Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid 20th century, and lays it roots in the West African Kaiso and the migration of Martinican planters and their slaves.
The music, which drew upon African and French influences, became the voice of the people, and was characterized by highly rhythmic and harmonic vocals, which was most often sung in a French creole and led by a griot. As calypso developed, the role of the griot (originally a similar traveling musician in West Africa) became known as a chantuelle and eventually, calypsonian. As English replaced patois (creole French) as the dominant language, calypso migrated into English, and in so doing it attracted more attention from the government. It allowed the masses to challenge the doings of the unelected Governor and Legislative Council, and the elected town councils of Port of Spain and San Fernando. Calypso continued to play an important role in political expression, and also served to document the history of Trinidad and Tobago.
The French brought Carnival to Trinidad, and calypso competitions at Carnival grew in popularity, especially after the abolition of slavery in 1834. While most authorities stress the African roots of calypso, in his 1986 book, Calypso from France to Trinidad: 800 Years of History, that veteran calypsonian, The Roaring Lion (Rafael de Leon) asserted that calypso descends from the music of the medieval French troubadours.
The Cedula of Population of 1783 laid the foundation and growth of the population of Trinidad. The Spanish who were in possession of the island, contributed little towards advancements, with El Dorado the focus, Trinidad was perfect due to its geographical location. French planters with their slaves, free coloreds and mulattos from neighboring islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica migrated to the Trinidad during the French Revolution. The Spanish also gave many incentives to lure settlers to the island, including exemption from taxes for ten years and land grants in accordance to the terms set out in the Cedula. This exodus was encouraged due to the French Revolution. These new immigrants establishing local communities of Blanchisseuse, Champs Fleurs, Cascade, Carenage and Laventille. Trinidad's population jumped to over 15,000 by the end of 1789, from just under 1,400 in 1777.
The French Revolution (1789) had an impact on Trinidad's culture, as it resulted in the emigration of Martinican planters and their French creole slaves to Trinidad where they established an agriculture-based economy (sugar and cocoa) for the island. Carnival had arrived with the French, indentured laborers and the slaves, who could not take part in Carnival, formed their own, parallel celebration called Canboulay. Canboulay (from the French cannes brulées, meaning burnt cane) is a precursor to Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and has played an important role in the development of the music of Trinidad and Tobago. The festival is also where calypso music through chantwells had taken its roots. In 1797, Trinidad became a British crown colony, with a French-speaking population.
Calypso music was developed in Trinidad in the 17th century from the music brought by African slaves imported to that Caribbean island to work on sugar plantations. Calypso has strong African roots. Its rhythms can be traced back to West African Kaiso and the arrival of African slaves in the West Indies in the 1600s. These slaves, brought to toil on sugar plantations, were stripped of all connections to their homeland and family and not allowed to talk to each other. They used calypso to mock the slave masters and to communicate with each other. Many early calypsos were sung in French Creole by an individual called a griot. As calypso developed, the role of the griot became known as a chantuelle and eventually, calypsonian. Calypsonians can trace their origins back to the late 18th century and the first "Chantwell", Gros Jean.
Stick fighting and African percussion music were banned in 1881, in response to the Canboulay Riots. They were replaced by bamboo sticks beaten together, which were themselves banned in turn. In 1937 they reappeared, transformed as an orchestra of frying pans, dustbin lids and oil drums. These steelpans or pans are now a major part of the Trinidadian music scene and are a popular section of the Canboulay music contests. In 1941, the United States Navy arrived on Trinidad, and the panmen, who were associated with lawlessness and violence, helped to popularize steel pan music among soldiers, which began its international popularization.
Beginning in 1845, major influexes of indentured immigrants from India and other parts of the world dramatically changed the ethnic composition of the islands. These indentured servants brought their own folk music, primarily from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to the creole mix, resulting in chutney music. In addition to Indians, Syrians, Portuguese, Chinese and Africans came to the islands in waves between 1845 and 1917, and even after.
It is thought that the name "calypso" was originally "kaiso", which is now believed to come from Efik "ka isu" 'go on!' and Ibibio "kaa iso" 'continue, go on,' used in urging someone on or in backing a contestant. There is also a Trinidadian term, "cariso" which is used to refer to "old-time" calypsos. The term "calypso" is recorded from the 1930s onwards.
The first identifiably calypso genre song was recorded in 1912, by Lovey's String Band while visiting New York City. In 1914, the second calypso song was recorded, this time in Trinidad, by chantwell Julian Whiterose, better known as the Iron Duke and famous stick fighter. Jules Sims would also record vocal calypsos. The majority of these calypsos of the World War I era were instrumentals by Lovey and Lionel Belasco. Perhaps due to the constraints of the wartime economy, no recordings of note were produced until the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the "golden era" of calypso would cement the style, form, and phrasing of the music.
Calypso evolved into a way of spreading news around Trinidad. Politicians, journalists and public figures often debated the content of each song, and many islanders considered these songs the most reliable news source. Calypsonians pushed the boundaries of free speech as their lyrics spread news of any topic relevant to island life, including speaking out against political corruption. Eventually British rule enforced censorship and police began to scan these songs for damaging content.
Even with this censorship, calypsos continued to push boundaries, with a variety of ways to slip songs past the scrutinizing eyes of the editor. Double entendre, or double-speak, was one way, as was the practice of denouncing countries such as Hitler's Germany and its annexation of Poland, while making pointed references toward the UK's policies on Trinidad. Sex, scandal, gossip, innuendo, politics, local news, bravado and insulting other calypsonians were the order of the day in classic calypso, just as it is today with classic hip hop. And just as the hip-hop of today, the music sparked shock and outrage in the moral sections of society.
