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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for the ‘Lord Caresser’ Category

Clear the Way for Caresser’s J’ouvert

Posted by Michael Eldridge on March 2, 2014

rockheads-caresser-cropLord Caresser isn’t known for his carnival tunes.  Sure, there’s “Carnival Is We Bacchanal” and “Clear the Way When the Bamboo Play,” and maybe even “Hold Your Hand, Madame Khan”—fine tunes, all of them, though as road marches go, they don’t have the legs of a “Matilda” or a “Mary Ann” or a “Don’t Stop the Carnival.”  And that’s okay: Caresser’s strong suit, after all, is the playboy boast.  (Besides, anybody who pens a classic like “Edward the VIII” has a secure spot in the kaiso pantheon.)  But when you’re looking for a leggo, you go to King Radio, not the King of Hearts.

Still, there’s one other carnival calypso buried in the trove of Caresser typescripts at Library and Archives Canada that’s worth a listen.  (Well, a look, technically; there’s no lead sheet, so we have to imagine the melody.)  And as it’s Carnival Weekend—even now, I’m struggling to watch Panorama finals in 15-second bursts over CarnivalTV.net’s hammered servers—I thought I’d share it.

It exists in two versions, with two different choruses and two different titles—”Carnival at Maraval” and “Jour Ouvert Morning”—and there are no clues as to its date of composition, although an apparent allusion to pan implies postwar.  (Unlike many others in the collection, which came from George Robertson, Caresser’s producer at the CBC in the late 1940s, it’s not a topical number on a Canadian subject, so it doesn’t necessarily derive from Caresser’s time in Montreal.  It may not even be his own work, for all I know, and I’d be glad for anyone who can set me straight on that point.)  As the first title would suggest, the tune is about the singer’s visit to Maraval for carnival—Christmas Day or Boxing Day, respectively, not Shrovetide—where it turns out those creole bumpkins really know how to play mas!  The city-slicker’s enthusiastic impressions fall back on a number of hackneyed tropes: music that drives you mad, old ladies who exclaim in patois, colorful locals with eccentric names.  But they also include some genuinely striking evocations of the procession’s rustic charms:

The drums and the tin-pan
Beat back any modern string band
The greeter [sic] and the dust-bin
Ten times sweeter than a violin
The pieces of iron nearly made me groan
Making more notes than a saxaphone

Even the chauvinistic wink that rounds off the lyric (those Maraval girls…am I right?) is built around an original juxtaposition of refined and rude: “The City girls they are full of bliss/But the Country girls got the stupidness.”  

Anyway, as visions of bacchanalian oblivion go, this one is almost pastoral.  Makes me want to join that fête.  

Revelers: on J’ouvert morning, I’m sure you won’t need Caresser’s “Martiniquan woman” from Maraval to remind you that “wee, ebien wee, jourdwee say fete.”  But maybe you can find a melody for his chorus:

Mama mama
If you hear me die, don’t cry
Don’t cry, but let the anthem swing
Clear the way on Jour Ouvert Morning

xmasday1908

Posted in Calypso, Carnival, Library & Archives, Lord Caresser, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Burgundy Jazz (and Calypso)

Posted by Michael Eldridge on February 28, 2014

Just a quick shout-out on this last day of February to the CBC, which (in honor of Black History Month) put together a fantastic web documentary called “Burgundy Jazz: Life and Music in Little Burgundy.”  In 13 short segments, it surveys an important aspect of the social and cultural history of Montreal, one of the outstanding centers of jazz in the 20th century.  The website features brilliant design: high-definition video is front and center, but for each segment you can open (as an opaque pop-up) a photo gallery, a supplemental audio file or two, and a video extra.  (For inhabitants of the Apple-verse, there’s also a companion iBook and iPhone app.)  Luckily, the snazzy form is all about foregrounding the spectacular content: “Burgundy Jazz” features pithy history, smart interviews, and fantastic archival photos and film footage.

