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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for the ‘Ice Hockey’ Category

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 »

    A Life of Craft–er, Mass-Market–Beer and Calypso. And Hockey. Oh, and Curling.

    Posted by Michael Eldridge on May 3, 2010

    Department of Contorted Rationales:  let’s say that with two weeks officially left of my sabbatical, I’m still in Canada in spirit.  The Habs are all tied up with the Penguins in the latest round of the NHL playoffs (has anyone thought to tell the National Hockey League that IT’S MAY?!?).  The franchise is once again the property of the Molson family, whose multinational megacorp is now known as Molson Coors, thank you very much—though they’ve made a big show of emphasizing their “heritage” and retaining “Molson Canadian” as their flagship beer.  And Google News Archive has thoughtfully offered up one more utterly unlikely point of connection between two of my favorite subjects.  (For the first one, see “A Life of Craft Beer and Calypso.”)

    This has to be one of the most inexplicable print ads I’ve ever seen.  Emphasis on “print”: all words, no pix—not even a tiny logo hiding in a corner somewhere.  Unless you read it all the way through, you wouldn’t even realize it was an ad.  Oh sure, that might not strike you as all that remarkable if I’d pulled the thing out of last month’s, I dunno, Wired: these days, sophisticated modern marketers are always experimenting with edgy, ironic, anti-ad ads. But this one’s over a half-century old:

    Mahd for Molson's

    Montreal Gazette, 15 April 1954, p. 4

    O-kayyy…Let’s overlook the stage-West Indian ahccent and the religio-geographic confusion.  (The Trinidadian version of Yoruba Orisha-based religion was more commonly known as Shango, though the folk practices of Obeah also derive from some of the same sources.)  Keep in mind that as far as I know, Molson’s, unlike some other prominent Canadian companies—Alcan, Sun Life Insurance—did not have an especially big presence in the Caribbean and had not otherwise established any relationship with West Indian culture at home or abroad.  In 1954, in fact, there was no real reason to do so: Belafonte was not yet a household name; the Calypso Craze was more than two years off; even Princess Margaret’s “Calypso Tour” of the Caribbean, which got mad press in Canada (and the rest of the English-speaking world), wouldn’t happen till the following year.  A Trinidad steelband, the Dixie Stars, would feature prominently that summer at the Canadian National Exhibition, but that was August, four months away.  Really, the only West Indian of note to have established a beachhead in Canada was Lord Caresser, and in 1954, his days on the CBC and at Rockhead’s Paradise both past, he was apparently off on a tour in Europe.  (He’d be back in Montreal clubs by 1955.)  Sure, more and more Canadian tourists were jetting off to the Caribbean by this point, but were there enough of them “Mahd about Trinidahd” to give an ad like this any kind of currency?  It’s a mystery.

    Molson's and curling (not calypso)

    At right is another Molson’s ad from the same period that plays up a much more typical association, with one of those pastimes that even in 2010 made Canada the butt of Olympic jokes on American late-night TV.

    Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, the heyday of the Canadian “stubby” bottle, my brother and his family lived for several years just outside of Sarnia, Ontario.  This period also coincided with the dark ages of American beer, a decade or so before the dawn of the microbrewing renaissance.  And so whenever we went for visits, it was with great anticipation that we would make a pilgrimage to what was then known as Brewer’s Retail, the slightly creepy, bare-walled, government-licensed beer store, to acquire a case or two of exotic Molson’s Canadian, or Stock Ale, or Export, or Brador, all of which counted as tasty, characterful alternatives (relatively speaking) to the pallid swill that passed for beer on our side of the Blue Water Bridge.  Nowadays, the True North’s mass-market brands vie with their American cousins for the title of coldest, “lightest,” and blandest.  (Or just as often, they’ve ended the contest by merging with their Stateside competition, and/or with some other global brewing gargantua.  They got themselves some spiffy new-old graphic design as part of the bargain, however.)  Thankfully, craft brewing is thriving in Canada, too.  So keep your Molson’s; make mine a Lug Tread, or a Dead Elephant, or a Steam Whistle, or a 10W30, or a Granite Best Bitter Special, or a Black Oak Pale, or a Black Irish Plain Porter, or a Wellington Iron Duke, or a Church Key Holy Smoke, or a…you get the idea.  But Go Habs!

    Posted in Beer, Calypso, Ice Hockey | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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