Tobagobig 669 (Medium)

By Lyn Funnell.

I noticed in Trinidad and Tobago that they don’t play much UK or USA pop. They prefer their own traditional music.

Soca is the most popular kind of music.

Known as The Soul of Calypso, it isn’t actually Calypso!

It’s hard to describe, but I thought that some of it had a Salsa beat. And some of it even sounds Punjabi, and has been used in Bollywood films.

It originated in the 1970s, mainly from Garfield Blackman, who was also known as Lord Shorty.

All Trinidadians and Tobagans have nicknames.

He evolved it from Calypso and Indo-Caribbean sounds.

Some Soca songs have a slightly humourous, naughty hidden meaning.

One of our drivers was also a DJ and he patiently explained all this to me, playing a couple of tunes several times. But they were in such a local version of English that I had trouble understanding them!

Soca is still growing and evolving, absorbing traces of other kinds of music.

It has several basic beats, and often singers will improvise their words to the beat.

..And here’s Lord Shorty.

Dub is the music with the loud, heavy beat. It promotes the use of marijuana, which is supposed to be a peaceful drug. But when Dub is played at weddings or parties, they often end up in a punchup!

A lot of radio stations have banned Dub.

To Dub means to remix, but it also means to have sex.

Dub music emphasises the drum and bass sounds. It grew out of reggae.

It was pioneered by Osbourne ‘King Tubby’ Ruddock, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Errol Thompson and others, in the late 1960s.

Here’s King Tubby.

King Tubby & Errol Thompson

Lee Perry.

Parang Is Trinidad and Tobagan Christmas music.

Everyone goes from house to house, and after three houses, they’re pretty drunk!

Parang is usually played on the Quattro, the Shak Shak, the Mandolin and the Guitar.

It’s a bit different to Silent Night isn’t it?!

When I was in Tobago in July, it was Christmas in July.

Every year, Radio 100.1FM plays Christmas music all day, on the last Friday in July.

I’d never have guessed that it was Christmas music until I was told!

Calypso has the longest history of Trinidad/Tobago music.

It can be dated back to the 17th Century when African slaves were taken to Trinidad to work on the sugar plantations. They weren’t allowed to talk, so they developed Calypso as a way to gossip to each other, and to make sarcastic comments about their slave masters.

Mighty Sparrow was one of the most popular Calypso singers. There’s a statue of him in the main square in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Although Harry Belafonte made it a bit soppy (in between Dubbing Joan Collins) Calypso songs are very politically scathing.

They’re not like ordinary songs. They’re more like performances, and can go on for around 10 minutes.

I went to the Heritage Calypso Monarch Competition. It was a very serious affair, and the introductions took so long that I agreed with the woman behind me, who shouted out, ‘Just get on with the show!’

First, the National Anthem was sung, followed by a prayer, and lots of speeches, thanking everyone, followed by very subdued spatterings of applause.

Finally, the Competition started.

Michael Skeete was the first. He came on dressed in rags, and sang about the Old Times when everyone used to barter.

While he sang, a couple in front of the stage, also dressed in rags, bartered cardboard fish for bread and corn.

After that there was a pause while several women carrying boxes walked round, giving out pairs of scissors. Nobody except us seemed surprised at this.

Then Caston Cupid came on – dressed as a giant pair of scissors!

His song was about all the cuts that the Government wanted everyone to make, and when he sang the chorus, we all had to wave our scissors in the air.

He’s been the winner for several years, and he came 5th this time.

Whatever type of music they have, the Trinidadians and Tobagans put a lot of feeling into it.

I love it!

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