Posted by Michael Eldridge on July 30, 2016
As I start this, the Caribbean Carnival grand parade will be wining down Toronto’s Lake Shore Boulevard for a couple more hours yet, and the Caribana revels continue through tomorrow (Sunday, July 31), so the “post-” in this post’s title is decidedly premature. But I’ve been away for many weeks, seeing exotic sights and enjoying the company of old friends, and now I’ve returned home to stare down the end of summer and face the impending doom of a new academic year. So I’m having a hard time living in the moment.
But it’s a beautiful day in northern coastal California, and I’m furiously procrastinating the things I really ought to be doing. This seems as good a moment as any, then, to catch up on a bunch of random items I’ve been collecting. And actually, the first item is apropos: while I was on the road, Dave De Castro, The Bandit, Caribana’s first kaiso king, finally got a proper obituary—and a good one, at that—from George Haim in The Star.
Another culture-bearer passed while I was away—a true literary giant: Bajan-born Canadian writer Austin Clarke, whose early work imagined the lives of West Indian domestics (and other working-class immigrants) in 1950s Toronto with poignant humor, and whose 2002 novel The Polished Hoe justly won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. (His memoir Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack, a devastatingly hilarious indictment of colonial education, surely carries one of the all-time best titles in literature.) Clarke’s death was noted by The Star, The New York Times, and Pride, among others, while ArtsEtc (Barbados) reprinted a 1998 interview, “Sail On, Prince of Tides.”
Thankfully, many of the elders are still with us, and it’s good to see them going strong—and getting recognition. For instance:
With support from Torontonian Drew Gonsalves (and his band Kobo Town), five-time T&T calypso monarch Calypso Rose has just released a new album, Far From Home, that’s garnering plenty of attention. (See, e.g., this feature story in the London Guardian.) Accompanied by Kobo Town, the Queen will close this year’s WOMEX World Music Expo in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where she will also receive the WOMEX Award. Here’s Rose’s take on Lord Executor’s “They Say I Reign Too Long”:
And 90-year-old pianist Randy Weston, whose West Indian heritage was reflected in early recordings like “Fire Down There” (immortalized a year later as “St. Thomas” by his label-mate Sonny Rollins) and “Little Niles,” was just inducted into DownBeat magazine’s hall of fame. He’s the subject of the August issue’s cover story, and he’s getting ready to go out on tour. NPR’s Jazz Night In America caught him at the 2016 Panama Jazz Festival.
- Old calypso, exhumed and restored: Lovey’s Band, “Oh, Mr. Brown” at Excavated Shellac
- Old calypso, sampled and re-animated: Australian band The Avalanches build their new single, “Frankie Sinatra,” on Houdini’s “Bobby Sox Idol” (Thanks very much to an alert reader for this tip! But what is it with Houdini Down Under?—cf. C. W. Stoneking’s “Brave Son of America“)
- Old calypso, mashed up: “Pimped-up Calypso: Case Studies” (I’ve been meaning for ages to give a shout-out to the excellent new blog by “Lord Investor,” who is on a mission to explain “to the world what’s so good about calypso.” In a distantly related vein, see Carrie Battan’s New Yorker piece about Mixpak Records, “Rhythm Revival“)
Posted in "Bandit" DeCastro, Calypso, Calypso Rose, Canada, Kobo Town, Randy Weston, Toronto | Tagged: Austin Clarke, calypso rose, Caribana, Dave "Bandit" De Castro, kobo town, Lord Investor, Lovey's Band, Randy Weston, The Avalanches, toronto, wilmoth houdini | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Michael Eldridge on July 7, 2013
I’m just back from an eight-day visit to New York City, where I heard plenty of jazz but no calypso. I did have a kaiso encounter in a most unlikely place, though: not on the streets of Crown Heights or at the latest Calypso Rose concert (the New York transplant played Lincoln Center’s “Midsummer Night Swing” on June 29th; I had to miss it), but at a bus stop in leafy Morningside Heights, just two blocks from the gates of Columbia University.
“I Sing Calypso,” announces an amiable-looking, middle-aged, trilby-hatted man identified only as “Peter,” part of an outdoor ad campaign for Healthfirst New York:
The image and the declaration, amplified by the slogan “Plans to Sing About,” also grace the Medicare Advantage page of the Healthfirst website (screenshot below right)—and before you remark that this would not be the first time in the annals of American marketing that some mega-corporation cynically exploited the image of a photogenic black man for a bit of cute faux-populist messaging, let me hasten to add that other Healthfirst print ads and billboards I’ve seen feature people of color from all walks of life, many of them professionals. A bus-stop ad on the next block, for example, had a bespectacled and bestethoscoped black doctor announcing, “I make house calls.”
Granted, the doc got a full name and a title, whereas Peter was just “Peter.” (In other words, the usual honorific inequities of class and education apply.) And given the fact that West Indians make up a big share of the nannies and doormen of the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, not to mention the support staff and maintenance workers of Columbia, one can’t completely rule out the possibility of pandering or condescending. But because Healthfirst is a non-profit that works to provide immigrants and poor & working people of all colors with free and affordable healthcare plans, and because its ads appear throughout the New York metro area, sometimes in Spanish, Russian, and Chinese, I’m not eager, in the absence of a damning exposé, to question its multicultural bona fides.
Healthfirst has certainly gotten its money’s worth out of “Peter,” though. He appeared in an earlier (Fall 2012) ad as “Peter P.” of the South Bronx, and his full identity was divulged in a 2011 press release about Healthfirst’s inaugural “Medicare Member Testimonial” campaign as Mr. Peter Phillips—who, as it happens, really is a calypsonian. (He brought up the rear in a rump competition—”Through the Eye of the Tobago Calypsonian“—held as part of T&T’s Independence Golden Jubilee in 2012.)
No disrespect to Mr. Phillips, then: no doubt he’s earned the right to represent the common man. But maybe Healthfirst would consider approaching his fellow Tobagonian, one McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis, a five-time Calypso Monarch who has also triumphed over a health scare or two in recent years, for an endorsement. Now that would be something to sing about. (“Gimme More…Coverage”!)
Posted in Calypso, Calypso Rose, New York City | Tagged: Calypso, calypso rose, healthfirst, New York City, peter phillips | Leave a Comment »