THE MASTERS OF CALYPSO
A very convincing argument can be made to support the suggestion that the period between 1981 (the first year Grenada’s Carnival was celebrated in August) and the mid -1990’s represents the golden era of Grenada’s contribution to the Caribbean musical genre known as Calypso.
And if one is willing to accept the argument for the golden era then one would be inclined to acknowledge the masters of the craft – the Masters of Calypso.
To be fair Calypso in Grenada didn’t just emerge in 1981, in fact there are a plethora of practitioners who capably carried the torch post-Hurricane Janet. There are the obvious ones Melody, Papitette, Saramouche, Dictator, Unlucky, the Original Inspector, Defender and Flying Turkey and there are the unheralded ones such as Splinto, Stuffy and the Mighty Hurricane.
However, it was the move of Carnival from February to May and then finally to August in 1981 that allowed for an explosion of creativity, for recordings that have withstood the test of time and for Calypso competitions that are the envy of the present-day organizers.
The ‘August Calypso’ mastery appropriately began with the wizardry of the late Timpo and his classics, Preacher Man and We Want We Carnival. That era of dominance by the St. Andrew Calypso cavalcade also gave us other masters such as Darius, Mr. D and African Teller. The male- dominated artform welcomed its first female Calypso Monarch in 1983 when Lady Cynthy captured the National crown. Since then three other females have gone on to win the coveted Calypso crown.
Others masters continued to dominate as the decade of the 1980’s progressed. Flying Turkey, a three-time winner in the late 70’s returned to winner’s circle with a memorable performance in 1984, the highlight of which was an earth-shattering rendition of the classic Byron.
As the momentum swung from a St. Andrew dominated calypso field the likes of Smokey and Ajamu emerged along with the return of the Black Wizard from Trinidad and the emergence of a skinny lad from St. Patrick – Inspector.
Another St. Patrick native, during that era, has convincingly entered his name into the conversation, although he is without a National Calypso Monarch title, the Praying Mantis is by any measure a master of Grenada Calypso.
Apart from the classic compositions what made the maters masterful, as it were, was also the ability to compete. The Seamoon Pavilion in St. Andrew and the Old Queen’s Park bore witness to some classic contests, the likes of which we may never experience again.
One would never forget the 1989 shown down between the Inspector with Me neighbor and Wrong Way as he edged out the Black Wizard with Tell Stone and the immortal IMF. Ajamu made the calypso finals a battlefield of sorts as he slew all challengers with a bevy of warrior-themed compositions – mastery to the highest degree.
St. Andrew was still producing masters with the emergence of Squeezy (a road march winner in 1987) and Singing MC who had lead vocalist duties with Moss International.
Another non-title holder but certainly a master of his craft is the incomparable Eggies. His effortless mannerisms and infectious melodies allowed him to be a staple of Calypso finals during that period.
The Sister Isle was not to be left out. The exploits of Skylark makes him, by far, the master of Carriacou Calypso. Rhino and Sugar Patch (with the timeless Name on the Passport) must also always be mentioned in such a conversation.
As the 1990’s beckoned the dominance of Ajamu, Black Wizard and Inspector continued but other classics were recorded by the likes of Peter Humphrey, Val Adams, Flying Cloud and Tangler.
The mid 90’s ushered in a new era of hard-core political commentary to be dominated by the likes of Scholar and Beast.
And while they are masters in their own right some might argue that the ‘in your face’, confrontational approach to political calypso writing, among other factors, have led to the scant interest in calypso.
Fortunately the music of that golden era has been properly and professionally chronicled for all eternity, and the music of that time, produced by the masters, will transcend anything that passes for calypso presently.
Any fan of good Grenada Calypso would certainly tip a hat to the Masters, whether they were mentioned herein or not. Thanks for great music, for good times and for the memories.
Photo – Old Queen’s Park