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Caribbean Calypso Music

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“Cent, five cents, ten cents, dollar.” are the words of a famous calypso song. The Oxford dictionary defines calypso as a “West Indian song with improvised, usually up to date words.” Calypso rhythms can be traced back to the arrival of the first African slaves brought to work in the sugar plantations of Trinidad. Forbidden to talk to each other, and robbed of all links to family and home, the slaves began to sing songs. They used calypso, which can be traced back to West African Kaiso, as a means of communication and to mock the slave masters.

Calypso singing competitions held annually at carnival time grew in popularity after the abolition of slavery by the British in the 1830s. It was the French who brought the tradition of Carnival to Trinidad. The griot later became known as the chantuelle and today as the calypsonian.

The year 1914 was a landmark in the history of calypso. This was the year that the first calypso recording was made. The late 1920s gave birth to the first calypso tents. Originally, calypso tents were actual tents that calypsonians would practice before Carnival. Today calypso tents are showcases for the new music of the Carnival seasons.

By the late 1930s, exceptional calypsonians such as Atilla the Hun, Lord Invader and the roaring Lion were making an indelible impression on the calypso music world. Lord Kitchener rose to prominence in the 1940s and dominated the calypso scene until the late 1970s. Lord Kitchener continued to make memorable hits until his death in 2001.

The 1070s saw a decline in the popularity of calypso due to outside musical influences. Jamaican reggae made its presence known as did disco and R&B from the United States.

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