Calypso couplets part deux

Relator in 2019. File photo. -
Relator in 2019. File photo. -

It wasn’t a national conversation. But friends and friends of friends did weigh in with several candidates of their own for the best calypso couplet. Here are a few.

This one I most clearly overlooked: Nelson gets jitters over his favoured participant, Liar DeLeon, in the final round of an international lying championship for King Liar. Lying on the topic of a tailor, Will the Outrageous has sent the crowd wild, with a tale about one who, if you show him a man coming round a corner,can, without measuring, sew him a flawless suit. But DeLeon’s rejoinder, about his man, Rolfie, wins the day: “Don’t show him the man, my tailor is class/Just show him the corner where the fellow pass.”

In Toe Jam, Shadow is getting much unsolicited guidance from everyone around him. But while the advice he would value is about life and death matters, theirs tends to the petty: “They tell me don’t walk with Jacob because Jacob does walk and shake up/They tell me don’t talk to Bertram because the man foot stink with toe jam.”

During Sparrow’s taxi outing with Mae Mae on their carpet on Claxton Bay, she squeals her couplet about experiencing unprecedented canine thrills. But while she wants to linger, when a man finish it’s foolish to be licorish. Sparrow hustles her back into the waiting taxi with: “Come go. Keep the rum/When you reach home, give your man some.”

Moving to the current century, Shadow offers several memorable kernels of advice to a young man eager to marry who has sought his counsel. They sum up to, in Yuh Looking for Horn: “She want hairdo. And callaloo/And you don’t have nothing,”

“You must assume she want perfume and good things to consume/You say she nice, but take advice: She must want some hot rice” and “Friday evening people passing with box of fried chicken/She watching you in your old shoe. She feeling to hit you.”

In this December 4, file photo Winston “Shadow” Bailey speaks about his life and career as a calypsonian. Shadow died on October 23, 2018. PHOTO/ROGER JACOB

I’ve been challenged at pinning down an unforgettable couplet from the Grandmaster, and found myself disagreeing with others’ choices. Perhaps, like so many others, for Kitch, it’s to be found in sexual innuendo. Little (but experienced) Spanish Maria from across the main vouches for the unsurpassable Local Wood. It’s come to her rescue when other wood wouldn’t light, and saved her food from spoiling. “I tried Canadian cedar, never please me good/But the poui and the balata, oh gorm, that is wood.”

While Food Prices, with its corny “They raise current/And they raise raisin’,” has retained popularity and airplay, the other tune Relator sang in the Big Yard 40 years ago may be more responsible for his Calypso Monarch win. Noting the futility in blaming a horse that is tired and lame, before it suffers a nervous breakdown, he offers the generosity of a holiday as a solution to governmental exhaustion, the Savannah crowd completing his chorus: “As a loving nation, we all could now suggest/That Dr Williams and the PNM take a rest.” It’s one of the slyest forms of political picong I can recall in calypso. And Zeno includes it on his compilation earlier this year of the (250) best kaisos.

Composer’s critique of Trinbagonian Child Training is that how we talk to our children produces chupidee, dotish, disobedient and delinquent children. Here is his famous composite of how we address infants: “Doux doux! Sugapyum! Mammy nice c’ile! Whachuvant?/Toonka!

Choonkooloonks! Tinka! Lemme kissu, lemme kissu, lemme kissu.” Of course, we now know better – that such baby talk in fact speeds infants’ language acquisition.

Some calypsoes we remember in their entirety, how they tell a compelling story from start to end. Some of them do so seamlessly or in relentlessly memorable language. But the ability to squeeze meaning and memory and moment into the economy of two or four lines is a particular calypso-writing talent.

I’d love this conversation to continue in other forums and over time. I appreciate all of you who’ve participated in it to date. I’ve long voiced my rejection of any rubric for judging calypso other than its memorability. And, in reaching into your memories for the best of its couplets, several of you seem to agree with me.


"Calypso couplets part deux"

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