IMG_0081ShadowCrossroadsGuitar_new fog

Shadow’s Crossroads, oil on canvas (2011). Lawrence Waldron.

Shadolingo Is Not…

It’s not “too ra loo ra loo ral.”[1] It’s not “de do do do, de da da da.”[2] It’s not a few nonsense syllables repeated as a refrain, to carry a ditty’s melody between verses or across a bridge. It isn’t just to warm up the pipes before the first verse as a Calysponian might with a “lah-da-dee-dai la-la lai lai.” It hasn’t the irrational subject but oft-rational grammar of surrealist cadavre exquis[3] nor does it employ unbroken words, scrambled to surprising effect as in the cut-ups of William Burroughs and David Bowie.[4] Though it’s supremely rhythmic and, potentially, endlessly rambling like the improvised bols of a Hindustani tala, no syllable here is the prescribed name of a specific beat as in several Indian and West African musical traditions. No, these syllables are themselves improvised, sometimes directly on, but often between the wraps on the drum, constituting infectious polyrhythms and multi-layered melodies.

Tom teem tay-tim

Deh-umd tim dom

Tom tim deh-dim

Deh-um dim dom,

Yah!

 

…Moo dee eh da ma-ow!

 

Tam dee oh-day-mm,

Tam-tee lai

Tam tee doh yeh,

Tam teem oh-eh,

Ah teem oh-yeh

—Shadow, near the end of “Music Fever,” from the album Music Fever (1981)

 

“Music Fever,” from the album of the same name (1981)

Woven into and around the music as they are, these rhythmic syllables, dancing in and around the melody of “Music Fever,” might be likened to the carefree utterances of Jazz scat, deep in the groove of the music—like Ella Fitzgerald on the 1951 version of Arnett Cobb’s “Smooth Sailing.”

 

Dee too-dyun too-you bao

Boo bood-yun boo-yoo bao

 

Geeby yoot tooden doot duh doot

dat datten-dut duh-doo

Doht too-doo deh

Doo doo det doh dah dah

Ella Fitzgerald’s “Smooth Sailing” (1951). Scat above is transcribed from minutes 1:29 to 1:37.

But resembling the percussive yet tonal beats of African drums and Shadow’s signature basslines more often than the sustained notes of brass and woodwinds (as in scat), giving a syllabic, human voice to those beats and basslines, Shadow’s utterances might just as easily compare to the entranced, rhythmic vocalisations of Spiritual Baptist ‘doption.[5]

 

Spiritual Baptist practitioners in the process of vocalising ‘doption, Trinidad

These two—scat and ‘doption—are perhaps the closest vocal relatives of Shadow’s inspired para-lyrical improvisations. But are his extemporised syllables just the missing link between them? Is Shadow just scatting in rhythmic tongues?

If they are neither just nonsensical vocal accompaniment nor a strictly codified syllabary, burdened by prescribed tradition, what should we call these idiosyncratic vocalisations? The more of them we hear, over the ever-varying instrumentation of Shadow’s nevertheless unmistakeable musical corpus, the more they seem like the incantations of a lone babalawo at the crossroads, the improvised lingo of a singular initiate in dread musical wizardry. Thus, we might call them, shadolingo.

 

Spelling it Out

In 2014, when this blog was launched, the decision was made to name it after these mysterious utterances of Shadow’s. But, at the time, the online title was conciliatorily spelt with the “w” in the middle to garner more hits for the young website in general searches for “Shadow.” Additionally, it anticipated the forgetfulness of an infrequent visitor who might misspell it, and not find it in the less clever search engines because they had disregarded that it was a portmanteau (like Buffalypso combines “buffalo” and “Calypso” to make clear that the species is a uniquely Trinidadian breed of thick-skinned water buffalo, or “macoracious,” which combines “macocious” and “voracious” to describe a particularly greedy consumer of other people’s private business).  The more intuitive spelling—“Shadowlingo”—has served us well with the increasing popularity of the blog. But it is time to set the record straight with the spelling as originally conceived—shadolingo. It is not just a combination of “Shadow” and “lingo” but a proper fusing of the two terms and two sets of meanings, dispensing with redundant consonants as the musician himself often dispenses with the rational semiotics and structure of English when he merges with the music jumbies and says,

Im tama hoom-day

Am tama-hal

Tim yum tama hoom-day yao!