CBC Music’s blog links to the series Intro.  It’s worth watching all thirteen episodes from start to finish; they clock in at between 3 and 10 minutes each.  But if you’re in a hurry, start with Chapter 1, “Trains and Porters,” about the rise of Montreal’s St. Antoine neighborhood (a/k/a “Little Burgundy”), which in the early decades of the 20th century became home to the city’s tight-knit black community.  Many—most?—of that population’s early members were of West Indian origin, including Jamaican-born Rufus Rockhead, a former railroad porter and bootlegger who as proprietor of Montreal’s first black-owned nightclub grew to be one of Little Burgundy’s legendary figures.  Rockhead and his club are the subject of Chapter 9, “Rockhead’s Paradise.”

Many of the Canadian jazz musicians who gigged at Rockhead’s and other local spots during Little Burgundy’s heyday—pianist “Steep” Wade, for instance—were themselves West Indian by birth; others, like Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, had West Indian parents.  But Rockhead’s most celebrated Caribbean entertainer wasn’t a jazz musician at all: for three solid years, from 1949 to 1952, the calypsonian Lord Caresser was a fixture in the downstairs bar.  (See my “Caresser in Canada.”)

A screenshot from Episode 9 of "Burgundy Jazz," featuring Louis Jaques's iconic 1951 photo from the Montreal Evening Standard of Lord Caresser performing at Rockheads Paradise

A screenshot from Episode 9 of “Burgundy Jazz,” featuring Louis Jaques’s iconic 1951 photo from the Montreal Evening Standard of Lord Caresser performing at Rockhead’s Paradise

I happen to know that CBC Radio has a number of other items locked away in its Toronto archives—including an episode of Lord Caresser’s radio show (which ran on the service’s national and international networks between 1946 and 1948)—that shed light on mid-century Black Canada.

  • “Another Man’s Country,” a 1959 documentary written and hosted by lawyer and activist Violet King, interviews participants in the West Indian “Domestic Scheme” about their experiences in Canada.
  • A “Wednesday Night” broadcast from 1958 is given over to discussion, readings, and performances by West Indian writers Jan Carew, Errol John, Sylvia Wynter, George Lamming, Edgar Mittelholzer, V.S. Naipaul and Sam Selvon.  (A 45-minute roundtable discussion among the seven is moderated by a young Stuart Hall.)
  • Various segments of “Assignment” from 1957-1960 note the rise (and fall) of the Calypso Craze, report on music and dance traditions from Trinidad (with help, in one instance, from Dot Evans and the March of Dimes quartet), speak with a Jamaican social-work graduate in Toronto, drop in on the Beryl McBurnie dance troupe’s visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and interview Eric Armstrong, owner of Toronto’s “Calypso Club.”

It’s great stuff, and it ought to be heard.  Let’s hope that “Burgundy Jazz” signals the start of an effort to dust off some of the many other resources related to Black Canadian history that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has in its vaults.  If not, well…independent researchers might have to exploit the fact that most of this material was produced under Crown copyright.  And Crown copyright, unlike the infinitely extended copyrights that are damaging the public sphere in the U.S. (and now Europe), quite sensibly expires after 50 years.  So all of the programs I mentioned above, for instance, are in the public domain.  Kudos on “Burgundy Jazz,” CBC.  Next?

Posted in Calypso, CBC, Jazz, Lord Caresser, Rockhead's Paradise, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Caresser Hails Saint Nick

Posted by Michael Eldridge on November 23, 2013

I was so busy futzing with Pinterest last Saturday that I completely missed Toronto’s famous Santa Claus Parade.  (Easy to do when you live in California.)  But I see I’m not too late for Montreal’s, which happens today, November 23d—and that’s just as well, since Montreal, not Toronto, is where Lord Caresser resided for almost three decades.

Caresser isn’t known for his road marches, but from the simple chorus below, which sounds an awful lot like “Jump in the Line,” I’d guess that this calypso was meant to be sung while parading, or at least to capture the parade’s cadences.  During his early years in the True North, the Roving Lad put into song many of his impressions of quaint Canadian customs, especially the hibernal ones.  (Cf. “Thanksgiving Day,” “Winter Shopping,” “Skiing,” “The Hockey League,” etc.)  At least he didn’t have to figure out what to say about “Zwarte Piet!”

