Calypso Rose, a living legend in the calypso world, has brought her vibrant and irresistible music from her native Tobago to audiences on every continent, becoming one of the leading and most honored ambassadors of Caribbean music. In a genre traditionally dominated by males, she is the only woman to have captured the Calypso Monarch and Road March titles.
In addition to winning the Calypso Queen contest five years in a row, she has written numerous political and women’s rights songs and the calypso classic Fire In Me Wire. A documentary film, Rose, Calypso Diva, directed by Pascale Obolo was released in 2010.
Rose McCartha Linda Sandy Lewis was born in 1940 in the tiny island of Tobago in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. She started singing at 15. In 1966 she wrote ‘Fire In Me Wire,’ which became an international calypso anthem.
In 1977 she became the first woman to win the crown of Calypso Monarch (a yearly competition that was originally called Calypso King but was renamed Calypso Monarch after her triumph) and the Road March title.
Calypso Rose has performed throughout the world and shared the stage with such popular stars as Miriam Makeba, Tito Puente, Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack, and Bob Marley.
She has written over 800 songs and recorded more than 20 albums, including the recent Rose, Calypso Diva that is available in the United States of America on the World Village label.
In addition to calypso, her extensive repertoire includes blues, gospel, reggae, ska and soul.
Calypso Rose has received more awards and medals than any other calypsonian from governments in Trinidad, New York, London, Washington, and Africa. She is featured in the films One Hand Don’t Clap and Calypso at Dirty Jim’s.
In 2016, Calypso Rose won the WOMEX (World Music Expo) 2016 Artist Award.
Today she lives in Queens (New York), but every year she returns to her island.
* Queen of the Calypso World (RA RA 1008, 1968)
* Calypso Queen of the World (Rose SLP 001, 1971)
* Sexy Hot Pants (Rose SLP-002, Strakers SR 7775, 1972)
* Splish Splash (Strakers SR-7776, 1973)
* Action is Tight (Charlies CR-1001, 1977)
* Her Majesty (Charlies CR 444, 1978)
* Mass Fever (CLO CR-666, 1979)
* We Rocking For Carnival (Charlies CR 251, 1980)
* Ah Cant Wait (2000 AD Records 2000 AD LP, 1981)
* Mass In California (Strakers GS 2234, 1982)
* Goes Soca Unlimited (Strakers GS 2242, 1983)
* Trouble (Strakers GS 2252, 1984)
* Calypso Train (Strakers SR 130, 1985)
* Pan In Town (Strakers GS 2261, 1985)
* Stepping Out (Strakers GS2265, 1986)
* The Golden Hits of Calypso Rose (Mahabir Records, 1986)
* Leh We Punta (Strakers GS2271, 1987)
* Soca Explosion (Strakers GS 2299, 1989)
* Soul on Fire (Strakers GS 2319, 1990)
* Jump with Power (Strakers GS 2332, 1991)
* Rosie Doh Hurt Them (Strakers GS2359, 1992)
* Breaking the Sound Barrier (Spice Island Records, 1993)
* Soca Diva (Ice 931202, 1994)
* Tobago (Blue Wave Records 960602, 1996)
* Ringbang Queen (Ice IR9902, 1999)
* Jesus is My Rock (Blue Wave, 2000)
* Calypso at Dirty Jim’s (Maturity Music MM 003, 2003)
* Just Call Jesus (2003)
* The Best of Calypso Rose (Rituals CMG1305, 2005)
* Calypso Hit Parade Vol.1 Spice Island
* Calypso Rose (Harmonia Mundi, 2008)
* Far From Home (2016)
Acclaimed calypso vocalist Calypso Rose (Trinidad & Tobago) was presented with the WOMEX 2016 Artist Award in a ceremony held earlier today in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
“I would especially like to thank WOMEX, the World Music Expo…but now I want to keep you on your feet by dancing!,” said Calypso Rose, from Tobago, who ended the closing ceremony delivering a special performance accompanied on stage by the all-star Calypso Sound System featuring Drew Gonsalves and other members of Kobo Town.