I-yum tama hal

—Shadow, near the end of “I’m Sick,” from the album Mystical Moods (1984)

The neologism, “shadolingo,” thus reflects the loss of parts of the original in the joining with something else and, in turn, the becoming of something yet greater.

 

Origins

At the beginning of his recording career, Shadow was already demonstrating an experimental attitude towards the use of his voice. On his first two albums, Bassman (1973) and King from Hell (1974), he can be heard regularly changing speed, volume, and octave mid-verse. His youthful shouting, and especially his use of falsetto for both narrative and musical effect would seldom be heard thereafter.[6] “Dread Wizard” of 1979 is a notable exception for its angry expulsions as befit the album title.

Close observation of Shadow’s singing in those years, and indeed throughout his career, reveals that he is not one for extended notes, even as a master composer of catchy and often haunting melodies. Rather his voice itself has the quality of a tonal drum like a djembe or freshly tightened conga, able to ring a true note but with a warm, dusty shortness and flatness, much smoother than Louis Armstrong but sweeter than Sade. Shadow is a rhythmic singer. Yet, on his first two albums, he stretched his plaintive, masculine voice to its limits, no doubt figuring out what he could and couldn’t do to desirable effect.

In the nursery of ideas that he and Art DeCoteau built from 1973 to ‘74, little can be heard that might be called true shadolingo…except perhaps in his most famous Kaiso, and still his epitomical song to many—“Bassman.” The “Pum pe dim pom” and “tum pe dim pom—pom” in the explosive Road March single imitated and drew attention to the innovative, expressive, guitar-like basslines of Farrel (perhaps we should spell the name of Shadow’s apocryphal musical tormentor as, “Phar-el,” to make him seem more Afro-Asiatic and pre-Christian). But these protomorphic iterations, closely following the sound and rhythm of accompanying instruments, were yet to bloom into full-fledged shadolingo. And even these went on hiatus after “Bassman,” being completely absent from the King from Hell album. Then, suddenly in 1975, they were back, and in the first ten seconds of the album, Constant Jamin’, on the title song:

Wim dim wim pim pim pim

Pim dim wam wam tam-pahm

The protomorphic shadolingo that had the crowds scatting along with “Bassman”‘s refrain, “Pom pe dim pom—pom!”, in the fierce, almost vengeful revelry of 1974 (as people threw off their economic, political, racial and other social worries) had returned! But then, two-thirds of the way through “Constant Jamin’,” something more unexpected happened:

La dey la-lay la-lay la la wo-woy!

Not at all an imitation of the rhythm, melody or even phrasing of the bass or any of the musical instruments, this is the human voice doing what only it can do and riffing over the frantic rhythm of the song. In cutting loose from the grammatical and semantic requisites of language, and even from onomatopoeia of the bass, Shadow’s voice was even more fully inhabiting its role as a musical instrument. His vocals were not just a lyrical delivery system meant to harmonise with the key and tempo of the music; it was in there amongst the other instruments making its own melodies, and its own unique sounds.

You can tune a drum so that it plays “toom toom”, “bup bup” or “bap bap.” A saxophone is melodious but mostly in the “oobeedoobee” range, although, if you play it like, say, Coltrane you can get some unexpected, even frightening squeaks, scratches and squeals out of it. If you want a horn to blare, like “bwah wah na nah wow,” you need a trumpet for that (you can put a plunger over it and change that to “bweh weh neh nehh wewh” or switch between the “wahs” and the “wehs” by opening and closing that mute). And anything with strings, from a guitar to a piano will give you a “ting-a-ling-a-ling.” Some gongs and cymbals can blare like trumpets but most tuned metals, like our magnificent steelpan, but also those dreamy Southeast Asian agongs,[7] can ring like stringed instruments while more fully expressing those low registers around “bong” and “ooong.”

But even in a normal conversation, the human voice can make all of those sounds, plus many others, stringing them all together in the most unexpected ways—hisses stitched through melodious vowels in a forest of consonants peppered by grunts and growls, and pocked by the occasional cutting of the breath, or even a click of the tongue if you’re Myriam Makeba or one of her !Khoisan neighbours from the Kalahari. The human voice is an immense mixed metaphor easily uncoupled from the rules of polite speech and trained singing. And from those first bars on “Constant Jamin’,” Shadow had pushed his voice beyond the regular order of language, singing and/or musical instrumentation. He had invented a new vocal expression…and a new sound.

