Collector donates massive calypso archive

A report by Laura Dowrich-Phillips for Loop.

An avid collector of original calypso albums says he has given up on getting the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to buy his collection and has donated it to a foreign institution.

George Maharaj, who is based in Canada, posted on Facebook this morning that he is donating 5000 albums to an institution to be digitised and preserved.

“Trinidad is not interested so I donated my entire collection of calypso, steelpan, combo, chutney, big band, rapso, Christmas, parang, Caribbean soul… music from 1912 to 1989. Over 5000 records to a foreign institution that promised to preserve, document, and digitise the music. This is the first set of boxes ready to be shipped. Records formats are LP’s, EP’s, 10″, picture sleeves, and 78’s. The next shipment is set to go next week. 50 more boxes to packaged,” he wrote on Facebook.

Speaking to Loop, Maharaj said since the NAR regime, he has tried unsuccessfully with every Government to sell his collection. He said the collection was valued at US$1 million.

He said he even tried to donate the collection to the Trinbago Unified Calypsonian Organisation (TUCO) and the National Carnival Commission (NCC). He said he also approached a number of corporate bodies in T&T on the condition that they build a museum to pay tribute to calypsonians.

“One company told me they would take it but only if I pay the shipping,” he said.

Maharaj, 71, said he took the decision to donate his collection since he is getting older and does not want to run the risk of his children giving it away when he dies.

His vinyl collection comprises original albums from Mighty Bomber, Lord Christo and the Mighty Sparrow.

“I have 115 Sparrow records. He don’t even know he made that amount, they were made all over the world,” he said.

From 1986 I beating my head off then I found somebody who will do all the digitisation and I am donating to them with the condition that they digitise it and they have it open for whoever wants to access it,” he said, noting that he is very comfortable with the decision.

He has already sent a portion of the collection to the institution which he said he could not identify at this time.

Maharaj, son of famed San Fernando hairdresser Mme Maharaj and brother of Kama Maharaj, founder of Sacha Cosmetics, said he became a calypso fan when he migrated from T&T in 1969.

He said he left with one Sparrow album, More is More.

“I went to school in New York and they ask what is my culture and I said Divali and the Indians laughed at me. I had brought Sparrow album to the US with me and I went the next week and said my culture is calypso. I always thought calypso was the greatest thing to happen in Trinidad because anytime you meet anybody and they ask where you from and you say Trinidad they would say the land of calypso. I took it upon myself to collect calypso albums and became of the world‘s largest collectors of calypso,” he said.

Even though he has donated his records, Maharaj still has about 2000 CDs, printed material, books. photographs, paintings, trinkets, and calypso stamps.

Maharaj is also an author who has written two books on the roots of calypso.

Lamenting how culture is treated in T&T, he said he knows many people who have been giving away their collections.

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