The WOMEX 2016 Artist Award will go to Calypso Rose, the acclaimed singer from Trinidad & Tobago and composer of numerous hit calypsos. Calypso Rose will receiving the prestigious award in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) on October 23, 2016. The 76 year-old Calypso star will perform together with members of Kobo Town.
Calypso Rose started her remarkable career in the 1950s. Rose first performed at WOMEX in 2006, where she was scheduled to showcase as part of the Calypso@Dirty Jim’s all-star ensemble, but the band could not appear due to travel complications, so Calypso Rose spontaneously took on the show, accompanied only by piano, and had a great response from the adience.
A singer-songwriter and activist, Calypso Rose has received numerous awards and titles and won all relevant competitions. It was for her that the ‘Calypso King’ competition was changed to the gender-neutral ‘Calypso Monarch’.
“I am honored to receive the prestigious WOMEX Artist Award,” sayd Calypso Rose about the WOMEX award. “Although I have received many, many awards from governments, institutions etc. in my life, I still feel very honoured to receive this specific award, which is a global one. It is a special recognition, also for my fans all over the world. They will be happy to know I’m receiving this award. For that I thank you.”
Rounder Records has reissued Crucian Scratch Band Music by Blinky & the Roadmasters. The reissue is part of Rounder’s back catalog world music albums released into full digital distribution.
From the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Blinky and the Roadmasters play a fascinating style of Caribbean dance music that fuses calypso, African-derived rhythms, Hawaiian ukulele, and a two-saxophone front line that might be otherwise heard in a Texas polka band. The word play in the English-language songs and the happy spirit of the music make for an appealing listening experience.
The 2016 Annual Havana World Music Festival, produced by the National Center of Popular Music and the Cuban Institute of Music kicks-off today, March 26 in Havana, Cuba. The concerts will take place March 26 and 27 at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), a multi-purpose venue from the Ministry of Culture created by Cuban rock and media artist, X Alfonso.
Featured international acts include underground flamenco act Juanito Makandé, mestizo music star Sergent García, calypso innovators Kobo Town, Centavrvs (electronica), and top Cuban artists Yoruba Andabo and Yelsy Heredia.
In addition to the main music festival, Havana World Music Festival and Copperbridge Foundation extended program began March 21 at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) hosting creative workshops, lectures, planned and spontaneous jam sessions, and exclusive performances.
Copperbridge Foundation, an American non-profit organization with the mission to promote cultural and educational exchange through the medium of artistic expression, supports Havana World by publicizing this cultural event that represents the creative, open-minded side of modern Cuba.
Joey Lewis, who, for 6 decades, led the longest -running, and last of Trinidad’s popular dance orchestras, died in the early hours of February 8, at 78. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011, he effectively stopped playing with the band (originally called the Teenagers) in 2012, weakened by the effects of chemotherapy.
Born on October 26th, 1937, in Gonzales, east Port of Spain, into a family of musicians (his father played guitar, and his mom sang), he began in the bands of elder brothers, Randolph, and Sonny.
Able to play any instrument, he first took to the piano – his electric keyboard riffs on an instrumental version of 1974’s “You’ll Always Be A Friend” by British group, Hot Chocolate, stand out- but the guitar made him popular.
In 1955, the Teenagers became the Joey Lewis Orchestra; its sound distinctly Trinidadian/calypso, but with strong Latin and jazz influences and elements.
He and the orchestra added the nickname ‘Pal’, after (seeing) the 1957 American film, ‘Pal Joey’, starring Frank Sinatra and Rita Haywood.
His 1960 hit, “Joey’s Saga”, in support of the ‘Saga Ting’ dance craze, introduced his unique guitar-strumming style, and saw them as the 1st to play on local television (as resident for the ‘Dance Party’ series).