They say brevity is the soul of wit. So, it is worth considering the irony of a singer, known for his unique wit and keen lyrics that cut to the most profound of truths,[8] inventing what might be called an anti-lyrical sub- or supra-language. We should not take for granted that “Constant Jamin’,” and indeed the whole album is first and foremost about music itself—starting with the title track. Without completely suspending his usual lyrical genius, the Shadow of 1975 shifts his focus to the music itself. Songs like “Grooving Time,” “Carnival is Fete,” and the smash single, “Shift Your Carkass,” all take music and dancing as their topic. Even the quirky “principles” espoused in “Statics” are for learning to live life as if one were learning to play music. The band on this album, members of the Art De Couteau [sic] Orchestra, including the unforgettable but unnamed trombone player[9] on “Statics,” is a lot tighter. They have to be. They are often playing at twice or thrice the speed of the first two Shadow albums—or any Calypso or proto-Soca album of the time. If this record is for dancing to, Shadow is trying to wear we ass out!

So, it was this new, deeper engagement with the music, this reckoning squarely with the new sound he and Art De Coteau had been developing, and this unleashing of his vocalisations so that they might be utterly present in and reactive to the music that brought out the shadolingo. In fact, in the albums to come, almost all of them with these new idiosyncratic vocalisations, we would get the distinct impression that Shadow was not just reacting to the music but riding it. Sometimes he seemed himself to be ridden by the music like a spirit medium under the influence. This is particularly the case when his utterances were made up mostly of inseparable vowels (which frustrate transcription in their lack of structural and rhythmic consonants) or the nasal groaning, rhythmic glottal stops, and grunting deep in his throat and/or chest that remind us of the aforementioned Spiritual Baptists in their ‘doption.

Perhaps the song that most clearly demonstrates that shadolingo was an intentional throwing off of linguistic and musical conventions is “Freedom,” off the De Zess Man album of 1977. Both song and album title give us a glimpse of what was going on in Shadow’s mind the previous and that year. When Trinbagonians say “yuh have a zess,” they are not talking about a zest for life or a certain joie de vivre. They mean you have a jumbie on you; you’re possessed by unseen forces which are pushing you to do things.

Calling himself ‘de Zess Man,’ with a picture on the album cover of him in the studio in front the mic with headphones on tells us that the ‘zess’ in question comes from music. The music will fill us to bursting and propel us forward. And the lyrics of “Freedom” sing of a yearning for release from the corruption, sadness and misery “in this world of man.”  Yet half the things that come out of Shadow’s mouth in this song are not lyrics at all but pure, unadulterated shadolingo. The song even begins with a phrase of it that has been turned into a handy refrain and taught to the chorus—“O ah ayeah.” The mixed gender chorus repeats this refrain throughout the song, and a similar utterance will reappear in the 1977 12” single “Shadow Thing” in which Shadow, as both arranger and conductor, instructs the listener how to sing, “Ah-oh a-aah yay” as the remedy to the same oppressive “misery” first shaken off in “Freedom.”

“Freedom,” from the album De Zess Man (1977)

The first “O ah ayeah” in “Freedom” is immediately followed by an unbridled “u-who-o-u-who-u-ayeh-ayeh-ah” (as best it can be transcribed).[10] Shadow’s new language has proven it can be polite leitmotif sung by the chorus, but also rampant improvisation intoned by the Master. And in “Freedom” and “Shadow Thing,” Doctor Shadow prescribes shadolingo as the remedy for despair and depression. Is it just misery, sadness and corruption that shadolingo can cure? Because it seems as if Shadow started singing in this manner out of yet another longing only suggested in the lyrics of “Freedom”—a longing to be free from the psychological and cultural freight of language itself. This is explored further in the section below subtitled “Shadolingo Is.”

