscing.  He has the original contract he signed to bring Kitch to the US Virgin Islands on display.  The Kaiso Bar and Grill appears to be THE place to be.  When I called there today, Shadow, Explainer, Bomber, Brother Mudada and Crazy were all there getting ready for appearances at Virgin Islands Carnival!!!

The recent history of Virgin Islands calypso is told in a great new booklet, In de Calypso Tent by Carmen Nibbs-O'Garro.  This spiral bound booklet offers details of the competitions in St Thomas for the few decades, the various winners and the winning selections with numerous photos from the competitions.  There is a section of the booklet which reproduces a number of old programs from calypso tents.  The majority of the booklet is given over to lyrics to over fifty of the best calypsos from the Virgin Islands in the last few decades.

Carmen, who is the wife of calypsonian Figgy, has done an excellent job to present this material.  Copies of the booklet are available directly from her at Carmen Nibbs-O'Gara, PO Box 7752, St Thomas, Virgin Islands, 00801, USA, carmi44@yahoo.com, $20 postpaid in the US.

Figgy who is from Antigua has been an active calypsonian and soca singer in both the Antigua and the Virgin Islands.  For details on his career, go to http://members.spree.com/figgy2/  Carmen has a related website with some of the information from her booklet, http//vicalypso.hompage.com

The Virgin Islands also boast of a series of excellent soca bands, Xpress, JamBand and VIO International being the best known currently while many older bands like Imagination Brass, Milo and the Kings and Starlights were well known to an earlier generation.  One of the fascinating traditions in the Virgin Islands are the survival of scratch bands who perform for quadrille dances and feature a rhythm section of ukulele banjo, conga drum, gourd and a triangle with a brass front line.  In an age of electronic soca, it is fascinating such bands survive and they have great names like Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights.  Rounder Records several years ago released one collection by Blinky and the Roadmasters but otherwise the scratch bands have been hard to find.  Meanwhile, a Danish jazz band fell in love with scratch band music and formed the Danish Polcalyso band and have three excellent CDs, the best being the live one with scratch band legend Jamsie.  A series of articles about calypso, local recording artists and scratch bands from the local paper, the St Thomas Source are gathered at http://www.onepaper.com/stthomasvi/?v=d&i=&s=Arts%2FEntertainment%3AMusic&p= %28null%29

For copies of calypso and soca by mail and the best selection of local music, check out the one record store from the Virgin Islands with an Internet presence, Parrotfish Music, http//www.parrotfishmusic.com  The owner Larry Braga does many of the music articles for the St Thomas Source.

The early story of calypso in the Virgin Islands still needs to be told.  Lloyd 'Prince' Thomas was one of the first calypso singers from the Virgin Islands to come to New York in the mid-Forties and he actively performed into the Sixties.  He is reportedly still alive and living in Harlem but I have been unable to reach him.  Bill LaMotta was one of the Virgin Islands most prolific composers and led his brothers in a popular band.  They recorded several albums in different combinations and backed the excellent Trinidadian calypsonian Zebra on his one album for RCA in 1957.  The Faboulous McClevertys were the other band from the Virgin Islands that proved immensely popular in nightclubs on the East Coast during the Calypso Craze of 1957.  Previously they had been the backing band for Louis Fahrakan, the Charmer.  Archie Thomas led a popular hotel band and his legacy was immortalized in Prince Galloway's popular song, Archie.

This year's VI Carnival is dedicated to one of its tradition bearers, Irvin 'Brownie' Brown.  He has been a leading calypso singer, drummer, MC and radio personality for decades and is already hoarse this year from MC-ing all the Carnival shows and he has two weeks to go.  Mr Brown was born on St Thomas on June 2, 1935, was originally a bartender and waiter at the Caribbean Hotel where his uncle, Allwyn 'Lad' Richards had a band.  His father and been a drummer and Brownie taught himself timbales.  He eventually convinced his uncle into letting him be the drummer for the band in 1949 or '50.  After establishing themselves as a leading band in the islands, they got a call to perform for six weeks at the Malayan Room on Miami Beach.  This gig resulted in the band staying on the mainland for over a decade performing throughout Florida and occasionally elsewhere.  The band was made up of Lad Richards, leader and sax, Julian Andrews, guitar, Irvin Brown, drums, Alvin Best, bass, Pershing De Graff, singer.  De Graff sang a variety of material for their nightclub act beyond calypso and sang in Spanish, Italian, and a little French.  When Brownie sang, it was only calypso.  Never a composer, he sang the popular calypsos of the day.  Once he got to Miami, Brownie also expanded his abilities as a drummer, teaching himself bongos, then congas and finally a trap set.  While in Miami they started recording first for the Monogram label and then for Art.  They did an album with the Mighty Panther and recorded backing a Haitian singer, Calypso Mama.  By 1963, Brownie was too homesick to continue and moved back to St Thomas.

Upon his return, Brownie hooked up as a percussionist with the leading band on the island, Milo and the Kings.  He played every percussion spot in the band and became after a time the main drummer for the band.  He stayed with the band for seventeen years, recording several albums, touring the Caribbean and North America before retiring as a performer.  In 1966, he started as a disc jockey for WSTA and has been there ever since and on May 9 will celebrate 34 years on the station!  He does The Original Side of Walter and Brownie, Monday through Friday the 11am to 2pm, which is both a talk show and he plays calypso.  The show can be heard on the internet by going to http://www.wsta.com

Complete back issues of the Kaiso newsletter can now be found on the web at the excellent on-line world music journal, Musical Traditions.  If you missed any, check them out at: http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/kaiso.htm

Keep those email messages and news coming to the Melting and Thawing North.

Ray Funk - 28.4.00
POBox 72387, Fairbanks, AK 99707

Please note: changed e-mail address - rfunk@ptialaska.net

Part of Article MT044

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