In the golden era of dance bands (late 1940s to late 1970s), the Pal Joey Lewis Orchestra, with loyal members(, including, for 52 years, until his death in 2009, saxman, George Boucaud), took its place at the top, alongside those led by ‘Sir’ Sel Duncan, Clarence Curvan, the Dutchy (deVlugt) Brothers, and Fitz Vaughn Bryan.
It produced music for and to accompany the costumed masquerade bands on carnival parade days, and worked and recorded with established calypsonians such as the Mighty Sparrow, the Mighty Terror, the Mighty Duke, and soca (or party calypso) pioneer, Lord(later Ras) Shorty, as well as Barbados-born Singing Francine.
And, at a time when radio restricted the airplay of calypsos after carnival (especially in Lent), Joey Lewis’ instrumental versions helped maintain the genre’s profile, and, in the dances, popularity.
He toured North America(, meeting Harry Belafonte and jazz legend, Dizzie Gillespie, in 1964, briefly setting up base in Canada, in the early 1970s), the Caribbean and Europe, won the ‘Brass-o-Rama’ contest(, in which bands rendered instrumental arrangements of calypsos) in the carnival of 1979, and, in 2002, as Trinidad andTobago celebrated 40 years of independence, received a national award (the Humming Bird Medal) for his ‘services in the field of music’.
In all, the Joey Lewis Orchestra issued 83 albums, 142 singles and 12 CDs, (some, early on, for the RCA label) of originals like “ Pint of Wine”, “Bound To Dance” and “Debbie”, and covers (Kris Kristofferson’s “Why My Lord” and the Cuban classic, “Peanut Vendor”, among them), vocalists engaged sparingly; and continued entertaining sold-out audiences and lovers of ballroom dancing across the country all year ‘round to the present.
Clarence Curvan met Joey Lewis in brother, Sonny’s, band, before both went off to form their own. The two teamed up, a few years later, to create JoVan records. Now based in, and working out of New York City, USA, he remembers Joey ” …recommending that promoters hire me, even before I had a record. That…says a lot about his character. We maintained our relationship to the end“.
Another long-standing musician, saxophonist, Roy Cape, leader, from the late 1970s, of the All Stars, that backed calypsonians in the tents, and fetes (parties) but records mostly soca tunes, started with Curvan, after failing a 1961 audition with Lewis. He described him as “…a Rock of Gibraltar…with a huge influence on local music“.
‘Pal’ Joey Lewis ( October 26, 1937- February 8, 2016) leaves to mourn his wife of 52 years, Julia, children, Gerry (part of the orchestra since the 1980s, eventually assuming leadership), Joanne, Charmaine, Debra (about whom “Debbie” was written), Benedict, Judy and Gail, 8 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren, and sister, Jean.
from Sean Edwards, Power102FM, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone is known for exploring various global musical traditions. On his latest album, Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, Stone got together with an impressive cast of musicians and vocalists from North America and other parts of the world to recreate field recordings made by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax throughout his travels.
The music selection includes:
“Lazy John,” a version of an original folk song written by Alan Lomax. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Before This Time another Year,” a Georgia Sea Island song. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on vocals, guitar; Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Mollie O’Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore and Jayme Stone on vocals.
“Shenandoah,” a sea-shanty. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Goodbye, Old Paint,” a folk song. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on vocals, mandolin; Margaret Glaspy on vocals, guitar; Moira Smiley on accordion, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Sheep, Sheep Don’tcha Know the Road,” a work song. Lineup: Moira Smiley, Tim O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, Mollie O’Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone on vocals, handclaps.
“I Want to Hear Somebody Pray,” a song from the Caribbean island of Carriacou. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Tim O’Brien on mandolin, vocals, Mollie O’Brien on vocals, John Magnie on vocals, Martin Gilmore on vocals, Greg Garrison on bass, Alwyn Robinson on drums, Jayme Stone on prepared banjo (Stone used a piece of foam next to the bridge, evoking a West-African ngoni), vocals.
