Calypso Rose review – coquettish, celebratory turn from carnival queen

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At the Jazz Cafe, London, the Trinidadian singer hollers, struts and shimmies as the audience screams – long may she reign, writes John Lewis for London’s Guardian.

You can’t help but feel a little worried for Calypso Rose. As she descends a spiral staircase on to the Jazz Cafe stage, the 76-year-old looks frail and a bit frightened by the prospect of performing for 500 punters.

Such worries quickly fade, as she transforms into the youthful calypso monarch. “Instead of respecting mi long, long reign,” she sings on Calypso Queen, “they’re making blood to take down mi name.”

She hollers at the top of her voice, jangles her huge gold earrings and struts around the stage, lifting her red and gold embroidered jacket to shimmy suggestively while the audience screams.

Born Linda McArtha Monica Sandy-Lewis, the Trinidadian singer – who won the title of Calypso Queen five years straight in the 1970s – had been in semi-retirement, having moved to New York and retrained as a criminologist. Her rebirth, with the new album Far from Home, was aided by a collaboration with Manu Chao, and the two slow-burning minor-key tracks they made together are central to tonight’s show.

Her older soca and calypso material is more celebratory. No Madame is her joyously insurrectionary anthem that highlighted the plight of domestic servants. The ska-tinged Israel By Bus was inspired by visions of Ethiopian Falashas being airlifted to Tel Aviv. Even Back to Africa – which Rose tearfully dedicates to her great-grandmother, who was taken as a slave from Guinea – is defiantly upbeat.

Soon she is winding and grinding with her band, propositioning young men in the audience, lifting her top, revealing her stomach and coquettishly purring: “Ya want it?” By the end of the show, her team tend to her as if she were an exhausted boxing champ.

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