N Touch
Wednesday 22 May 2019
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An original to calypso heaven

I AM NOT surprised that the late Original De Fosto Himself would have chosen to hop on that bus to calypso heaven with Shadow. Oh yes, there is such a bus. I know because David Rudder first pointed it out to me when I mourned the death of the Mighty Popo on May 2, 2000.

Rudder told me that Popo would have hopped on that bus with Kitchener, who died on February 11. He said Popo was Kitch’s Sancho Panza, and Kitch wasn’t leaving here without Popo. It was no stretch of the imagination for me to imagine that bus or Popo as the character from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Rudder’s imagination saved me from wallowing in much grief about Popo, and it brings a smile even now as I think of De Fosto on Shadow’s bus.

Both Shadow and De Fosto were calypsonians who had a special creative bond with calypso. Shadow had to sing because the music chose him. There was no escape. De Fosto chose calypso because it gave him an identity and a family that he never knew. Both calypsonians put creativity above material gains.

This is the point where I must insert an apology and confess my prejudice against De Fosto, which Rudder eventually saved me from.

One day, I complained to Rudder, “De Fosto came to the Express today and was talking about his song for Carnival and he had to sing the whole song. His songs are too long. They go on and on, and he doesn’t understand when it’s time to get off the stage.”

And Rudder said, “Do you know why De Fosto’s name is Winston Scarborough?”

When I confessed I did not know why, Rudder told me the story of how De Fosto had been secretly left by the nuns in Tobago. He was left in a basket like Moses, I believe the story went.

“And look at his calypso name,” Rudder pointed out. “The Original De Fosto Himself. It seems he wouldn’t need original and himself. It’s redundant, but De Fosto needed both.”

I learned that day to be less judgmental of people. I learned to look at De Fosto and listen to him in a whole new light. What I saw was a man who came from circumstances which could have easily made him bitter, mean and angry. But De Fosto was always optimistic, upbeat and kind.

His kindness most stands out in my mind because of his reaction to a story I once told to many calypsonians. “I heard the most amazing calypso while judging a Carnival competition in Women’s Prison,” I said. “A woman sang about all the milestones in her son’s life she would miss because she was in prison, and she imagined all the things she would tell him so that he would never make mistakes like she did. Everyone – even the judges – cried while she sang."

De Fosto was the only calypsonian who heard that story and said, “When she comes out, I would like to record that calypso.”

I found that generosity and that faith in my judgment to be touching. De Fosto was extraordinary in his own way. He found his own voice with straightforward narrative calypsoes that often featured nation-building themes. He was not mean-spirited. He did not descend to hateful sarcasm. He sought peace and togetherness.

Growing up in an orphanage at the time when orphanages in the Caribbean offered a fantastic foundation in music, De Fosto contributed to keeping the art form alive by being one of the few calypsonians who could arrange and write music. This in itself was an invaluable contribution to calypso history because without written music, many calypsoes over the decades would have simply vanished with the Carnival season.

The Original De Fosto Himself was an original. He loved calypso. It gave him an identity, and he gave it his heart and soul. Calypso gave him a purpose in life. He made the stage his own; he made the stage his home.

So rest in peace, De Fosto, and don’t worry. Your calypso spirit will surface in some young man finding his way into the art form. Each generation produces calypsonians who discover the masters of bygone days, and that work inspires them to dream big and find their own voice while paying homage to the past.

Your work will not be lost. Someone is bound to hear it and realise the need for social and political commentary that promotes nation building, and when they do, they will honour you.

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