“T-I-M-O-T-H-Y,” a love song from Saint Eustatius, an island in the Dutch Antilles. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on vocals, fiddle; Moira Smiley on vocals, accordion; Margaret Glaspy on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Hog Went through the Fence, Yoke And All,” a fiddle tune from Kentucky. Lineup: Brittany Haas on fiddle, Eli West on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“What Is the Soul Of Man?” a southern song. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Bruce Molsky on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Now Your Man Done Gone,” a prison song by Willie Turner, an inmate at Camp Livingston in Alabama. Lineup: Bruce Molsky on vocals, Margaret Glaspy on vocals.
“The Devil’s Nine Questions,” a Virginia ballad collected by Texas Gladden. Lineup: Moira Smiley, Tim O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, Mollie O’Brien, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone on vocals, body percussion.
“Bury Boula for Me,” a calypso song. Lineup: Drew Gonsalves on vocals, cuatro, Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Nick Fraser on drums, Jayme Stone on banjo
“Susan Anna Gal,” an Appalachian song from North Carolina. Lineup: Eli West on vocals, bouzouki, Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Maids When you’re Young,” a Scottish traveler song. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Eli West on guitar, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Prayer Wheel,” a fishermen song from Virginia. Lineup: Tim O’Brien on guitar, vocals, Moira Smiley, Mollie O’Brien, Margaret Glaspy, John Magnie, Martin Gilmore, Jayme Stone on vocals.
“Old Christmas,” a fiddle tune from Kentucky. Lineup: Bruce Molsky on fiddle, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Julian Lage on guitar, Joe Phillips on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Whoa, Back, Buck,” a Lead Belly ox-driving song. Lineup: Eli West on vocals, guitar, Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Brittany Haas on fiddle, Greg Garrison on bass, Jayme Stone on banjo.
“Lambs on The Green Hills,” a song collected from the English poet Robert Graves. Lineup: Margaret Glaspy on vocals, Julian Lage on guitar.
The CD version includes a 54-page booklet with song notes by Stone, an introduction by music scholar Stephen Wade, and a photo essay by longtime Nonesuch photographer Michael Wilson.
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project contains fascinating recreations of timeless folk songs and melodies.
McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis might never be immortalized in the global annals of female activism, but the feisty woman claiming that formal and somewhat long-winded moniker has certainly made an indelible mark on the history of Caribbean music. Back in 1978, Calypso Rose, as she is widely known, shattered the glass ceiling in Trinidad & Tobago when paradoxically becoming the first of her gender to win the coveted ‘Calypso King’ crown. Organizers of the annual championship were obliged to change the title to ‘Calypso Monarch’, and Rose went on to win the prestigious event for five consecutive years. In recent years, the Tobago-born singer has gone international with her trademark husky vocals, incisive wit and raunchy calypso and up-tempo soca songs.
Now 70 years of age, Calypso Rose revisited her trail-blazing days after being voted the No. 1 calypsonian of Trinidad & Tobago earlier this year. Speaking from New York City, where she has resided for the past three decades, this voluble, irrepressible woman, said: “The calypso scene has changed immensely over the years. It was mostly men back in the early days like Kitchener [Lord Kitchener], The Lion [Roaring Lion], The Sparrow [Mighty Sparrow], Atilla The Hun and Lord Irie. When I came into the arena in 1955, Lady Irie, the wife of Lord Irie, was the only female and she was a senior citizen at that time.”
Despite calypso being a male domain, Calypso Rose, a Baptist minister’s daughter, says she was received “very highly” by audiences in general, but not by church groups, who frowned upon her performing in that milieu. “They called me to meeting after meeting,” she recalls. “They wanted to know how come a young girl like me could be in the calypso tents, singing calypso between all the men. In 1963 I said: ‘Look, I will not be like the five foolish virgins that buried their talent in the soil’. I said: ‘The Lord has given me the ability to write calypso lyrics and create the melody and make the people happy and I will continue doing that until the day I die’, and I got up and I walked out of the room.” Whether by divine intervention or not, it’s a fact that Hurricane Flora devastated the islands of Tobago and Grenada soon after. “I wrote a calypso about the hurricane to sing in the tent in 1964. After every verse I sang ‘Abide With Me’.” After rendering a verse of said hymn down the line from Queens, Rose suggests that may have given her some purchase with the church elders.
