Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zombie Jamboree

"Zombie Jamboree"

In 1953 Lord Intruder, a little-remembered calypsonian from Tobago, performed his "Jumbie Jamberee" at the Old Brigade Calypso Tent in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The song was about jumbies (spirits) dancing "back to back, belly to belly" in a cemetery. Intruder had the words printed in a calypso lyrics booklet but never recorded it.

The Mighty Charmer and King Flash first recorded the song in the 1950s in the United States, where the reference to a Trinidadian graveyard was changed to one in New York. The song became widely known as the "Zombie Jamboree" during the late 1950s through recordings by the Kingston Trio, a top group in the folk music revival. Meanwhile, Harry Belafonte regularly performed the song and recorded it three times during the 1960s and 1970s. Bob Marley and the Wailers issued a reggae version ("Jumbie Jamboree"), with Peter Tosh on lead vocals.

The Charmer (Louis Farakhan)

Lord Jellicoe

Eloise Trio

Harry Belafonte

The Kingston Trio

Peter Tosh

Note: Some singers, if singing in New York, will mention "Woodlawn Cemetary". This is a large pirvate cemetary in the north Bronx, adjacent to Van Courtland Park. This is a public park that has a few cricket pitches popular with West Indians living in New York because they are at the end of a subway line.

When I was a student I spent a couple of summers workng as an apprentice gardner at Woodlawn Cemetary.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Calypso Mama (Maureen Duvalier)

Maureen Duvalier - Bahamian Diva at 80
By NORMAN ROLLE, Weekender Editor

Maureen Duvalier, a multi-talented, multi-faceted entertainer who last month became an octogenarian, is very much in the business and does not plan to retire any time soon. She told The Weekender: "I'm going to perform any time they ask me. I still have my voice, I still can move. I am not thinking about retiring."

She got into entertainment professionally as a vocalist at 17, and like most of her contemporaries who made it in the entertainment business, she started with the world famous Freddie Munnings Orchestra at the Silver Slippers.

Inspired by a Betty Gables musical she saw at the Palace Theatre, later named the Cinema, she and Freeddie introduced 'floor show' to the Silver Slippers.

She recalls: "I sang everything at first but I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald and her rendition of 'I Put the Peas In The Pot To Cook.' I never really knew who wrote the song but I copied it, we rehearsed it, and I sang it...and Freddie said songs like that were my stuff."

And that's what made Maureen the Bahamian diva, the native, authentic music in her signature screechy delivery. "I worked a stage," she says with a grin. "I danced, I performed. At age 80 I can't do 200 per cent like I used to, but I try very, very hard, because I feel if people come and pay their hard-earned money, they come to feel good, to go away feeling good."

In over 60 years on stage, she has made a lot of people feel good, but in 1992, she thought it was the end for her. "I had a bad cough and I think it was from the cigarettes. I use to smoke two packs a day. The doctor said I had a spot on my lungs. It was the worst thing that could happen to me. But one night while watching Benny Hinn on TV...He said 'God just told me there's someone out there with a spot on her lungs and God is healing it right now.' I said Jesus, it's me...If you heal me I'll serve you for the rest of my life...and I meant that...I went back to the doctor...and no spot could be found. I have never smoked a cigarette from that day."

Maureen is the first cousin of late Haitian president Francoise 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. She was born in Nassau at Burial Ground Corner on East Street. She discloses: "My father's mother was born at Inagua. Two boys and a girl were also born at Inagua...the other four children were born in Haiti. I have an aunt who's 93 and still living in Haiti. I am an only child."

A spinster all her life, Maureen does not have offspring but regards the chidden of her friends the late Rebecca Chipman and John 'Chippy' Chipman as her own.

One of few Bahamians to complete matriculation at Western Senior School at age 11, Maureen attended New York University where she majored in drama from 1952-54. "I did not finish. I had to come home because my mother was ill. I know I would have never lived to see 80 were it not for may mother and grandmother....they formed my life and gave me a beautiful upbringing," she recalls in a subdued voice.

One who loves our culture, Maureen was a pace-setter for women in Juankanoo. "I went on Bay Street as a little girl with my uncle Freddie Bowleg...eveyone thought I was a boy. When I finally unmasked was when women started rushing.
"I went to National Museum in Washington DC. and learned about the origin of Junkanoo...I love my culture and wanted to learn everything about be equipped to explain Junkanoo to the world."

'Ask Me Why I Run' is the hit on the only album she recorded in 1955. And what does she think of today's younger entertainers?

