An article by Peter Ray Blood for Trinidad’s Guardian.
A Major Lazer remix, three singles, three videos and a huge promotional tour in Europe. No, it’s not Justin Beiber’s schedule, but that of veteran calypsonian Calypso Rose.
The 75-year-old —regarded by many as undisputed Queen of Calypso for more than 40 years— is promoting her new album Far From Home which was co-produced with Algerian world music performer Manu Chao on the Because Music label.
The videos for Far From Home will be directed by Jérome Guiot who worked on the award-winning film Pan! Our Music Odyssey.
Far From Home is the latest chapter of an eventful career that started in 1964 and according to music producer Jean Michel Gibert, “You’ll never hear her sound in the least bit tired; quite the opposite. Petulant, energetic, vehement, jovial, gregarious… there aren’t enough words to describe her performance on these 12 tracks on which she generously dispenses her joie de vivre with the voice of a young girl.”
In 1972, Calypso Rose (Linda McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis) was the first artiste to be awarded the title of Calypso Queen and, six years later, the gender-neutral title of Calypso Monarch.
Rose wrote her first calypso (Glass Thief) in 1955, after seeing a man stealing the glasses from a woman in a market. It is said to be “the first calypso denouncing inequality between the sexes.”
Calypso Rose made her first trip outside T&T in 1963, visiting the islands of Grenada and St Thomas, where she won the Calypso King contest with her first recorded song—Cooperation. It was the first time in history that a woman won the title. After this initial tour there was no stopping Calypso Rose as she subsequently performed with Bob Marley and the Wailers at the Grand Ballroom in New York City.
Raised on traditional calypso, in 1970, Calypso Rose decided to spread her wings further and wrote her first soca tune —Action is Tight.
One of the songs from Far From Home, Calypso Queen, evokes the pride Rose still feels today at having been the one to overthrow the male-dominated established order of the calypso world. In this song, she fiercely defends her royal position as an artiste who has received more honours than most in her country and who is celebrated by the T&T diaspora.
Calypso Rose was always a fighter and had to overcome hostility from her father, a Baptist preacher thoroughly opposed to her pursuing a musical career. She was also sexually abused as a teenager, something she revealed in the 2009 documentary— Calypso Rose, Lioness of the Jungle.
Rose has composed almost 800 songs, starting at age 13. She spent 17 years singing on cruise ships for the New York-based company Celebration At Sea, before playing on the legendary stages of the Apollo and Madison Square Garden with two of the greatest calypsonians, Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow.
The Tobagonian singer has also survived cancer and two heart attacks. And according to Gibert, “only those who have overcome such hardships can sing life with such force; but also with such pleasure, as Far From Home attests.
Last year, Manu Chao met Calypso Rose and helped in the production of the new album. When it comes to choosing projects to work on, he only follows his heart. He recognised a totally unique artist in Rose, and also a heroic figure whose entire life is a lesson.
As much as Far From Home is a joyful album, it also bears the traces of the ever-alert conscience of a woman who is still fighting. She is a woman whose memory reaches beyond her own existence, in I Am African, to encompass the destiny of the whole black diaspora, in the same spirit as Bob Marley, whom she knew well.
With her courage, her strength and her humanity, only Calypso Rose could, in these times of discord and global violence, sing a song of universal love and fraternity such as Human Race.
Calypso Rose is booked until May 2 for ten shows in France, Belgium and UK, and will return to France for the French release of the new album on June 3. She is also heavily booked from the end of June to mid-August for ten more shows in Germany, Belgium and France, then from October 15 to November 10 for Fall festivals.
In 1977, Calypso Rose became the first woman to win T&T’s prestigious Road March competition with her song Gimme More Tempo. The following year, she won the National Calypso Monarch (renamed from Calypso King because of her) singing I Thank Thee.
In 1986, Calypso Rose received the title of Ambassador at Large of Liberia with her song Pepper Soup in 1986 and for her efforts to support the improvement of life in the West African nation. Five years later, she received the award for Most Outstanding Woman by the National Women’s Action Committee (NWAC) in T&T.
In 1999, Calypso Rose received the International Award of Caribbean music, considered the consecration for an artiste to calypso.