Kaiso No 38.  4 Sept 2000

One of the legends in calypso and soca, Ras Shorty I, died earlier this summer after a lengthy illness.  He was a marvelously creative, a totally unique person in the history of Trinidad music, and one whose career deserves much further study and whose music should continue to be heard.

Lord Shorty/Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman).  Died at age 59 on July 12, 2000.  This 6 foot three imposing singer who is widely credited with starting soca after a long career in calypso and then rejected soca going his own way and creating a unique blend of styles called jamoo.  He consciously brought Indian influences into calypso and soca music.

From the primarily Indian community of Lengua in South Trinidad, he was originally a bookkeeper.  He first appeared as a calypsonian under the name Lord Shorty in 1961 at the Victoria County Fair at Prince Town.  He soon came to the tents in Port of Spain.  He also started to release a series of singles for the Telco label, producing seven over the next several years.  He started in the 1965 Original Young Brigade and stayed with that tent for many years.  He sang Indian Singers in 1966 and it was featured as one of his first singles.  He was a finalist in the 1968 calypso king competition.  He was the 1969 semifinals out of the OYB tent.

The Seventies saw great changes in his style.  He had a couple singles on Antillana.  His composition She Lick She was a hit for Baron in 1972 and was responsible for launching Baron's career.  In around 1973 he formed his own label following Sparrow's example.  He issued several of his classic albums and singles on Shorty Records which issued his recordings and those of his talented daughter Abbi Blackman as well as singer Ella Andell.

He sang in the 1973 OYB Tent with Art of Love Making / Indrani and won South Calypso King competition that year and a finalist for the national monarch.  Prime Minister Eric Williams was offended by the explicit lyrics of The Art of Love Making and Shorty was arrested for indecency in relation to it.

His first album, The Love Man, was issued in 1974.  The cover set his image was as the ultimate saga man in a striking yellow outfit, that made him look more like a disco singer.  It also featured two musicians who were acknowledged as the "East Indian Influences" on the album - the dholak of Robin Ramjitsingh and mandolin of Bisram Moonilal.  With this, he started pushing a new that emphasized the new music's danceability rather than its lyrics.  Though he by no means abandoned commentary.  He retaliated for his arrest with his song on this album, P M Sex Probe.

In 1975 he was popular with How to Kill the Cat, Is We Thing and High Faluting Lovers.  All three were on his Endless Vibrations album.  None of them ultimately had the impact but the title track of the album, Endless Vibrations, with its strong horn lines and lyrics and James Brown-esque shouts and its declaration:

Hit me horns! Sexy.
Change the accept of Carnival
To a groovy, groovy Bachannal
Wailing, expressing your feelings
Who needs changing
Wake up people, examine your minds
Get with it, get with it, the change of the times
It's a new generation endless vibrations
Right on, right on, right on, right on, right on
While the influence of Indian music was definitely part of the mix, it was African American soul in the mix that joined with calypso made soca or Soul Calypso Music as Shorty titled another song on this album.

In 1976, he started and ran his own calypso tent, Professionals tent at NUGFW Hall, 150 Frederick Street St, Port of Spain, with leading calypsonians like Duke, Wellington, Gypsy, Brigo, Funny, Roaring Lion, Rio, and All Rounder among others.  He was featuring that year Sweet Music, the title track of his latest album and the suggestive Kim.  Regrettably, the tent was not a financial success and he returned the next year to the Original Young Brigade.

In 1978 he released his next album, Soca Explosion, from which Shanti Om became a hit.  It also featured his Higher World, a tribute to his friend Maestro the influential calypsonian who was also instrumental in shaping soca, who had died the year before.

In the early Eighties, he abandoned soca.  He changed his name from Lord Shorty to Ras Shorty I and moved to a different phase of his career, creating a new and unique style of music that he came to call jamoo.  In the notes for his 1989 album, Jamoo, the Spirt of Soca, he made clear the split with the past and his new mission:

After the onslaught of the Spirit of Carnival upon the mind, Christ Jesus has sent us with healing in the wings of this music, Jamoo, to set the captives free.  Jamoo is not a luxury.  It is a necessity.
He started working largely with his family band having brought up his children to.  This music rejected the suggestive party lyrics of soca that had been the focus of his own career for several years, returned to a calypsonian's commitment on serious political and social issues.  He added a strong religious message to his recordings and for many years lived in a more remote part of Trinidad, Piparo, training all his many children in music.