 

The Ancient Future: Shadolingo Across Time

Inspired by the onomatopoeia on “Bassman” (recorded in 1973), then incubating over a period of some eighteen months between Carnival 1974 and late 1975, shadolingo emerged a fully developed countercultural vocal idiom on Constant Jamin’, just in time for the Carnival of 1976. Already made hip to a new scene by “Bassman,” party, carnival and hipster audiences dug what Shadow was putting down. It was Shadow’s own thing and would become part of his unique sound thereafter. It did not appear on every song. In fact, it features prominently on only a third of Shadow’s corpus, including many of his singles. From 1975 to 1985, it helped define Shadow’s style for all posterity. From “Jump Judges Jump” and “Children Ting” (1976) to “Dread Wizard” (1978), “Toe Jam” (1979) and “Music Fever” (1981) to “Obeah” (1982), “Snakes” and “If I Wine I Wine” (1984)—Shadow’s popular songs are inconceivable without it. These lingo-laced singles, like “Tension” (1987), even appear on albums where shadolingo is otherwise conspicuously minimal.

On a cluster of albums directly following the death of Art DeCoteau in the late 1980s, Shadow slowly learns to live without his partner in Trinbago music’s great revolution—Soca. But these late eighties albums, for all their popularity, crisp and professional arrangements by Frankie MacIntosh (with his band, the Equitables), and for all Shadow’s clever and amusing lyrics as always, are not the hair-raising, spiritual mindscape in which shadolingo thrives. In fact, they are veritable shadolingo deserts.

By the early 1990s, Shadow had recovered from a flirtation with American music distributors (see the music video for “Rock Your Body” from the 1986 album Better than Ever), had searched his way through the loss of his closest, most long-time collaborator, and had found his way back to the centre of the crossroads. It was yet another ‘return of the Shadow.’

Xroads-veve-wttt

Wootootoo Vèvè, mixed media on canvas (2011). Lawrence Waldron

Full bars of shadolingo returned with him like evening birdsong, rather than the little snippets of it from the previous four albums (1986’s Better than Ever and Raw Energy, then High Tension and The Monster, from 1987 and 1989 respectively). Yet through much of “Music (Dingolay),” the first track on Winston Bailey is the Shadow (1992), shadolingo seems slow to re-emerge. This might seem surprising since this song is one of Shadow’s most famous and critically acclaimed songs on the topic of music itself, and it is usually on these songs about music that shadolingo makes some of its most powerful appearances.

However, “Dingolay” (as everybody calls it) is packed with exegetical lyrics on the origins, structure, functions, and benefits of music. So, for most of this rhetorical song, Shadow stands firmly in his intellect in order to explain music. In doing so, he does not slip as easily into his patented, and now somewhat out-of-practice, twilight language. The shadolingo that eventually shows up in the last ninety seconds of the over seven-minute-long song is not the imploding self-abandonment of “Music Fever,” the mysterious voice echoing out from the wilderness on the 12” single “Evolution” (1979), the spiralling madman’s rant of “Dread Wizard,” the brooding mutterings of “My Vibes Are Heavy” (1977), or the celebratory exclamations of “My Belief” (1975) and downright joyous, even giddy ones of “Without Love” (1976); it is something smooth and self-assured from an elder shaman, more accustomed to coursing through the higher spheres of music consciousness where there are “no friends or enemies.” The shadolingo magic is back, but in cases like “Dingolay,” it’s different, breezier but front-loaded with shadolingo’s own history, plus Shadow’s personal power and experience.

In yet other cases after its return, the shadolingo is just as heady and bold as it ever was, only now, it’s often accompanied by synthesizers, digital pulses, and programmed electric beats rather than just horns, drumkits, bass and guitar.

Since Shadow was one of the original innovators of electronic instruments in Trinbagonian popular music, he was as comfortable making second and third generation Soca (i.e., comparable to that of Rudder then Bunji respectively) as he was in that revolutionary first generation where Moogs took their place alongside horn sections and electric guitars in the studio recordings of Shorty, Ed Watson, Maestro and Art DeCoteau.

Shadow’s 1990s music sounds like a natural development from the explosion of electronic music that had swept the world for the past two decades, thanks to Roland and Korg keyboards (not to mention those £12,000 Fairlight CMI computers) and Linn drum machines. From Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder and Parliament Funkadelic in the heyday of electronic popular music in the north to the plethora of British and U.S. New Wave bands of the 1980s, electronic music was here to stay despite its detractors insisting that a drum track is not “real” drumming, and somewhat naively insisting that a synthesizer would never successfully imitate “real” instruments.

