Various ‘Calypso at Dirty Jim’s’ CD/DVD (World Village) 5/5

Traditional calypso has in recent times become something of a dying art form when faced with the competition from its newer rival soca (itself taking on board the roots of calypso and adding beefed up percussion), but there is still hope yet and this superb documentary DVD and compilation CD chronicles both some the greatest calypsonians still alive and some of its latest practitioners. No less than Bob Dylan has championed the genre for its witty repartee and regularly plays the likes of Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow on his radio broadcasts. Pascale Obolo is to be commended for her superb documentary that accompanies the CD. This focuses on the annual carnival competition which, over the decades, has introduced the whole of Trinidad to its future stars. Alongside performances by the greats such as the Mighty Terror and the longest winner of them all, the Mighty Sparrow (though Lord Kitchener runs him mighty close), the great merit of the documentary is to provide an insight into how the calypsonians deliver instantaneous lyrics in competition when asked by a panel to produce verses off the cuff on a given topic. This explains why a singer-songwriter of the calibre of Dylan marvels at their art. Excellent sound and wonderful images capture the genre to perfection and a re-creation of the legendary 1950s night club Dirty Jim’s on Port of Spain’s seafront enable some of the classic singers to perform before a live audience. The CD takes a selection of these songs, virtually all competition winners from the past, and allow the listener to appreciate the witty lyrics on all manner of social topics. It is the trials and tribulations of family life that is the subject of Relator’s ‘Shame and scandal in the family’, recounted in a humorous fashion. Calypso’s leading lady, Calypso Rose, is on top form on ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ which depicts life in Trinidad during the presence of US troops and the effects of this on relations with the local population. Lord Superior further describes this era on ‘Jean and Dinah’ and the competition for women with American soldiers on the island. Meanwhile on ‘Whiteman wife’, Lord Superior touches on the social mores of the British during the colonial era. Songs have long been transferable from one musical genre to another in the Caribbean and so it is the case with ‘Bam Bam’ executed to perfection by Bomber. Reggae fans will remember the tune as an early hit for Toots and the Maytals. All in all a wonderful selection that carries on the calypso message and will be a joy to those who watch and listen to the performers on offer.

Tim Stenhouse