Library and Archives Canada, George Robertson Fonds.

Lord Caresser, “Santa Clauz [sic] Parade,” ca. 1946. Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12.

Posted in Calypso, Canada, Lord Caresser, Montreal | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

You say “Columbus Day,” Canada says “Thanksgiving”

Posted by Michael Eldridge on October 14, 2013

Claude McKay

That excellent web-aggregator of all things Caribbean, Repeating Islands, (re-)posted Claude McKay’s “America” today, presumably as a kind of sideways acknowledgement of Columbus Day.  Indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere have special reason to be dubious about the U.S. national holiday, but the Mighty Shadow wasn’t the first West Indian wordsmith to note that the voyage that inaugurated the European invasion of the Americas also led to the enslavement and scattering of Africans.  McKay’s ambivalent sonnet conveys both pride and chagrin about the dread history—and future—to which he belongs as a Jamaican émigré in New York:

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!

Meanwhile, north of the border, our Canadian cousins choose to give generic thanks rather than lionize the original Illegal Alien.  (Columbus’s “authority was a cocked hat,” sings Shadow, “and his passport was violence.”)  Although Canada has its own shameful history vis-à-vis First Nations people, at least its Thanksgiving holiday isn’t whitewashed in a mendacious myth of inter-ethnic amity.  A few years back, I quoted a snippet of Lord Caresser’s “Thanksgiving Day,” composed when he himself was a fresh immigrant to Canada.  Here it is in full.  Caresser’s congratulations to his hosts on their talent for epicurean excess are perhaps only slightly ironic:

Lord Caresser, "I Dream of Lena Horne" (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

Lord Caresser, “Thanksgiving Day” (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

Posted in Canada, Claude McKay, Columbus Day, Lord Caresser, Shadow, Thanksgiving | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Adding laurels to your country’s fame

Posted by Michael Eldridge on October 6, 2012

Charles Roach

Human rights lawyer and community beacon Charles Roach (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press)

This week, Toronto’s West Indian community has been remembering the life and work of veteran civil rights activist Charles Roach, who died Tuesday at age 79.  By all accounts a lovely and elegant man—and a tenacious and eloquent campaigner for racial and social justice—the Trinidad native was also a driving force in the development of Caribana.  (I previously mentioned Roach in connection with his efforts to abolish Canada’s loyalty oath to the British monarch.)

Canadians also marked the passing on September 30th of figure-skating legend Barbara Ann Scott, a national icon in the late 1940s and early 50s.  In her peak year of 1948, “Canada’s Sweetheart” was a repeat national, European, and World champion; Olympic gold medalist in the ladies’ singles competition; and subject of a Time magazine cover story.

And of a calypso by Lord Caresser.  By March 1948, Caresser was near the end of a two-year tenure as the star of his own weekly radio show on the CBC.  (See “Caresser in Canada” and “Student Calypsonians in Canada.”)  He had probably composed his “Ode to Barbara Ann Scott” on the occasion of her triumphant return to her birthplace of Ottawa in 1947, when thousands came out to celebrate Scott’s championships and present her with the key to the city.  But of course it would have made perfect sense to dust off the “Ode” for a second round of parades and ceremonies after Scott’s Olympic triumph in 1948—which is precisely what Caresser did for his broadcast of March 3d, adapting a stanza as part of his “Weekly News” feature:

http://shopping.redwoodjazzalliance.org/mp3s/yankeedollar/barbara_ann_scott.mp3

Ode to Barbara Ann Scott

Photo: Skate Canada.  Text: Lord Caresser, “An Ode to Barbara Ann Scott.” From Calypso! (1951 self-published promotional booklet).

(The audio excerpt from the March 3, 1948 broadcast of “The Lord Caresser Show” is in the public domain. Its copyright has expired because it was created under Crown copyright and first published more than 50 years ago.  The copyright to “An Ode to Barbara Ann Scott” is held by the heirs of Rufus Callender, and the work is reproduced by their kind permission.)