The makers of electronic music themselves might have started out (as did photography over a century earlier) to earnestly imitate the art form they were tacitly threatening to replace, but sitting at the keys of your Jupiter-8 keyboard, you soon realized that this machine could make sounds no acoustic instrument had ever produced, noises even the human voice couldn’t make. Synthesizers could play octaves unavailable on any piano or Hammond organ, notes so high, only rats, bats, and antsy teenagers in rubber bracelets could enjoy them, and so low only elephants and whales could groove. Well, maybe not only pachyderms and cetaceans.

African and African Diaspora people were never in the habit of just listening to music. Feeling music vibrate in your bones and in the hollows of your internal organs, where it makes you shudder and raises your pores has always been part of Black music, so those new low sounds that you can only “hear” with your whole body suited us more than ‘just fine.’ And Soca was always part of that electronic phenomenon. One is only to listen to the first bars of “Bionic” by Maestro or “Action is Tight” by Calypso Rose (both arranged by Pelham Goddard) to hear those Space-Age sounds with which Lee “Scratch” Perry, but also dozens of Soca and Afro-Funk/Afrobeat keyboardists were also fascinated in the 1970s. It’s hard to imagine Osibisa’s 1972 album, Heads, without Trinidadian Robert Bailey’s Moog synthesizer sounds.

By the end of the 1980s, the electronic takeover of Caribbean music in general was nearly inevitable. Shadow, as always, was ahead of that wave. In fact, what had started out as interesting synthesizer accompaniment on 1976’s Dreadnessalbum (punctuating the shadolingo-laced “Carnival Scenery” and masterfully answering the bass in the lingo-less “Don’t”) had become a full-blown electronic obsession by the end of the 1970s. “Something Wrong” of 1978 supersedes the bass player with a low synthesizer noise that sounds like a giant, psychedelic caterpillar dangerously lumbering about some cosmic tree on colossal, suctioned legs. That gwankh-gwangh-gwankh sound is joined by yet another synthesizer playing melody. The echoing, distorted and ultimately, intergalactic sounds of “Evolution,” where even the electric bass guitar sounds like it’s been strained through liquid space and a handful of nebulae before reaching Earth, demonstrate that even the more traditional instruments have been guided by the synthesizer keyboard to a new aesthetic. Instead of the synth copying the other instruments, they are copying it!

Shadow’s cosmic vision—of which shadolingo was a vocal expression—was not hampered but aided by the new electronica. By the time “De Hardis”/“D’ Hardest” came out on the 1980 EP, Wake Up, Shadow was already a master of the new digital sound. But this wasn’t a robotic or emotionally dissociative sound.[11] Rather, on “De Hardis,” a fiddle, of all things, echoes, seemingly down from the heavens, and perfectly harmonises with the spacey keyboards. The previous year, Shadow had done the same thing, combining a flute and synthesizer on “Evolution,” but when he did it with the culturally freighted fiddle, it got everyone’s attention. This particular digital-analogue interface has always fascinated admirers of Shadow’s music. How did he manage to get a fiddle to work in this song?!

The fiddle is associated with various Afro-Celtic and Franco-African folk forms in Trinidad & Tobago, not the urbane Calypso. You heard it on episodes of Best Village, but few would have imagined it having a place in the sophisticated, international sound of Soca. The inclusion of the fiddle is one reason that “De Hardis” is among the most unique in the already incomparable oeuvre of Shadow. Its synergy between what seemed like two musical nemeses, the droning, buzzing, whizzing, chopping sci-fi sounds of the new keyboard (assembled in a sanitized Japanese factory by people in plastic uniforms) and the gliding fiddle that whisked us on its frenetic bow back to fireside jigs and bélés in rural Tobago…except, the electronic echo effect on the fiddle causes it to resemble the rest of the music, which is all synthesized or otherwise distorted through other studio effects. Shadow had dragged that bow and fiddle into the digital future.

But could the primal vocalisations of shadolingo harmonise with Shadow’s new electronic sound like that fiddle had? The exuberant shadolingo uttered before the last verse of “De Hardis” proved that this too was possible. However, Shadow’s aspirational electronic anthem of 1982, “One Love,” a pretty song whose soaring scales presaged those of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” by two years, makes no use of shadolingo. We would have to wait a few years to find out if the primordial shadolingo and the futuristic synths were to become proper bedfellows.

