The Music of
Trinidad and Tobago

Fall of Man: Calypsos on the Human Condition
Rounder (

This album features insouciant, trenchant, and politically incorrect commentary on the war of the sexes, clothed in jaunty rhythms and with tongue firmly in cheek. This grouping of calypsos by lyric subject is artificial and I wish Rounder had chosen a more representative selection of topics.

However you will hear all the delightful deconstruction of the English language, the elastic syllabification and whacked out rhetoric that calypso lovers admire. The lyrics are placed in the few melodies used by all performers in the 1935-41 period covered by the CD. The great names of the "golden age" of Trinidadian calypso are represented - Tiger, Attila, Lion, King Radio, Growler and others. The accompaniment features piano, horns, violin, bass, and trap set, contributing jazzy instrumental interpolations on the generous 23 selections included here. - Stacy Phillips

Neville Marcano
The Growling Tiger of Calypso
Rounder (

In 1960, folklorist Alan Lomax recorded one of Trinidad's great songsters, calypsonian Neville Marcano. Calypso traces its roots to kalinda music, a choreographed form of stick fighting with an elaborate percussion tradition of West African derivation. Trinidad's other major popular tradition is carnival, a European folk import whose irreverent social inversions convened the French planters, who allowed African participation to allay slavery's social tensions. After emancipation, the ethnic diversity of Trinidad's packed shantytowns, aggravated by the social discord resulting from chronic underemployment, produced a combative underclass whose kalinda associations made carnival a venue of popular cultural and political expression. The lyrically nimble calypso "man-of-words" emerged from this rough-and-tumble milieu during the global economic crisis of the 1930s. Neville Marcano thus won prominence as a proletarian political commentator by addressing a range of everyday concerns: romance, adverse social conditions and the badmen they produced, public corruption, and the dangers of atomic energy. This recording captures a major Trinidadian folk artist in the traditional, Venezuelan-tinged calypso style he favored, backed by an able ensemble of bass, cuatro, flute, guitar, violin and percussion. It was a fortuitous encounter, as Marcano would record only one more extended session in his career. His music reveals the contrary aesthetic ingenuity that has conditioned the hybrid constellation of the Creole societies of the Americas, humanity in a lively, insistent process of cultural self-fashioning. - Michael Stone

Calypso Carnival 1936-1941

This is the third of their calypso series, and concentrates on what many call the golden years. The sounds of Tin Pan Alley and early jazz were infiltrating the folk music of the Caribbean and the music that resulted was magical, a blend of good times, social satire, topical commentary, and of course, sex. The calypsonians were the rebels of their day, taking on tough stage names like Tiger, Attila, Lion and Growler, or crowning themselves Lord Kitchener, King Radio and Lord Executioner. This album covers some of the great performers at the height of their careers, full of wit and cutting edges, cynical and yet so sweet to the ear. Hear The Lion at his best in cuts like "Wanga," his 1934 song about courtship and witchcraft, with a fabulous jazzy band of piano, bass, horns and fiddle. Other tracks to seek out: The Growler's "High Brown," and King Radio's road march "It's The Rhythm We Want," a precursor to the carnival soca so popular now.

The Mighty Sparrow
Mighty Sparrow, Volumes 1-3
Ice Records

Listen to the 60's calypso of soca king Slinger Francisco, aka The Mighty Sparrow . Try "Dan Is The Man In The Van," an acerbic and humorous dig at British education in the Caribbean, and a song that led Sparrow to dethrone the reigning king of calypso Kitchener back in 1963. This is one song from a three CD set of his work, Mighty Sparrow, Volumes 1-3 covering everything from his first hit "Jean and Dinah" through the riotous "Calypso Boogaloo" and the pop soca of "Idi Amin." All of his work, from witty sexual double entendres to political turns of phrase, had a wicked bite and a vibrant humor. His vocal rhythm and timing were flawless. His lyrics, whether they were about presidents, prime ministers or beautiful women (and there were plenty of those!), always held surprises. Smart and shrewd, Sparrow proved that music with a message could be music to dance to. - CF

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