Posted in Barbara Ann Scott, Canada, Charles Roach, Lord Caresser | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fatherless Child

Posted by Michael Eldridge on June 17, 2012

There are all kinds of fathers in the world.  After playing the role for nine years myself, I know how easy it is to fall short of every possible paternal ideal.  And after losing my own dad last fall (he stayed strong and healthy before cancer finally caught up with him at age 96), I also know how hard it is to get your progenitor out of your head.

Lord Caresser (Rufus Callender) wasn’t exactly a model family man: he sired children in several countries, and eventually, an increasingly disturbed soul, he walked away from his wife and sons in Montreal.  It seems that he, too, was haunted by the specter of his father—in his case, a father he barely knew.  Born in Venezuela, Caresser was raised, like plenty of West Indians, by strong women.  His mother reportedly died when he was four years old, at which point he was shipped back to Trinidad to live with a grandmother and, later, an aunt.  But his dad remained an enigma, a blank figure whose anonymity Caresser explored in an uncharacteristically autobiographical calypso from the mid-1940s:

Caresser, "I Ain't Got No Papa"

Lord Caresser, “I Ain’t Got No Papa” (ca. 1945).  Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

As a meditation on Caribbean colonial identity, Caresser’s lyric is right up there with Atilla the Hun’s “No Nationality” (or even George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin).  But as an expression of the sense of orphanhood we feel when our folks are gone, it’s more poignant still.  “I would like to behold him with my eyes….”  Me, too.

Posted in Lord Caresser | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Hip Hooray for de Gracious Queen

Posted by Michael Eldridge on June 5, 2012

Tibor Kalman, "Colors 4 (Race)"

Tibor Kalman, Black Queen Elizabeth. From Colors 4 (Race), 1993. ©M&Co.

Charles Roach

Charles Roach (photo: Colin O’Connor for the National Post)

With all the hoopla this week surrounding Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee, it’s worth remembering that there are plenty of folks throughout her dominions who aren’t celebrating (or who, like Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, just aren’t happy being someone else’s “minion”).  In the Dominion of Canada, for example, veteran civil rights activist Charles Roach has long sought to alter that country’s Citizenship Oath, which requires new citizens to swear allegiance to the British monarch (who is technically the Canadian head of state).  Because of his refusal to take such a pledge, the Trini-born Roach, who has lived in Canada since 1955, remains a permanent resident rather than a citizen.  Although his legal challenges to the oath were rejected by a federal appeals court in 1994 and by the Ontario Superior Court in 2007, Roach, a member of the bar since 1963, is now once again arguing its constitutionality before the provincial court.

A story about this latest round in his fight (which he’s effectively conducting from his sickbed, battling cancer and stroke at the same time) appeared last Wednesday in the right-wing National Post—and immediately drew a handful of hair-raising comments from unreconstructed Monarchists and United Empire Loyalists suggesting that if they don’t like it in Canada, Roach and the rest of “these immigrants” ought to go back to the “hell holes” they came from.

In spite of its much-vaunted multiculturalism, Canada has a history of such bigotry, state-sponsored as well as petulant and personal (see “Domesticating the West Indies in Canada,” Part 1 and Part 2).  If immigrants insist on coming, some Canadians have felt, then it would be much more tolerable if they would just shut up and wave their flag (Union Jack, not Maple Leaf).

That sentiment, as I discovered when I was researching the history of Lord Caresser (Rufus Callender) in Canada (see “Caresser in Canada,” “My Visit to Ottawa,” and “Canada So Cold“), extended to calypsonians, too.  Here’s a relevant excerpt from my essay “Calypso’s Cosmopolitan Strategy“:

Hip Hooray for Liz

Toronto Daily Star, 28 November 1953

…To begin with, Canadians had long delighted in noting what they regarded as West Indians’ touching loyalty to the British monarchy, especially as expressed in calypso.  A newsreel in the collection of Canada’s National Library shows Prince Edward being saluted by “calypso dancers” on his 1925 tour of the Caribbean.  In 1939, a Canadian Press newswire story in the Toronto Star remarked that six months on, the calypsonians then in residence at “Manhattan’s smartest night clubs” were still “singing sprightly ballads to rhumba-like rhythms about the [recent North American] visit of the King and Queen,” and it approvingly cited a sample stanza: “The charming, gracious, and smiling Queen, / Is the prettiest woman I have ever seen. / She was dress in an outfit of blue, / And wave to the crowd as the car drove through.”  (A similar notice in late 1953 marking Elizabeth’s first visit to the Caribbean jovially quoted from the calypso that greeted her arrival in Jamaica, “Hip Hooray for de Gracious Queen.”)

