“Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup, Ah have mih horse and mih lasso, And ah ready for the rodeo…I have a six-shooter ready to fire…”
That is a glimpse of the Mighty Sparrow’s calypso “Cowboy Justice,” angrily preparing to fight down the criminals. The country was fearful of murders, rapes, break-ins, etc.
“Cowboy Sparrow” warned the “murderers and rapists” that he will exercise “cowboy justice ” swiftly upon them, for instance, by using a heated “branding iron” so “dey cyar sit down.”
Nothing about rehabilitation or restorative justice – is only raw cowboy justice so they “cyar continue with this rampage.” “Cowboy Sparrow” further warned “All dem bandits in town, dey have to put down dey weapons.”
This calypso stirred the public imagination. Nothing like due process. To the cowboy vigilante, the situation appeared too serious for that.
I like political and humorous calypsoes, even when the lyrics are quite simple. Brother Marvin's Jahaji Bhai was a powerful one. Baron’s dancing tunes. King Austin’s “Progress” is visionary, etc. Growing up, I liked to hear songs like “Mama, look a boo boo dey,” or the one with “Jonah, you take a bake dey, no Pa…well one gone, one gone.” Part of my childhood was spent among a lot of mango trees so I got excited when I used to hear Lord Kitchener’s mango tree calypso, and how he planned to trick the trespassing children who used to pick his mangoes.
Part of the song went: “Ah wish ah was a mango tree planted up at Laventille...dem school children run below, for when dey reach, dey hold dey head and bawl, for when dey ‘tink is mango is the branches fall.”
Sparrow’s versatility went from crime, politics, education, sex, even good manners. You couldn’t hold him down, especially with the music beat and lyrics. You just had to move your feet. Given what’s happening today, I remember “Once upon a time dis country was sweet, People coulda lime freely on the street…We had no money, but we used to live nice…People was poor but people used to live right.” Today there is more money but more worries.
Talking about money, I recall another favourite, Lord Pretender’s 1961 calypso “Never Ever Worry” – smooth and consoling: “Some people in the world today/Don’t realise that money don’t pay/Resting their worries on your shoulder/Only bringing you older and older…”
He continued: “Dey doh realise you have worries too/Tell dem to never ever worry/Doh mind how things looking hard/I say to tell them, Never worry/Doh mind how you suffering bad/ Never ever worry, what I am saying is true/Always consider somebody suffering more than you.” True to an extent.
Today, people say foreign exchange is a problem in the bank. During World War II, the “yankee dollar” was also a precious commodity in Trinidad. And Sparrow came up with the memorable “Jean and Dinah” which even children took up: “Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina, Round the corner posin’/Bet yuh life is something dey selling/But when yuh catch them broken/Yuh could get dem all for nutten’/Doh make no row, de yankee gone and Sparrow take over now.”
The business site for these girls of the night was known as the Gaza Strip. This song went international. I am not sure if the Calypso King could get away with singing something so now. In any case, there I still some raking and scraping for the yankee dollar today.
A pseudo-calypso with Trinidadian roots was sung by an American group, the Andrew Sisters. It went further international and into controversy over its real origin. Anyhow, the “yankee dollar” came up again: “If you ever go down Trinidad/They make you feel so very glad/Calypso sing and make you rhyme/Guarantee you one real good fine time…/Go down Point Cumana/Both mother and daughter/Working for the yankee dollar.”
These are some of my amateurish calypso memories. Last Wednesday, though, I witnessed the extempo competition, especially the contest between calypsonians Black Sage and Gypsy. For two weeks now, there has been a raging controversy about whether it is ethical for Gypsy (Winston Peters) to take part in the extempo and calypso competitions since he is also the National Carnival Commission chairman. Gypsy, of course, dismissed the concern saying he was and still is a practising calypsonian, so no problem.
But Black Sage, with light-hearted measure, poked extempore fun at the NCC chairman: “He give money to TUCO, and he come here fighting we down/ Gypsy is de chairman of the NCC/Me eh know why he coming to sing with me/He running the NCC show/And yet he coming to sing calypso (applause, Gypsy smiling) A memorable scene.