The International Love of CALYPSO MUSIC
By Seth Escalante
Written: 31st Oct, 2020
Calypso is a genre of music created in Trinidad and Tobago. More than a genre of music, Calypso is the representation of Trinidad and Tobago’s history and the voice of our people. In many ways, to tell the story of Trinidad and Tobago is to recount the history of calypso.
Trinidad and Tobago is a melting pot of cultures, races and nationalities. From the historical timeline of our country, it is evident that our heritage comes from all over the world: Spain, England, Africa, India, China, France and, of course, the first people who were indigenous to the island of Trinidad.
Maybe this is the reason why the entire world loves calypso music
That assertion isn’t a platitudinous and over-zealous exaggeration or even some stark literary device. The statement above is based on historical facts and statistics which show calypso as, perhaps, the first internationally loved musical art form. Here are a couple of those historical facts that prove it!
THE FIRST SONG TO SELL A MILLION RECORDS
It was a calypso song that was recognized for the honor of selling the first-ever 1 million records. The song was "Rum and Coca Cola", composed by Lionel Belasco with lyrics by Lord Invader (Rupert Grant). These two top-notch Trinidadian musicians created the first song to ever have sold a million records; but it wasn't just one million copies: it sold 7 million copies when first released. I wish I could stop on that high note but there’s a lot more to the international story of calypso…
The song Rum and Coca Cola was stolen by an American entertainer called Morey Amsterdam when he heard it on a visit to Trinidad. He then gave the song, with some alterations to the lyrics, to The Andrew Sisters to record in 1945. Amsterdam dishonestly listed himself as the lyricist. The record Rum and Coca Cola then became famous and the first song to have sold the very first million copies. Fast forward, Lionel Belasco and Lord Invader sued Morey Amsterdam for use of their song and they won in court. However, the copyright of the song remained with Morey Amsterdam and Lionel Belasco and Lord Invader were credited as the creators. Could you imagine how much determination it took in those days to travel from Trinidad to America to sue an artist?
THE FIRST ALBUM TO SELL A MILLION RECORDS
Calypso doesn’t just have the title of first million records sold for the first song but it is also the record as the genre that holds the record for having sold the first million LP albums.
What was the name of the album that sold the first million? Well, it was called "Calypso: The album." ‘Calypso’ was recorded by Harry Belafonte, who is a Jamaican – American singer. The album had songs created by one of Trinidad and Tobago’s greatest calypsonians, our very own King Radio (Norman Span). The entire world was crazy for Calypso.
CALYPSOS IN INTERNATIONAL MOVIE SOUNDTRACKS
Have you ever seen Beetlejuice? Other than the sinister character created by Hollywood director Tim Burton, most people who know or even heard about this movie will also never forget the addictive and infectious music in the movie’s soundtrack. These were classic calypsos such as:
Jump in the Line (Shake Senora)
– lyrics by Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts)
Man Smart (Woman Smarter)
– composed by King Radio
Sweetheart from Venezuela
– composed by Lord Melody (Fitzroy Alexzander)
Furthermore, here are just a couple of the countless other movies that featured calypso:
Disney 1989 – The Little Mermaid
(which earned an academy award for best original song)
20th Century Fox – 1957 – Island in the Sun
CALYPSONIANS ON THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE
It didn’t take long for calypsonains to travel all over the world. As early (or even before) the 1930’s, calypsonians such as Attila the Hun, Roaring Lion and Lord Invader were already in demand, with their music taking them across the world, spreading the sweet gospel of calypso music.
Lord Kitchener went off to England soon after but returned in 1962 to celebrate our country's independence, like a true patriot.
Calypso Rose (Linda Sandy - Lewis) won the World Album Music of the Year award in France in 2017.
Although Grenadian born, Mighty Sparrow is a true son of the soil, moving to Trinidad at age one, he became a calypsonian and calypso icon. He received the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2015. Among his accolades are the Chaconia Gold Medal from Trinidad and Tobago in 1993, and the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, our highest award.
Roaring Lion (Rafael de Leon) - The song ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ hit number one on the Billboard Top 100 on 18th May 1963 and it was based on Roaring Lion’s song ‘Ugly Woman’ as Roaring Lion was listed as one of the lyricists for ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’
The list goes on!
Do you think that the world loves Calypso music? Throughout the years, after the creation of this one-of-a-kind genre of music, I am convinced that the world will always love calypso music. Calypsos continue to be played and enjoyed all over the world as timeless
Happy Calypso History Month!