These dispatches were nothing, however, compared to the flood of coverage that accompanied Princess Margaret on her month-long circuit of the Caribbean in 1955—the “Calypso Tour,” as it came to be known throughout the English-speaking world.  All of Canada’s major newspapers featured front-page stories replete with lavish photo spreads and maps of Margaret’s itinerary, beginning in the run-up to her arrival and continuing well past her return.  “Trinidad’s Steel Bands Prepare for Princess,” shouted a headline in the Globe and Mail on January 31:  “Each band hopes to win approval and be chosen to play for the Princess.”  Indeed, claimed the Toronto Star, the “happy natives” of Trinidad, particularly its “colorfully garbed native dancers,” had been anxiously preparing for her visit for months.  Meanwhile, the Globe divulged, “Calypso writers have already produced a torrent of words extolling the virtues of the Royal visitor,” and one, the Mighty Panther (Vernon Roberts), had been chosen to “put his message across personally at a carnival in the grounds of Government House.”  (The paper reproduced the entire text of Panther’s laudatory lyrics in the next day’s edition.)

Calypso’s wartime displays of loyalty to Crown and Empire came in for special treatment.  A plummy profile of Caresser in the entertainment weekly Applause tried to establish his patriotic bona fides with the spurious claim that he had served in the army, entertaining the troops—British, American, or West Indian, it wasn’t clear.  “Many a soldier who blithely ignored the printed V.D. notices was sent scurrying to the medico by Caresser’s warbled warnings,” it grinned, “and the progress of the war was duly noted [by Caresser] in numbers such as ‘Hitler and the Rich Ukraine,’ [and] ‘Watch Out, Japan.’”[1]

"Subaltern" Mary Churchill

Globe and Mail, 21 August 1943

But it was a front-page, above-the-fold photo in the Globe and Mail in the summer of 1943 that truly spotlighted West Indians’ devotion to their martial Mother Country.  A teaser for a two-column story on the paper’s Women’s page, the picture illustrated a visit to Canada by servicewoman Mary Churchill (daughter of Winston), and featured a smiling, down-to-earth Churchill “[singing] calypso songs” amidst a group of dark-skinned Barbadian volunteers at the Auxiliary Territorial Services basic training camp in Kitchener, Ontario.  The photo-op with the West Indians, who accounted for precisely forty-seven of the camp’s 1000 trainees, was framed as the centerpiece of the story, which climaxed with the “girls” (including “Subaltern” [!] Churchill) in an impromptu performance of one of their “native” songs, clear evidence of their childlike trust in the Great White Mother:

There was a moment of shyness on the part of [the] girls from the British West Indies…when Miss Churchill appeared on the scene.  But when she sat on the grass, gathering them around her and chattering as naturally as if she knew each one, they were soon laughing hard and telling her all about themselves….

When Ptc. M. K. Evelyn from the Barbados sang a native calypso, Miss Churchill joined in the chorus heartily.  “It’s simply marvelous!” she said, clapping her hands.  “I wish we could have had a recording of it!”[2]


[1] Hughes, Betty. “We Meet the Lord….” “Chez Montreal” column.  Applause February 1947: 18.
[2] Tupper, Jan. “Keeping Pace With Father Easy, Says Mary Churchill.” Globe and Mail 21 August 1943: 10.  The story’s bad faith is compounded by the wartime files of the Immigration Branch at Library and Archives Canada, which are filled with hundreds of rejected applications by West Indian men who wished to come to Canada and train with the armed services.  “[T]he Royal Canadian Air Force hesitates to encourage [Applicant X] to make the long and expensive trip from Port of Spain, Trinidad, in view of the possibility that he may either fail to qualify for enlistment or that his enlistment cannot be effected as a result of the requirements being filled,” went a typically mealy-mouthed reply to a query on an aspiring serviceman’s behalf.  “If [X] should decide to come to Canada [to a Recruiting Centre], the journey must be made at his own expense with no assurance that he will be accepted into the Royal Canadian Air Force…” (RG 76, File 471, Item 721432).