"I think we have the talent. The money is important but you must have pride in whatever you're making your living by...that should be more important because if you're only working for the money, you're only working 25 per cent. If you're working because you love it, that gives you pride, the money comes after."

Good advice from one who's been in the business over three decades.

Don't Touch Me Tomato

Yes, Yes, Yes

Court House Scandal

Gin and Coconut Water

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wilmoth Houdini (Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks)

Wilmoth Houdini (Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks)

Often called the "Calypso King of New York," Houdini (1895-1973) was the first calypsonian to have a successful career in the United States. As a young man in Trinidad, he sang in calypso tents and served as a "chantwell" (lead singer) for a Carnival masquerade band called the "African Millionaires." During this period, he worked as a seaman and in 1928 settled in New York. There he began an extensive recording career that would continue through the 1940s. Among his many calypsos were songs that proclaimed his artistic rivalry with calypsonians back in Trinidad, such as Lord Executor and the Roaring Lion.

Houdini performed in a variety of venues in New York. He sang at the 1939 World's Fair, frequently appeared in nightclubs and often organized Caribbean parties in Harlem. He composed calypsos on a wide range of topics. In 1939 Houdini recorded a song called "He Had It Coming." In 1946 Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan released a duet version of the song, under the title of "Stone Cold Dead in the Market," which became and R&B hit. The song brought Houdini new-found fame, and he organized his own calypso festival in New York in 1947.


Ol' Lady You Mashin' My Toe

West Indian Sugar Crop

Sly Mongoose

Duke of Iron (Cecil Anderson)

Appearing on recordings, radio and in nightclubs, the Duke of Iron was one of the best-known calypso singers in the United States from the late 1930s through the 1950s. In addition to singing, he played flute, clarinet, saxophone and quatro. His family moved from Trinidad to New York in 1923. Eventually, he became a regular performer in New York's club scene, including a 10-month stint at the Village Vanguard in the 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater in Harlem and many leading nightclubs, such as the Village Gate, the Jamaican Room and the Calypso Room. He also starred in the film Calypso Joe (Allied Films, 1957) with Angie Dickinson.

The Duke of Iron recorded singles and albums for a variety of labels. Of his own compositions, he is best remembered for suggestive calypsos, like "Convoy" and "I Left Her Behind For You," though he also wrote songs about the radio commentator Walter Winchell and the New York Mets baseball team. In addition, he regularly returned to Trinidad to keep up with current trends in calypso, and performed and recorded many annual Carnival hits. The Duke of Iron died in 1968 at the age of 62.


Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen

Big Bamboo


I Left Her Behind For You

Out De Fire

Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts)

Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts)

Lord Kitchener (1922-2000) was known as the "Grandmaster" of calypso. By the time of his death, only the Mighty Sparrow and the Roaring Lion had reached a similar level of respect. For over a half century, he was widely admired for his musicianship, compositions, performance ability and overall support for the calypso tradition. On 10 occasions, he won the "Road March" title—the award for the calypsonian whose song is most frequently played on the streets during Trinidad's Carnival.

Kitchener began performing calypsos in the Trinidadian town of Arima in the late 1930s. By the 1940s, he was appearing in Port of Spain. In 1946 he helped to organize the Young Brigade tent, which featured a new generation of calypso singers, and was applauded for his calypso "Tie Tongue Mopsy." After the 1947 Carnival season, Kitchener traveled to Aruba, Curacao and Jamaica. In 1948 he left Jamaica on the Empire Windrush, a ship that marked the beginning of large-scale Caribbean migration to Britain. Kitchener remained in England, where he had an active career that included extensive recording for the Parlophone, Melodisc and Lyragon labels. His records were exported in large quantities to the Caribbean, where he remained popular. Some of his records were also popular in West Africa.

Kitchener returned to Trinidad for the 1963 Carnival and formed the Calypso Revue, which continued as a major tent. Through this tent, he helped many young singers develop their calypso skills. For decades, Kitchener remained a favorite calypsonian among steelbands, due to the catchy melodies and harmonic complexity of his compositions. Among his many well-known calypsos are "Trouble in Arima," and "Muriel and the Bug",

Trouble In Arima

Batty Mamzelle

Muriel and the Bug (Muriel's Treasure)

Woman's Figure

Come Back With My Wife's Nighty!

Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo)

One of the greatest calypsonians of all times, Atilla the Hun (1892-1962) started his musical career as a chantwell (lead singer) for a Carnival masquerade band in Port of Spain, Trinidad. By the 1920s, he was singing in calypso tents and soon became a very popular performer. Along with the Roaring Lion and other calypsonians, he helped to establish the Victory Tent and to introduce such innovations as calypso duets and calypso dramas. (An early drama dealt with the then contentious issue of divorce in Trinidad.) In 1934 Atilla and Lion traveled to New York to record for the American Record Company. While there, they met Rudy Vallee and appeared on his weekly radio broadcast. The historic broadcast reached all the way to Trinidad.

Though Atilla composed calypsos on a wide range of topics, his specialty was politics, particularly the experience of working people in a colonial society. He was admired for both his eloquence and keen observation of detail. Among his many well-known songs are "Graf Zeppelin" (about the German dirigible's visit to Trinidad) and "Treasury Scandal" (on missing funds). While continuing to perform as a calypsonian, Atilla was elected to the Port of Spain City Council in 1946 and later became the Deputy Mayor. In 1950 he was elected to Trinidad's Legislative Council. Atilla also helped to publish booklets of calypso lyrics. After his death, his writings on calypso were compiled in a book titled Atilla's Kaiso: A Short History of Trinidad Calypso (1983).

Together with the Roaring Lion (Rafael de Leon) he was brought calypso to the United States for the first time in 1934.


* Quevedo, Raymond (Atilla the Hun). 1983. Atilla's Kaiso: a short history of Trinidad calypso. University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. (Includes the words to many old calypsos as well as musical scores for some of Atilla's calypsos.)
* Hill, Donald R. 1993. Calypso: Early Carnival Music in Trinidad. University of Florida. (includes a CD of early calypso music.)

Graf Zeppelin


Treasury Scandal

Fire Brigade

Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco)

Known as the "Calypso King of the World," the Mighty Sparrow (1935- ) burst on the scene in the mid-1950s and has been a dominant force in calypso ever since. He has recorded over 70 albums, won Trinidad's Calypso King (Monarch) title 11 times, won the Carnival road march title 8 times and has received many other honors. With his 1956 hit, "Jean and Dinah," Sparrow proclaimed his dominance: "Yankee gone, Sparrow take over now!"—a reference to the declining presence of U.S. servicemen in Trinidad after World War II. From the mid-1950s into the 1970s, he was a headliner at the Young Brigade tent every Carnival season, until the tent was renamed "Sparrow's Young Brigade." He also regularly toured the Caribbean, as well as England and the U.S.

With frequent trips to the U.S., Sparrow eventually bought a second home near New York. Much of his recording has been done there. He continues to tour throughout the world and remains the best-known calypsonian of all times.

Jean and Dinah celebrated the departure of American soldiers from Trinidad after WW2.

Obeah Wedding speaks of the Trini version of Voodoo.

DuDuYemi.mp3 a celebration of African roots.

Congo Man Another african theme.

Good Morning, Mr. Walker
An honest approach to matrimony.

Barack the Magnificent
A demonstration that Sparrow is still in business.


Calypso and Chutney merged to form Soca. The name may have come from "Soul" and "Calypso" but the music itself is clearly derivative from Chutney.

There were two Calypso singers who were highly regarded in their own style and were also able to drop into Soca at will.

Lord Kitchener often based his soca pieces around Pan as in Pan In Harmony.

The Mighty Sparrow combined flexible vocal lines with interesting ideas, as in
Life In Hell.

These days both classic Calypso and Soca can be considered Calypso. Other, later stylistic variations like Rocksteady, Ska, and Reggae, were primarily asociated with Jamaica. Songs in a more Calypsonian or rural style from Jamaica are called Mento.

Later blog entries will have more specific topics, as: variations on a song, or various sings by a particular singer.


Along with Calypso there was a musical form that used rhymic patterns from the ethnic Indian population with Caribbean harmonies and, sometimes, english lyrics. This mixture was called Chutney.

One that is purely Indian is Doolha.

As sung by the Calypso singer Lord Beginner the song "Fed-A-Ray" sounds like this.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I put some examples of Calypso and related genres on my Blog about St. Vincent and the Grenadines [ see here ]. I'll bring those examples here and continue the discussion in this blog. I'll probably also put examples on some of the old entries to this blog, now that I know how to do that.

Just to illustrate some concepts in Caribbean music, here are three examples of pre-WW2 Trinidadian calypsos:

Lord Invader sings about Matilda.

King Tiger (also known as The Growling Tiger) sings about money.

Atilla the Hun sings about a politician in Nankivell