In 1989, he released Watch My Children, a live album, and began working with producer Kenny Phillips, who he would continue to work with up until his death.  The title song went on to be one of his most popular and was acclaimed as one of the top 100 calypsos of the century.  A music video of it for local television was directed and produced by Errol Fabien.  The song has been recently featured by Singing Sandra in concert.  With his death, Prime Minister Panday called for it to be taught in schools as a tool in the fight against drugs.

The Nineties showed his general removal from the Carnival scene, calypso tents, and soca.  He did continue to perform and record with his family group, the Love Circle on occasion and he remained a potent presence.  His attack on soca singers, Latrine Singers, led to a picong response by Iwer George's Think It Over that was a hit at the Spektacula tent a few years ago.  In 1999, he issued his last album Jamoo Victory collecting many of his best recent recordings.  Meanwhile, Charlie's Records in New York issued a CD collection, Greatest Hits, which surveyed many of his outstanding soca songs of the Seventies.  It is his early calypso recordings that sadly remain unavailable and illusive.

His legacy is large.  His many children are continuing to perform as the Love Circle and in various other groups and as solo performers.  They themselves are a key part of his important legacy.  With the anniversary of Trinidad's Independence just here, it is appropriate to recall the words of one of his early calypsos.

Lord Shorty - Index of a Nation, 1969

Trinidad is not a very large island as anyone can see
But possesses many towns and suburban villages
That makes it a great country
For most though very small, each in its own way makes sufficient contribution
In produce, culture, work and entertainment towards the upkeep of the nation

For instance Maracas and Las Cuevas both have beaches of class which helps
attract the tourist trade
And from San Juan to Arima fas factories where products are made
We have in St Augustine the Gov't farm and our big University
While Liquor and Margarine, Grapefruit Juice
And Cookeen is processed at Laventee

Trinidad is also called the land of Calypso and limbo dancing
But our defense comes first so we look to Tetron Bay
For knowledge in soldering
St Ann's have the mad house Belmont the Orphanage also a quantity of mangoes
While Lavantille has the Pan beating Skill
Of the Sweet Gay Desperadoes

From Sangre Grande villages up to Toco
Gives Citrus Corn and Cocoa
Livestock from Manzanilla Coconuts from up Mayaro
Although Biche produce Mano it can also be seen they produce we largest Dasheen
And Piarco has our planes and most of our cane
Comes from Usine and Mc Bean.

In the South of Trinidad Savonetta has the Chemical Plant
And Claxton Bay has our only Cement factory
Which makes there most important
Oil from Point-a-Pierre, San Fernando Jayland Fair
And my friends presently
For local hunting ground the best are to be found in
South East Guaya-Guayare

La Brea has the pitch lance Point Fortin
A Tyre factory and for many generations past
The largest fishes catches comes from Cedros and Icacos
Princes Town have plenty liners Rio Claro
Best stick fighters and up in Moruga
You get obese and bush liquor
And h ah near they just start to produce Marijuana

Our population which is Cosmopolitan
With Chinese, Negroes, Whites and Indians
The latter of which lives at Penal
Where you get most bodi and water melon
Plenty shooting Barrackpore, Siparia Folklore
While Palo Seco contains BP
And Fyzabad is such which contributed much to our political history

Port of Spain has our two Cathedrals
And is famous for steelband and Carnival
And is the permanent headquarters of the Governor General
So you see this little island with its great contribution,
With Tobago working hand in hand with our present Legislation
We bound to develop into a great progressive nation.

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

A new Selected Index of the newsletters has recently been added.  Feel free to send messages to me in the already chilly North where it is rainy, gets close to freezing at night, the leaves have started to turn, and fall will soon be here.

Ray Funk - 4.9.00
POBox 72387, Fairbanks, AK 99707, rfunk@ptialaska.net

Part of Article MT044

Top of page Home Page Articles Reviews News Editorial Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services   Updated: 4.9.00