Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 15th 2015 Contents SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2015
Legends of Carnival Part 2...
In part two of Legends of Carnival, NASSER KHAN takes a broad look at the steelpan and calypso art forms and some of their major pioneers and
exponents. These art forms make up the triumvirate of the major components of T&T's world-famous Carnival. The first part of this series last
week featured the legends of mas, those who had captured the larger share of the Band of the Year titles from the 1950s-1980s and laid the
foundations for those to follow.
The steelpan evolved from the rudimentary stages of skin drums from the 1830s
to 1884 when a ban on all drum beating was imposed during the Carnival celebrations
at the time. That ban led to the creativity of the Carnival celebrants looking to the
bamboo with its hollow sounds as the alternative...dried bamboo of various thickness,
when cut to different lengths and struck (beaten), produced different sounds.
Bands of players of the bamboo instrument that now produced the legal alternative
to the skin drums were called Tamboo Bamboo bands. The first report of such a band
taking part in Carnival was in 1891. Tamboo Bamboo bands became a part of the
Carnival celebrations and flourished until the 1930s when a new instrument emerged
on the scene, that of the steelpan, the only acoustic musical instrument invented in
the 20th century.
The steelpan emerged in the 1930 s from the determination of the disenfranchised
in communities such as Laventille, to continue their musical and traditional habits
of expression through music. To that end discarded materials such as milk cans, paint
cans, garbage can covers, car hub caps, pots, old brake drums, and biscuit tins were
The biscuit tin is said to be the first true steelpan which was hung around the neck,
upside down. It is believed in many quarters that Andrew Beddoe, an accomplished
Orisha drummer and one of the best biscuit pan players in John John, Andrew "Pan"
De La Bastide, Winston "Spree" Simon, Victor "Totie" Wilson and Emmanuel "Fish
Eye" Ollivierrie, were among those who created the sparks that led to the transition
from the tamboo bamboo to the "ping pong" and the steelpan. Recommended reading:
http://www.pantrinbago.co.tt/; http://www.trinbagopan.com/steelpan/ and the free
download of the book on our Heroes, Pioneers and Role Models (Culture and the
Arts, pages 38 to 79) at http://www.safaripublications.com/firstcitizenstt/heroespro-
Of interest, the East Indians who had brought their own indigenous drumming
traditions (the tassa as we know it today) to accompany their celebrations were
restricted (to a lot lesser extent) in their drumming which created a cultural empathy
between the Africans and Indians from which emerged a cross-cultural association.
Many have contributed to the development of and innovations related to the pan
since the pioneering efforts of those like Beddoe, Simon, De La Bastide, Wilson and
Ollivierrie. Their strides and decades of hard work and dedication to the artform
paved the way for the later pan pioneers, arrangers and tuners to follow. Among the
notable names, all of whom have contributed to no small way are, in no particular
order: Hugh Borde, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe, Ranjit "Jit" Samaroo, Pat Bishop, Rudolph
Charles, George "Sonny" Goddard, Neville Jules, Ellie Mannette, Bertram "Bertie"
Marshall, Denzil "Dimes" Fernandez, Anthony "Tony" Williams, Oscar Pile...
Of course any feature on pioneering pan players must include similarly the steelbands,
Alexander Ragtime Band, All Stars, Taspo, Invaders, Tokyo, North Stars, Desperadoes,
Casablanca, Renegades, Silver Stars, Starlift, Tripoli, Dixieland, Cavaliers, Harmonites.
The roots of calypso come from the period of
African slavery through the slaves, who, not being
allowed to speak to each other for the most part,
communicated through song. Errol Hill, Carnival
historian, suggests that West African Tribal songs
were the foundations which led to the calypso s
evolution while The Roaring Lion (Rafael De Leon)
asserted in his book that calypso descended from
the music of the medieval French troubadours.
Hollis Liverpool states that calypso had its roots
in the West African custom of griot court singing.
The griots usually sang songs of praise and derision
and were storytellers. It is believed that these
songs were introduced during the period of French
Gros Jean, an African slave, is said to have been
the first calypsonian, named "Mait Caiso" (Master
of Caiso) by the Diego Martin estate owner Begor-
rat in the late 18th century. In the early days, the
songs were sung in patois, in the extempo format
and contained colourful and aggressive language
as well as messages to the community.
The calypso art form has spawned sub genres
such as soca, power soca, groovy soca, rapso,
chutney soca and ragga soca.
The list of calypsonians who have left an
indelible mark in this area of Carnival include
Norman Le Blanc, Frederick "Houdini"
Wilmoth, Raymond "Atilla the Hun" Queve-
do, Walter Douglas, Ebbert "Lord Beginner"
Moore, Phillip "Lord Executor" Garcia, Rupert
"Lord Invader" Grant, Norman "King Radio"
Span, Thelma Layne, Raphael "Roaring Lion"
De Leon, Kade "Lord Bryner" Simon, Aldwyn
"Lord Kitchener" Roberts, Slinger "Mighty
Sparrow" Francisco, McCartha "Calypso
Rose" Lewis, Garfield "Lord Shorty/Ras
Shorty I" Blackman, Edwin "Crazy"
Ayoung, Sundar Popo, Calton "Blakie"
Joseph, Alric "Lord Pretender" Farrell,
Andrew "Brother Superior" Marcano, Fitzroy
"Lord Melody" Alexander, Lancelot Layne, Hollis
Lionel Belasco was one of the pioneers in the
recording of T&T music while foreigners like The
Andrew Sisters and Harry Belafonte helped to
give the calypso art form international exposure.
Recommended reading include
http://www.tucott.com/ and The Roots of Calyp-
so, Volumes 1 & 2.
NOTE: My apologies
for any errors or
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