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date: 11 December 2019

Calypsolocked

  • Jan Fairley

Extract

A style of music, dance and song of the southern and eastern Caribbean. Its main development has been in Trinidad alongside the evolution of Carnival celebrations there. Its origins go back to the gayup, a West African work song brought to the West Indies by plantation slaves, with a call and response structure and a lead singer called a chantwell (chantuelle, shantrelle, shantwell). When sung at competitive events the gayup often had two sections, the first celebrating victory and the second pouring scorn on the losers; both features are still found in calypso performances, as is the call of ‘kaiso’, a West African cry of encouragement (the word cayso was used for early forms of calypso).

A history of territorial struggle and the defiance of colonial authority lies within calypso. In the days of slavery Carnival was a time of rival celebrations among planters and slaves; the French planters maintained the Catholic tradition of celebrating Lent with masquerade balls and processions, while the slaves, with their permission, set up alternative processions based on West African end-of-harvest celebrations. From this came the tradition of a torchlit procession called ...

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