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Focus on: Calypso
The words of calypso songs are witty, humorous, and often risqué. Often involving social or political commentary in satirical form, the lyrics are characterized by arbitrary shifts in the accentuation of everyday English words. The infectious Calypso music is set in duple meter (2 beats to the bar).
Historically, Calypso can be traced back to the arrival of African slaves on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the British had began to take control of most of the French West Indian Islands, causing many French planters to migrate to Trinidad (which at this time was still under the rule of the Spanish), bringing their many slaves with them.
The French established themselves as aristocracy on the island and put their slaves to work in their plantations. As a result, when the Spanish surrendered the island to the British in 1797 much of the population was French-speaking.
The slaves would sing while they worked, a way to keep their spirits up and to communicate with each other, since they were forbidden to talk. Their songs had their origins in kaiso music of western Africa.
Following the abolition of abolition of slavery in the 1830s calypso became popular as the music of Carnival in Trinidad, with Calypso competitions being a premier aspect of the celebrations. Originally sung in a French-Creole dialect (or Patois), by the end of the nineteenth century many Calypsos were sung in English.
In 1912 the first recording of calypso music was made when a song called 'Manuelita' by Lovey's Trinidad String Band was recorded by the Victor Gramophone Company of New York.
American servicemen who were stationed in Trinidad during the Second World War helped to popularize Calypso in the United States, and in the 1940s Calypso began to impact on the American pop charts. In 1956 Harry Belafonte's 'Calypso' album become the first gramophone LP to sell over 1 million copies and sat atop the Billboard charts for 31 weeks. Its biggest hit was 'The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)', which has become known all over the world and is probably the most famous example of Calypso known today.
Another important Calypso song released in 1956 was The Mighty Panther's 'Jean and Dinah', celebrating the departure of US troops from Trinidad. This song inspired a wealth of new politically-charged Calypso which became aligned with the People's National Movement party and was influential in Trinidad gaining independence from Britain in 1962.
In the 1970s a new types of music called Soca emerged, a combination of Calypso music with Indian rhythms, and took over as the dominant music of Carnival. Today Calypso's influence can be heard in other music of the Caribbean, such as Reggae & Rapso.