  • See also Gordon Rohlehr on “Calypso and the Ideology of Empire” (pp. 182-6) and “World War II and Its Aftermath” (esp. pp. 316-355) in Calypso & Society in Pre-Independence Trinidad, as well as Ray Funk’s discussion of “reverential” royal-themed calypsos in his “In the Battle for Emergent Independence” in Anthurium 3.2 (2005).
  • Listen to Young Tiger’s “I Was There (at the Coronation)” and Beginner’s “Queen Elizabeth Calypso.”
  • An interview with Charles Roach aired on the the June 4th edition of the CBC’s Connect with Mark Kelley.  (Move the slider to 47:09.)

Posted in Canada, Charles Roach, Citizenship Oath, Immigration Policy, Library & Archives, Lord Caresser, Mary Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, Racism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Giving Thanks for an American Calypso Pioneer

Posted by Michael Eldridge on November 26, 2010

Wilmouth Houdini, "Harlem Seen Through Calypso Eyes"

The first anniversary of this blog came and went unmarked, and I blame it on Ray Funk, who’s been cracking the whip to get me to finish editing his manuscript for the book portion of a planned “Calypso Craze” box set for Bear Family records.  (I’m working as fast as I can, Ray!)  On a wee-hours-of-the-morning break from these labors—my way of making lemonade from the lemons of post-Thanksgiving Day insomnia—I discovered, courtesy of the “On This Day in Jazz Age Music” blog, that I’d just missed another anniversary:  the birthday of Wilmoth Houdini, who was supposedly born on November 25th, 1895 in Port of Spain.  (He rests in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.)

Houdini himself wrote some fine calypsos about food (cf. “Hot Dogs Made Their Name”), but I’ll commemorate his birthday with an excerpt from Caresser’s calypso “Thanksgiving,” written in Canada in the late 1940s:

From early morn till evening
It was real rejoicing and feasting
[…]
I couldn’t even walk talk nor dance
I ate until I fell into a trance.

CHORUS: So much to drink so much to eat
I wish they keep it three times a week

I love my food-centered holidays, but once a year’s enough for me, thanks.  Now if you’ll excuse me: I’m going to take some Alka-Seltzer and get back to work.  (Soon come, Ray!)

Posted in Canada, Lord Caresser, Ray Funk, Thanksgiving, Wilmouth Houdini | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The King of Hearts Dreams of Lena Horne

Posted by Michael Eldridge on May 10, 2010

I Dream of Lena Horne

Lord Caresser, "I Dream of Lena Horne" (1947). Library and Archives Canada: George Robertson Fonds, Container 24, File 12

Posted in Lena Horne, Lord Caresser | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Hockey, Lovely Hockey

Posted by Michael Eldridge on May 8, 2010

Victory Test MatchThere’s a venerable tradition of calypsos about cricket.  It stretches from the glory years of Calypso Cricket, when the Windies dominated the sport and David Rudder exorted the region to “Rally Round,” back through Relator’s 1972 “Gavaskar,” Lord Beginner’s “Victory Test Match” (a/k/a “Cricket Lovely Cricket”) and Lord Kitchener’s “Alec Bedser Calypso” (both from 1950), all the way to paeans to Learie Constantine by Caresser (1939) and Beginner (1928).

(King Radio, “We Want Ramadin on the Ball,” ca. 1952 – from Juneberry 78s)

Cricket plays a huge part in Caribbean identity.  One of the 20th century’s foremost intellectuals, the Trinidadian C.L.R. James, was famous among other things for his cricket journalism; his Beyond a Boundary, which Rudder’s calypso namechecks, is a landmark in West Indian thought.  All of the calypsos I’ve cited, and more besides, are generally fairly straightforward tributes to teams and individuals, though Rudder also takes James’s point that “[t]his is more than just cricket.”  I suppose that any attempt to explain the subject’s enduring popularity in calypso, however, should at least nod to the fact that bowling and batting present a wealth of metaphorical opportunities for boastful males to describe their technique in another, more universal, human endeavor.