As an idiom, calypso currently lives in the shadows but that wasn’t always the case. In 1969 Calypso Rose was on an equal footing with Bob Marley. The Caribbean artists performed together at a New Year’s Eve concert held in the ballroom of the Grand Concourse in New York’s Bronx. “The people went crazy,” Rose recalls. During its heyday in the late ‘50s, Harry Belafonte took calypso to the top of the pop charts with ‘The Banana Boat Song’ (aka ‘Day O’). Calypso Rose, who has written over 800 songs, herself had a major hit in the Caribbean with her signature number ‘Fire in Meh Wire’, which was subsequently recorded in nine different languages, and Bonnie Raitt did a cover version of her ‘Wah She Go Do’. “I was in San Francisco one year performing and she came on stage and sung it with me,” she says. Rose has rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in show business. In 1978 she did a gig with the late Michael Jackson. In Europe she says she has performed to audiences of up to 10,000. Back home, where she’s regarded as a living legend, Rose is a fixture during the annual carnival season in Trinidad & Tobago, playing for many thousands of revellers.
Rooted in social and political commentary, calypso is a music form that puts more emphasis on lyrics than almost any other idiom, and is invariably peppered with patois. Rose has written her share of risqué numbers over the years, but only one overtly political song, ‘The Boat Is Rocking’, which she penned leading up to a crucial local election. One of the songs she’s most proud of, ‘No, Madame’, she wrote when Trinidad & Tobago domestics were working for a paltry $25 a month. “Soon after that song was released, the government voted that no domestic should work for less than $1200 a month.” Rose says that you could sing just about anything in the calypso tents, but the more controversial songs wouldn’t be played on the radio.
She points out that calypso has changed considerably in style over the years and that these days soca, a faster, more dance-orientated variant which places less emphasis on the lyrics, holds sway. “It’s gone from the minor calypso to the four-verse calypso, from the four-line calypso to the eight-line calypso. With the four-verse calypso you’re getting more rhythm. The structure of the bass has been changed and the drumming has been changed too. It’s vastly different now, and I think that is the reason why the Mighty Sparrow and myself are still on the road working because we do soca, although we also do the old-style calypso.”
It was calypso that enabled a 13-year-old McArtha Lewis to overcome a debilitating stammer. “I’ve come a very long way,” she reflects. “I couldn’t speak without stuttering badly back then.” Calypso Rose will forever be proud of the fact that she opened the doors to let other females enter the long-time male preserve of calypso. As she observes: “There are a lot of female calypsonians around these days, not only in Trinidad & Tobago but the whole of the Caribbean and even beyond.”
• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine, for which the author is World/Folk correspondent.
The World Music Institute will present the legendary diva of Caribbean music Calypso Rose on Friday, January 15, 2010 at 8:00 PM at Peter Norton Symphony Space. Calypso Rose, a living legend in the calypso world, has brought her vibrant and irresistible music from her native Tobago to audiences on every continent, becoming one of the premier and most honored ambassadors of Caribbean music.
In a genre traditionally dominated by males, she is the only woman to have captured the Calypso Monarch and Road March titles. In addition to winning the Calypso Queen contest five years in a row, she has written numerous political and women’s rights anthems and the calypso classic Fire In Me Wire. A documentary film, Rose, Calypso Diva, directed by Pascale Obolo will be released in 2010.
This program is made possible in part with public support provided by the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Additional support is provided by American Express.
Peter Norton Symphony Space, Broadway at 95th Street, NYC
$25; students with college ID $18 Box office (212) 864-5400
Info/tickets: (212) 545-7536 http://www.worldmusicinstitute.org
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion