Monday, July 25, 2011

Let's Go... Calypso

The seductive nymph Calypso made her mark on Western mythology by ensnaring Homer's fabled hero Odysseys and holding him hostage on her island for seven years with plans of making him her immortal husband. 

Her musical namesake has ensnared millions over the course of the last 800 years.  Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music known to have originated in Trinidad and Tobago, just seven sea miles from VenezuelaThe genre stems from African and European (especially French) roots, and is closely associated with the black reconstruction period in post-emancipation Trinidad. African slaves, not allowed to speak with one other, communicated through song.  But it was the French who were actually responsible for bringing Carnival to Trinidad where the genre flourished.

The music is notable and most recognizable for its infectious use of stell drums. which were 'invented' in Trinidad around the time of W.W.II.  The evolution of the instruments traces back to the African slaves kept by Spanish and French plantation owners as early as the 16th century. Known as 'steel pans' to Trinidadians, the instruments are made from 55 gallon drums used to store oil, hence most often referred to as drums

The first steel music-makers developed in the evolution of these instruments were Tamboo-Bamboos, tunable sticks made of bamboo wood. The 'bass' sticks struck the ground to produce sound and were accompanied by the percussion of a gin bottle tapped by a spoon. By the mid-1930s, metal percussion was added to the sound of tamboo bamboo bands -- most likely, using something along the lines of either an automobile brake hub 'iron' or a biscuit drum 'boom'. Soon the iron replaced the gin bottle-and-spoon, and the boom took over for the the bass bamboo. By the late 1930's, all-steel bands began popping up at Carnival and by 1940 the steeldrum had become a Carnival mainstay.   

The dance style most closely associated with Calypso is Black Diaspora, an artform that expresses satire, protest, praise and conflict along with affirmation and celebration. The term 'diaspora' means 'the scattering of people, culture or language that was formerly concentrated in one place' and perfectly exemplified the slave experience.

Today the trials and tribulations that bred Calypso are mostly forgotten, owing to its perceived carefree and colorful character.  Born and bred of hardship, it is a musical genre that sets the soul free and sends it soaring.  So in celebration of its jubilant and indomitable spirit, here is the much loved King of Calypso himself, Harry Belafonte, singing the Boat Song.... Muppet style!

Want to join in on the fun?  Calypso Joy Theme Dance Parties may include use of shac-shacs (maracas), layered calico headdress, layered calico skirt, fringed hat, knee & elbow fringe, chunky bead bracelets.  This free-form barefoot format is fun and healthy for celebrants of all ages, sizes and shapes.  So take off your shoes and go Caribbean crazy with us!