N Touch
Wednesday 15 August 2018
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Calypso is poetry

Listening to a prayer meeting
Baptist people preaching
... So I tell meh pardner
Boy let we get closer
Because I tell mehself
I hearing soca ...

Superblue, then known as Blue Boy, ensured that the 1980s began in a way we would never forget, and sang himself into history in the process.

Dr Frances Henry wrote that “Blue Boy’s Soca Baptist was met with well-publicised protests by religious leaders. The calypsonian made reference to the music at a Baptist meeting that, to his ears, sounded like soca music. Baptists claimed he was desecrating their religion.

Even the then Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, entered the foray, saying, “Let good sense prevail,” when asked by Baptists to ban the calypso from the airwaves.” The song shook the society at every level, and earned the artist the Road March title, it is said by one of the largest margins in history. In a Washington Post piece, Blue is quoted as saying he never imagined that religious people would have responded so angrily to a song he’s convinced came from a holy source.

“That song was sent to me,” he explains. “I am just the instrument. I pray for the songs, and God uses me as a vehicle to talk to his children, to please his people, to make them happy, to entertain them, to inform them and to educate them through music.”

Undeterred by the controversy, he returned in 1981 to win with Ethel and then in 1983 with Rebecca, the song which also gave Despers its Panorama win that year. “Shake! Gyal yuh promise me/ Shake! Yuh go shake fuh me/ Shake! People watching we, so ah beggin’, ah beggin’, ah beggin’/ Ethel! Music playing, uh-huh, gyal do some ting, you better start tuh play de ting/ Ethel!...”

The 80s has been described as “ten years of non-stop glamour, unchecked excess, ruthless ambition and explosive technological innovation that combined to produce the historic changes and global events that made us who and what we are today.”

The first commercial cellphone was debuted in front of global media, fictional but realistic JR Ewing was a ruthless deal maker in the internationally syndicated soap opera Dynasty, and Lady Diana married Prince Charles in one of the most watched events in pop culture history.

But in many ways, it was the music that defined the age. Prince, Lionel Richie, Janet Jackson, Hall and Oates, Luther Vandross, Sting are just some of the names identified with the time. Two names are set apart from them all, one for her overt sexuality and larger than life approach to performance; the other for her almost otherworldly talent; Madonna and Whitney Houston. However, only one name reigns supreme — Michael Jackson. His signature sound and dancing not only transformed the music landscape, but he showed how to link music with moving images to make powerful statements on global issues.

At home, it was as if David Rudder reached out for Blue’s Baptist chant and gave it new life. Rudder recalls, “No one thought I could win.”

1986. First he sang Hammer and then Bahia Gyul with its underlying doption rhythms and deep links to African spiritually across diaspora. As Rudder left the stage to the roar of the crowd, something in the music had shifted again. He was crowned Calypso Monarch and then went on to take the Road March.

The following year, he defended his crown with Calypso Music. “It is a living vibration/ Rooted deep within my Caribbean belly/ Lyrics to make a politician cringe/ Or turn a woman’s body into jelly/ It is a sweet soca music calypso/ You could ah never refuse it calypso/ It make you shake like a shango now calypso/ Why it is you shaking you don’t know/ That’s calypso.” As Rudder said, “People kept saying I wasn’t a calypsonian and that talk drew that song out of me.”

The final words go to SuperBlue on the importance of injecting meaning into music: “Everyone who wants to win the Road March feels that speed is the thing, but speed isn’t the thing. The rhythm has to be spicy hot, but at the same time you have to have character, story, melody, soul, and you have to come up with something unique ... the song must make a statement because, you know, calypso is poetry.”

Stay with me on this journey, as we continue to explore our music and how it not only changed our lives, but the way we view our world.

Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN


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