The outstanding calypso/soca singer and musician, the Mighty Shadow, died at hospital, in the early hours of Tuesday, October 23, 2018. He was 77.
Ailing for some time, he’d suffered a stroke just days before.
Over the course of 5 decades, he’d stood out with his unique dress(regularly like ‘a minute past midnight’, under a broad-rimmed hat), vertical bounce dance style(a la Masai tribesmen), sound(infused with ‘tambrin’ goatskin-drum and fiddle/violin motifs), and lyrics(‘so serious, they sometimes sounded humorous’).
Born in Belmont, a suburb of Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, he grew up, from around age 4, on a farm in the village of Les Coteaux, over on the sister isle, Tobago, and soon took to music, accompanying his musician grandfather, later starting to compose songs(via guitar, primarily).
A strapping 6-footer with a raspy, low register voice, and given to hums, his experiments with ‘walking’, more fluid basslines and rootsy elements began informing a new sound,- the ‘soul of calypso’, which entered the lexicon through fellow musician, Lord Shorty, who added transposed East Indian elements and named it ‘sokah’.
In a tent for the first time in 1970 (under the Mighty Sparrow), he broke through in a big way with “Bassman”, the ‘road march’(, or song played most over the 2 costumed parade days of the country’s pre-Lenten carnival,), and “I Come Out To Play”, in 1974.(“Bassman” opens…’I was planning to forget calypso and go’ plant peas in Tobago…But everytime I lay down in meh’ bed…hearing this bassman in meh head’)
He repeated the feat in 2001, with “Stranger”, which also led to victory in the soca monarch contest.
After narrowly finishing second to the Sparrow 26 years earlier, he prevailed in the national calypso monarch contest in 2000.
Songs about life, philosophy (“My Belief” and “Dingloay” aka “Music), the music industry (1979’s “Dat Soca Boat”, arranged by the influential Art de Coteau, a cracker that featured on the 2011 compilation, ‘Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque’, and “Sing Boy Sing” about piracy), brotherly and romantic love, the ‘dark arts’/bizarre (2001’s “Goumangala”), childhood influences, and, every so often, ‘doing-me-wrong’ competition judges(…with ‘…degrees in stupidity’) made up a vast, varied repertoire.
The classic “Poverty Is Hell” (..,’and the angels are in paradise…”), amazingly, failed to get him into the 1994 calypso final.
Apart from stints in those of the Sparrow, Lord Blakie(‘Victory’), and Lord Kitchener(Calypso Revue), he also appeared with the other tents (multi-artiste venues that operate during the carnival season), such as Kingdom of the Wizards, Spektakula, Kisskidee, and Kaiso House, and in-between, in the a decade from the late 1970’s, ran 2- Master’s Den and Mas Camp.
The Shadow received one of Trinidad+Tobago’s highest civilian honors, the Hummingbird Medal, in 2003, for ‘contribution to the arts’, and was due to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies on the weekend of October 26-28, 2018.
Among the many paying tribute was the country’s Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, who said he’d “revolutionized the calypso world with his haunting sound and unique delivery which he crafted and perfected in an impressive catalogue of work spanning several decades.”
“He was an original in all his various musical creations. His music told us stories about ourselves through poignant social commentary which was often fused with wry humour. Over the years his contribution to the development of our local music earned him regional and international acclaim”.
Shadow leaves to mourn 5 children, including Shawn and Sharlan, who both followed him into calypso.
Winston McGarland Bailey, calypsonian, ‘the Mighty Shadow’, Oct. 4, 1941-Oct. 23, 2018