In the bonus episode, of Carry On Friends we’re doing an episode swap with Strictly Facts: A Guide to Caribbean History and Culture.
Strictly Facts is a Breadfruit Media Produced podcast hosted by Alexandria Miller. This episode features Dr. Meagan A. Sylvester who hails from Trinidad & Tobago. She discusses Calypso’s evolving history, impact, and representation of Caribbean culture and society.
Dr. Sylvester is a music sociologist, researcher and a published author of over fifteen book chapters and journal articles. She conducts research on topics such as Music and National Identity in Calypso and Soca, Music of Diasporic Carnivals, and Narratives of Resistance in Calypso and Ragga Soca music, among many others. She has also presented academic papers and hosted workshops across the globe.
In this episode, Dr. Sylvester explains that Calypso music is a “mother music” out of which other branches such as chutney and soca have been derived. Originating in the nineteen century, Calypso is a genre of Caribbean music that can be traced back to slavery as slaves created songs about their masters and life on the planation as a way to cope with their realities. Thus, the social commentary element in Calypso was born.
We learn that Calypso does not necessarily belong to Trinidad and Tobago, despite being seen as the center of the Calypso expression. In the early 90’s, many Calypsonians migrated from other islands to Trinidad to seek work and be a part of the popular entertainment spaces. Even today, Dr. Sylvester believes that participation in Calypso competitions in Trinidad demonstrates that you are part of the fraternity. It is this migration throughout the years that allows people to bring their culture with them and add their culture to others, making Calypso the expression of the Caribbean.
Dr. Sylvester and Alexandra dive into the history of women in Calypso and how it has evolved. Traditionally, this genre of music has been male dominated and in the early days women had to get the support of the existing community in order to get their expression out. From Dr. Sylvester’s perspective, the themes men and women sang about varied. While men mainly looked at political and social issues, many of the female Calypsonians touched on topics that often affected the family. She also briefly examines the issues of color and race within the Calypso space.
She also talks about synergies within the Calypso expression. Calypso addressed political and social issues not just locally, but also regionally and internationally. There is also a synergy in those who are involved in the Calypso process. She explains that the writer, background singers, musicians along with calypsonians are all vital to the expression. Furthermore, across the region there are synergies both of cultures and languages, along with the connection between Calypso and Carnival.
As the episode wraps up, Dr. Sylvester highlights her favorite film Calypso Dreams. This film gives a strong history of Calypso and the struggles and successes of the art form over time. She also mentions the Good Citizen by the Mighty Sparrow as one of her favorite Calypso songs.
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