In 1981, Shadow snapped back to acoustics and settled up some business with his bassman, both figuratively and practically. On three of the most bass-heavy albums in his body of work (i.e., 1981’s Music Fever, 1982’s Return of the Shadow, and 1984’s Return of the Bassman in which the man in black squares off once again with his haunting music jumbie, Farrel), shadolingo was rampant. It is a cornerstone of two of Shadow’s funkiest pieces of music—the title song of Music Fever and the satirical “Conscience.” At least half of the songs on the album Return of the Shadow feature it prominently, including the hit single “Obeah.” Most of the album Return of the Bassman is peppered with shadolingo, including the title track, but also “More Music” and the monster single, “Snakes,” in which it is fast, syllabically complex and just as important as the searing, sometimes tragicomic political critique of the P.N.M.[12] party. There is a whole verse of it in the middle of the song! (And half a verse near the end).

“Snakes,” from the album Return of the Bassman (1984)

Then, in 1984, Shadow put out two albums—one, Sweet Sweet Dreams, was an off-season album made on his own (i.e., without Art DeCoteau), and the other, Mystical Moods, for the Carnival season of 1985, back with his faithful collaborator. Both featured prominent use of synthesizer keyboards alongside the electric guitars (including the bass) and acoustic percussion instruments.

 

Instrumental 12” single of “Together” off the album Sweet Sweet Dreams (1984)

 

Not unlike the Eurythmics album of a similar name, the album Sweet Sweet Dreamsis a masterpiece of electronic, yet soulful music. The shadolingo on this album is relatively modest, sometimes almost lost in the sound effects (e.g., on “Moon Walking”). But not on “Dreaming.” In the escapist exclamation of “Humayeayh!” and the wistful “Whooanannayao” a moody Shadow revels in his nighttime dreams and daylight reveries of his lover. Rhythmically, the song is as much eighties Soca as late sixties Rocksteady/early Reggae (with those choppy keyboard skanks) but with ascending and descending synthesizers through each chorus that could blend easily into a contemporaneous song by Naked Eyes or O.M.D.[13] Receiving relatively little attention at the time, Sweet Sweet Dreamshas since been re-released as one of Shadow’s cult favourites.[14] Its beauty as a unique gem in the wizard’s crown, but also its importance in completing the foundation for Shadow’s next two decades of music (indeed the second half of his career) are now more fully appreciated and acknowledged.

Enjoy the entire Sweet Sweet Dreams album on YouTube while it lasts. “Dreaming” is the third track at minute 10:50 (“Moon Walking” is at minute 24:00)

While most of the songs on Mystical Moods make surprisingly little use of shadolingo, on the second track,[15] “If I Wine, I Wine,” it’s like the shadolingo jumbie reached up through the ancient earth, through the bones of the entire family tree of life and snatched Shadow by the big toe. It is not just a verse of shadolingo we get here, but half the song. After four coherent and amusing verses on Shadow at a party, first losing control of his female partner and then ultimately himself as they both give in to the music, Shadow’s lyrics themselves finally cut loose of lexical signs and signifiers. Bar after bar of shadolingo falls from his tongue, peeling off the successive layers of our propriety. Our pores raise, our eyelids droop, our toes stop tapping jazzily and instead our heels begin thumping on the floor and shaking the room. Our thoracic vertebrae begin to snap our upper torso back and forth like a whip, until we flop to the ground, “wining like a serpent.” Now we fully grasp the absurdity of the line “I was diggin’ blues in my shiny shoes” because once we give in to this music, it’s not just that we’ve ceased to be an overdressed wallflower; it’s that we don’t want to wear shoes at all, or clothes, or even our corporeal bodies anymore.

I confess that in 1985, I walked out of a party when “If I Wine, I Wine” started playing because that song—especially its shadolingo—‘interferes’ with me to an extent that I don’t allow in public. And on another occasion when I was listening to it on high volume at my home, I spontaneously reached for a towel and draped it over my head to moderate the ‘fever’ that came over me (like breathing into a paper bag to cease hyperventilating). Imagine my shock at the discovery that the cloth they drape over preachers (and James Brown) at those fiery moments is not just for dramatic effect! For me, the song just gets more powerful with age (I still watch myself around it), and since Shadow’s passing, I have felt it almost double in potency like he really has taken up his post in some musical, mystical afterlife and is now wielding that power unencumbered by the weaknesses of the flesh. Then again, it could just be my grief enhancing my sensory experience of this composition. Listen at your own peril.

