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 February 16, 2014
Toronto Star, 5 November 1955
I’m long overdue in linking to a pair of impressively researched articles by Kevin Plummer that appeared way back before the holidays, over on the Torontoist blog. Black History Month prompts me to acknowledge them at last.
These days Toronto draws smirks from its southern neighbors for the ongoing freakshow of its deeply troubled mayor. What his yahoo antics belie, and what most Americans don’t know, is that Toronto has long prided itself—with at least some justification—on its tradition of multicultural cosmopolitanism.
Drawing on academic studies and contemporary newspapers, Plummer, um, plumbs the central role of calypso in the social life of Toronto’s small West Indian community during the 1950s and 60s. By so thoroughly documenting calypso in nightclubs, house parties, social clubs, after-hours clubs, and fêtes, “Sounds of Home” (Part 1 | Part 2) complements the creative work of authors like Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand, and Lawrence Hill in evoking a formative period in Black Canadian life.
Here’s Plummer on CANEWA’s first “Calypso Carnival” (see photo, left):
In 1955, the Canadian Negro Women’s Association (CNWA), formed a few years earlier with the goal of increasing the black community’s visibility, staged a more formal celebration of Caribbean music and culture called the Calypso Carnival. It was an overt attempt to foster a sense of common community between the club’s mostly middle-class and Canadian-born membership and the newly arrived domestic workers. An immediate success in its first year—organizers had to turn people away at the door—the Calypso Carnival was an annual event until 1964.
Each year a local community hall was transformed into a lively tropical atmosphere with decorations, a bazaar selling goods imported from the West Indies, and a buffet that included curried goat, mango chutney, fricassee chicken, codfish, ackee, sweet potato coconut pie, and other Caribbean foods. There was limbo dancing and entertainers could be local Torontonians, like Jamaican-born calypso singer Lord Power, or international, like the Duke of Iron.
Growing into one of the largest events in Toronto’s black community, the Calypso Carnival was attended by upwards of 4,000 people some years, earned a fair amount of media attention—a rarity at the time for the black population—and raised money for a scholarship fund.
Full disclosure: I first learned of Plummer’s articles when he linked to my 2009 piece on Lord Caresser in Montreal. So as long as I’m back-handedly blowing my own horn (ouch!), I’ll just mention my posts on postwar West Indian immigrants, student calypsonians, and “Bandit” DeCastro, which also fill in one or two crannies in Plummer’s work. And because I’ve never found any other excuse to use it, I’ll take this opportunity to post the following ad (from the Globe and Mail‘s August 13, 1958 edition) for a football match between Toronto and what was very briefly my home town, Hamilton. Even in 1958, I don’t think you’d have seen that kind of half-time show in Texas…
Posted in Calypso, Canada, Toronto, Uncategorized | Tagged: Black Canadians, Black History Month, Calypso, CANEWA, Hamilton Ti-Cats, toronto, West Indians | Leave a Comment »