November 13, 2014
Music, especially calypso, provides a soundtrack to the lives of most St Lucians, so entrenched is it in every aspect of daily life. Every joy, love, laughter and family milestone is celebrated in calypso with society’s weightier issues critiqued in its offbeat commentary. Though it was born in Trinidad, calypso music has come of age in St Lucia, mixing the distinctive lyrical Trinidadian style with broader elements of Antillean music and adding a generous dollop of St Lucian candour. Every sleazy political scandal, fashion fad and major island gossip sparks a Calypso song – nothing is spared in the music of St Lucia.
Fiercely fought calypso contests have dominated St Lucia’s annual calendar each year since 1957, with just a trio of exceptions. But it was the 1940s when St Lucia first took early calypsonians Lord Scrubb, Battle Axe, Ezekiel, Piti Quart, Mighty Session and Mighty Bonnet to its heart. Local radio stations became champions of St Lucia’s own-style of Trinidadian calypso, pumping it out to barber shops, car stereos, kitchens, rum shacks, food stalls and cafes island-wide. It penetrated every community, becoming an integral part of St Lucian culture in the laid-back Lesser Antilles.
For years, carnival festivities drew calypsonians from all across the West Indies, captivating an entire island’s population with irrepressible rhythms, commanding stage presence, bare-faced cheek and unforgettable songs. Soon, calypso became the music of St Lucia, and popular enough to warrant a dedicated festival. St. Lucia Carnival celebrations were shifted from February to July each year to accommodate greater participant entry. Nowadays the prestigious Monarch finals of the St. Lucia Calypso Season is the liveliest party in town, where thousands of dancing revellers pour onto the streets in a cavalcade of vibrant colours. Each calypso band strives to capture the coveted title of “Band of the Year” with entrants judged on lyrics, presentation, melody, arrangement and rendition – crowd reaction plays a massive part as well.
Calypso memorabilia is highly sought-after in St Lucia and at street markets old 45-RPM records fetch top-dollar prices. Rare import recordings are snapped up by eager fans like gold-dust. Calypso rumour, just like boot-leg copies do the rounds in true St Lucian style. Die-hard calypso lovers favour musicians like Tru Tones, Rameau Poleon, Prolifik, Disturbing Joan, Aimran Simmons, Invader, Six Time Calypso Monarch Mighty Pep, Six Time Monarch Mighty Pelay and the first calypso monarch of St Lucia, Terra (Pancras Theodore), a teacher who held the crown for five years running from 1957-1961 and again in 1965. When the Saint Lucia Calypso Association was formed in 1975 it helped to promote the genre to female artists. However, women were slow to take on calypso singing in St Lucia, with Madame Sequin the first to make some serious noise in the mid 80s. It was twenty years later, in 2000, before a female claimed the throne.
Today, every St Lucian has a soft spot for calypso. Some like to dance to its syncopated African rhythm while others enjoy the humour and poetry of improvised ad-lib lyrics. One thing’s for sure: the call-and-response pattern is intoxicating, the satire and the extemporaneous singing is quick-witted, and the bands that pump out catchy St Lucian calypso riffs are world-class. The island cements its reputation as one of the best places to swing, sway and sashay. At the Gros Islet Jump Up, the island’s largest and oldest weekly street party, visitors can dance to a mixture of local calypso and reggae all night long. It’s a less frenetic pace at the Anse La Raye Fish Fry, which also runs a weekly calypso night. Soak up the party vibes over plates of delicious freshly cooked seafood at Dennery Fish Fiesta on St Lucia’s trendy east coast.
Though the St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival is packed with big-name international stars it still showcases some up-and-coming local calypso acts too. But it’s the two main days of Carnival in July when calypso totally dominates the island. Don’t miss the parades, the costumes and the steel bands for a fun-packed calypso party where the music doesn’t stop until the last person says “enough”.
Header image © St Lucia Tourist Board
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to St Lucia from London Gatwick.
Have you been captured by the music of St Lucia? Are you a fan of calypso? Tell us who your favourite St Lucian artists are in the comments section below.