To compile a playlist about calypso music is also to delve into Trinidad and Tobago’s history. When the first kaisonians or storytellers/griots were deported from West Africa (in particular Nigeria) in the late 17th century, they started to spread a new music repertoire on the islands referring to their Ibibio tradition. They sung about their life conditions, slavery in the sugar plantations, lost connection with their homeland and making fun of their masters. To do it freely, without the risk of being understood and consequently punished, they developed their own version of patois or French creole language which was and is still used to narrate stories, tales and everyday life.
That’s why calypso is something more than a music style: it represents the memory of a country, its roots and voice. To underline the link with its Ibibio roots, calypso has always reflected the original elements of West African music: the rhythmic patterns, call-and-response feature and incisive irony. Despite the fact the genre has experienced some decisive transformations during the last decades, which mutate calypso into a more dancy and marketable product called soca, hardliner calypsonians are still defending and echoing the original functions of calypso: its humorous character, social and political mission and everyday life commentary.
Ph. © Ray Funk