“If I Wine, I Wine,” from the album Mystical Moods (2004)

Again, we shouldn’t be surprised that the song with the lengthiest spell of shadolingo is one about music and its effects. And here it is, laced through and punctuated by futuristic synthesized sounds. On “I’m Sick,” off the same Mystical Moods album, a quirky song about a musical infection brought from outer space, a synthesizer shadows the electric guitar through most of the song, ratifying shadolingo’s harmony with electronic sounds and its close relationship with ‘music about music.’ The lines, “A musical substance, Of which I have no resistance” also point back to shadolingo as having an enchanted quality that renders the musician (and the listener) powerless to resist—unless they walk out the party or the studio.

“I’m Sick,” from the album Mystical Moods (2004)

 

The Shadowlingo web space will never fail to sing the praises of Art DeCoteau, one of the greatest and most prolific musical arrangers in the history of Trinidad & Tobago music. Yet it must be pointed out here that Shadow’s boldest experiments with electronic music took place on off-season recordings made under his own direction. The singles, “Something Wrong,” “Evolution,” “De Hardis,” and “One Love,” and the album Sweet Sweet Dreams were all arranged and produced by Shadow himself. It was on these recordings without DeCoteau, that Shadow ultimately gathered together the implements for his next musical journey. At key moments between 1978 and 1984, Shadow pulled himself away from his closest collaborator and, in seclusion, found his new direction. The wizard had to retreat from the courtly company of one of the lords of Kaiso arrangement to fulfil a new vision.

From what has been said already about the Frankie MacIntosh years, it might seem that the death of DeCoteau had a more profound effect on Shadow’s music than his independent jaunts into electronica in the early 1980s. But Shadow and DeCoteau had made Mystical Moods together right after Sweet Sweet Dreams, an album with a rich and sophisticated use of electronic music, and after a stint with Eddie Quarless on Better Than Ever (1986), DeCoteau and Shadow worked together for one more album, Raw Energy (1986), before the former’s death. All three of these mid-eighties albums feature synthesizers and the latter two make prominent use of drum machines with programmed rhythm tracks. Yet the electronica is clearly Shadow’s insistent contribution to the partnership with DeCoteau, the Quarless and MacIntosh. Before any of these albums could be made, Shadow first had to find a place for his voice, his lyrics, his bass-heavy melodies, and his recondite shadolingo on a new musical frontier—electronically generated sounds. And he did this searching under his own aegis.

Yet, just as he had found this new equilibrium between his new vision and his long-time arranger, Art DeCoteau passed away. In the years directly following DeCoteau’s death (1987 to 1992) the shadolingo seemed to go out of him sometimes. This is no fault of Frankie McIntosh, who worked with Shadow for most of that time, and has himself been a formidable arranger and masterful instrumentalist. He just caught Shadow in transition, in a kind of emotional and ideational, and perhaps also spiritual, chrysalis (maybe not quite a crisis). From this cocoon, his music would emerge nearly completely different yet eminently recognisable—from the moment he opened his mouth.

“Music (Dingolay),” from the album Winston Bailey is the Shadow (1992)

The 1992 album Winston Bailey is the Shadow, with Fitz Melo Thomas taking over as musical collaborator, is appropriately named as a reintroduction to the master. The acclaimed composition “Music,” a.k.a. “Dingolay” (after which a future album would be named), first appeared on this album and lays out the new, more electrified sound, the seemingly effortless expertise and the masterful attitude. This was a cooler, more self-assured Shadow, conscious of his own authority, not just amongst the fans who recognised him as a kind of musical sage, but over the history and future direction of his music. Winston Bailey is the Shadow also demonstrated the new balance in his lyrics, which had shifted to match his new self-realisation. In this and the coming albums, his social criticisms would become, on average, less allegorical and more instructive with as much exegesis as examples—they had gone from Old to New Testament, from Puranas to Upanishads—yet just as lyrically clever and amusing.