In 1950, both Kitch and Beginner were based in England, and that’s where, at about the same time, bandleader Edmundo Ros started a vogue for calypsos about soccer with 1953’s “Exotic Football Calypso,” which was followed closely by Trini expat Edric Connor‘s “Manchester United Calypso.”  (Nowadays any English professional football team worth its cleats has its own calypso.)

Back in the 1930s and 40s there were any number of calypsos written about boxer Joe Louis, and there may even have been one or two homages to baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson.  But with the Habs still alive in the playoffs (as I write, the series is tied at 2), I’ll wager that Lord Caresser is the only bona fide Trinidadian calypsonian to have composed a tune about ice hockey.

Actually Caresser wrote about all sorts of winter sports during his time in Canada.  One of his most requested tunes was his “Ode to Barbara Ann Scott,” the Canadian Olympic figure skater.   (“You are a Skating Queen of the Ice / And, what is nice, you proved it twice / Adding laurels to your Country’s fame / Perpetuating its illustrious name.”)  His firsthand accounts of experiences with hibernal pastimes, however, are rather more equivocal.  Here’s the conclusion to his skiing misadventure in the Laurentians, for example (“Skiing”):

Constance found me trembling
From the shock I was just recovering
My  feet she tried to untangle
I was all wrapped up like a cross word puzzle
Struggling under cramping pain
I crawled and creeped until I reached the train
And swore never again in life to ski
Not if the snow on the mountains turned currency.

About hockey, he at least forced himself, after sitting through a professional match, to finish on an obligingly commendatory note:  “Cricket is really my favorite game,” he reminds us, just to reinforce his West Indian bona fides, “But from now on, hockey is my middle name / […] / For hockey today as it really stands / Should be supported by all the sporting fans.”   The bulk of “The Hockey League,” though, elaborates his discomfited surprise at what a brutal sport the fastest game on earth turns out to be—”naked war,” he calls it.  “If it wasn’t for the referees,” goes the chorus’s final couplet, “They would surely kill the goalies.”  Caresser’s sons, good French Canadians, grew up Black Iceplaying hockey, and as George and Darril Fosty’s Black Ice shows, the few dozen players of African descent who have made it into the NHL over the past 50 years or so are hardly the first black men to put on skates and pass around the puck.  (And given that the scene the Fostys document was centered around Halifax, it seems likely that at least some of those players, in later years, anyway, were West Indian.)  I didn’t ask his sons, and they didn’t say, whether, after watching the Habs’ choreographed brawl, Caresser was ever moved to grab a stick and get on the ice himself….

_______________________________

Further Reading /Listening:
  • Calypso Cricket Lyrics (West Indies Players Association)
  • Gordon Rohlehr, “Calypso, Cricket, and West Indian Cricket: Era of Dominance” (Anthurium 6:1 [Spring 2008])
  • Martin Williamson, “Those two little pals of mine...ESPN CricInfo 24 June 2006
  • Douglas Midgett, “Cricket and Calypso: Cultural Representation and Social History in the West Indies” (Sport in Society 6:2 [2003]), rpt. in  J.A. Mangan and Andrew Ritchie, eds., Ethnicity, Sport, Identity: Struggles for Status (New York: Routledge, 2005)
  • Hilary McD. Beckles, The Development of West Indian Cricket: The Age of Nationalism (London: Pluto, 1998)
  • Claire Westall, “‘This thing goes beyond the boundary’: cricket, calypso, the Caribbean and their heroes.”  In Antony Bateman and John Bale, eds., Sporting Sounds: Relationships Between Sport and Music (New York: Routledge, 2009)
  • Lord Kitchener, “The Ashes
  • Brothers Christefor & Batson, “Dividing of the Cricket Spoils
  • Posted in Calypso, Cricket, Ice Hockey, Lord Caresser | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

     
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