Countless recordings were dumped at sea in the name of censorship, although in truth, rival U.S. companies did this in the spirit of underhanded competition, claiming that the rivals' material was unfit for U.S. consumption. Decca Records lost untold pressings in this manner, as did its rival, RCA's Bluebird label.
An entrepreneur named Eduardo Sa Gomes played a significant role in spreading calypso in its early days. Sa Gomes, a Portuguese immigrant who owned a local music and phonograph equipment shop in Port of Spain, promoted the genre and gave financial support to the local artists. In March 1934 he sent Roaring Lion and Attila the Hun to New York City to record; they became the first calypsonians to record abroad, bringing the genre out of the West Indies and into pop culture. Lord Invader was quick to follow, and staying in New York City after a protracted legal case involving the theft of his song "Rum and Coca-Cola", a hit by the Andrews Sisters, made his home there along with Wilmoth Houdini, and became one of the great calypsonians of the USA.
Early forms of calypso were also influenced by jazz such as Sans Humanitae. In this extempo (extemporaneous) melody calypsonians lyricise impromptu, commenting socially or insulting each other, "sans humanité" or "no mercy" (which is again a reference to French influence).
The first major stars of calypso started crossing over to new audiences worldwide in the late 1930s. Attila the Hun, Roaring Lion and Lord Invader were first, followed by Lord Kitchener, one of the longest-lasting calypso stars in history—he continued to release hit records until his death in 2000. 1944's "Rum and Coca-Cola" by the Andrews Sisters, a cover version of a Lord Invader song, became an American hit despite the song being a very critical commentary on the explosion of prostitution, inflation and other negative influences accompanying the American military bases in Trinidad at the time. Perhaps the most straight forward way to describe the focus of calypso is that it articulated itself as a form of protest against the authoritarian colonial culture which existed at the time.
Calypso, especially a toned-down, commercial variant, became a worldwide craze with the release of the "Banana Boat Song", or "Day-O", a traditional Jamaican folk song, whose best-known rendition was done by Harry Belafonte on his album Calypso (1956); Calypso was the first full-length record to sell more than a million copies. (Ironically, the music style on that album was mento.) The success of that album inspired hundreds of "Folkies", or the American folk music revival to imitate the "Belafonte style", but with a more folk-oriented flavor. The Kingston Trio would be a good example.
1956 also saw the massive international hit "Jean and Dinah" by Mighty Sparrow. This song too was a sly commentary as a "plan of action" for the calypsonian on the widespread prostitution and the prostitutes' desperation after the closing of the U.S. naval base on Trinidad at Chaguaramas.
In the Broadway-theatre musical Jamaica (1957), Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg cleverly parodied "commercial", Belafonte-style calypso.
Several films jumped on the calypso craze in 1957 such as Island in the Sun (20th Century Fox) that featured Belafonte and the low-budget films Calypso Joe (Allied Artists), Calypso Heat Wave (Columbia Pictures), and Bop Girl Goes Calypso (United Artists).
Robert Mitchum released an album, Calypso...Is Like So (1957), on Capitol records, capturing the sound, spirit, and subtleties of the genre.
Dizzy Gillespie recorded a calypso album "Jambo Caribe" (1964) with James Moody and Kenny Barron.
Soul shouter Gary "US" Bonds released a calypso album Twist up Calypso (1962) on Legrand records, shortly after returning home from his military post in Port of Spain.
The French and pioneer electronic musician Jean Michel Jarre released an album in 1990 called Waiting for Cousteau. The album has 4 tracks: Calypso, Calypso part 2, Calypso part 3 Fin de Siècle and Waiting for Cousteau. It was a dedicated to Jacques-Yves Cousteau in his 80th birthday. This album had a special participation of the Amocco Renegades (a traditional steel drum band from Trinidad and Tobago). In the first track is possible to notice a strong style influence.
Calypso had another short burst of commercial interest when Tim Burton's horror/comedy film Beetlejuice (1988) was released, and used Belafonte's "Jump In The Line" as the soundtrack´s headliner.
Calypso influence on rap
The basic elements of hip-hop -- boasting raps, rival posses, uptown throwdowns, and political commentary -- were all present in Trinidadan music as long ago as the 1800's, though they did not reach the form of commercial recordings until the 1920's and 30's. Calypso -- like other forms of music -- continued to evolve through the '50's and '60's. When rock steady and reggae bands looked to make their music a form of national and even international Black resistance, they took Calypso's example. Calypso itself, like Jamaican music, moved back and forth between the predominance of boasting and toasting songs packed with 'slackness' and sexual innuendo and a more topical, political, 'conscious' style.
Decline in popularity
During the 1970s, calypso's popularity waned throughout the world, including the Caribbean. Derivatives include an uptempo version of calypso music called soca, and a hip-hop-influenced style called rapso both became popular in Trinidad and other islands.
(from the article Calypso music of Wikipedia)
List of calypso musicians
Atilla the Hun
Brødrene Löwenstierne, aka ↓
The Löwenstierne Brothers
Byron Lee & the Dragonaires
The Duke of Iron
King Eric Gibson
Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz
Ras Shorty I
Red Plastic Bag
The Talbot Brothers of Bermuda
Your Song Is Good
Taken from the List of calypso musicians of Wikipedia.