This is not to say that he entirely abandoned proverbs in favour of prophetic and philosophical sermons. His notorious gift for allegory was at the heart of brilliant singles such as “Soucouyant” (1992). And many of his latter-day compositions reopened dialogue on key early works, effectively depending on them as prologue, preface or primary text. “Survival Road” (1993) returns to “Story of Life” (1973 and 1976) and aspects of “Cook, Curry and Crow” (1979). The interrogation (and self-interrogation) of Shadow’s musical gift in “Musical Me” (2004) strongly recalls that of “My Vibes are Heavy” (1977). As mentioned in an earlier post on Shadowlingo, “Scratch Meh Back” (2000) is essentially a sequel to the cult classic “Aging System” (1984). Likewise, “Long Time Carnival (Pay de Devil)” revisits Bailey’s childhood “long ago in Tobago” in rural Les Coteaux that we know so well from 1973’s “Winston.” In the case of “Poverty is Hell” (1993), Shadow needs no recourse to “Dread Wizard” (1978) because there is always something new to be said about poverty. Both songs are unique, popular hits that rely heavily on Shadow’s prowess as a storyteller, though the elder is told from the subjective, the newer from the objective as befits Shadow’s transition from eccentric shaman to eccentric sage.

With the exception of the “Scratch Meh Back” and “Aging System” couplet, all the songs mentioned in the above paragraph feature shadolingo to one extent or another (“Winston” cannot be considered in fairness because it was composed before Shadow’s discovery of this mode of supra-lyrical expression).

Wrapped in his new sagacious authority, however, Shadow could directly engage with hypocrisy, predation, selfishness, laziness, vanity, shifting fortunes, love, betrayal, and poverty without resorting to oblique and sometimes opaque proverbs. Shadolingo would be an integral part of the new, totally electrified sound with the enhanced exegetical lyrics. On “Music (Dingolay)” the shadolingo is expressive yet effortless as if the greying wizard has the mysterious noumenon at his beck and call. Trailing the verses at different tempos, shadolingo flows in graceful, multicoloured ribbons.

By the time his hit album Dingolay came out in 1993, with Carl “Beaver” Henderson collaborating on the arrangements, Shadow’s electronic music had become more and more enamoured with hard-driving, sometimes Hip Hop-type rhythms in which the drums came up to rival the bass in importance.  This development can also be traced back to Sweet Sweet Dreams in the eighties—an album “way way out” and ahead of its time. An abiding interest in Reggae since the aforementioned “Dreaming” (also off Sweet Sweet Dreams) had also become more evident, especially in songs like the reflective “Mother’s Love” (1992), the smooth and eerie “Survival Road” (1993), which sounded like a Caribbean answer to Enigma’s “Sadness” (1990), the halting “Oh, What a Life” (1995) and several others.

No early experiment with the new drum-heavy Soca style is more powerful and successful than the hit single “Poverty is Hell.” The shadolingo here recalls the more fitful, aggressive strains from the seventies—shouted at high decibels with stammered, guttural syllables. Not all of the new shadolingo was breezy and elegant! The topic of the song, as all who sweated to it in crowded clubs and house parties knew, is desperation—desperation as relentless as that beat. The reader doesn’t have to be told that it is our custom in the African Diaspora to make music by which we can prance on the grave of our suffering…at least before the suffering rises again from its temporary inhumation.

“Poverty is Hell,” from the album Dingolay (1993)

The electronic drum-heavy Soca experiment would continue for several albums, shaping a new sound for a new generation of Soca artistes, not least of which was a young fella named Bunji Garlin who was still in school at the time in Arima before he started recording in 1998.[16] A recent obituary article on Shadow in Billboard magazine synopsises Bunji’s opinion of Shadow as, “a direct influence on his development as an artist,” going on to quote Garlin as saying that the singles “Dingolay” and “Stranger” (2001) are “two of the greatest crafted songs by any artist in any genre.”

The pounding drum-and-bass of Shadow’s nineties electro-Soca was not just on the single “Poverty is Hell” but in other songs on the massive fourteen-track album, including the apocalyptic “Judgement Fire” and no more cheery “Miracle” which stylistically hovered somewhere between Soca and the New Jack Swing-type R&B and Hip Hop (think Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” or the New Jack City soundtrack) that had also been reshaping American Black music. Nowhere is Shadow’s flirtation with this ‘New Jack sound’ more obvious than in his 1995 remake of “Don’t.” This retake on one of his most structurally enigmatic songs (it is a heavy piece of music with vexed lyrics and no chorus) is not just unexpectedly natural-sounding, but, like the original, shockingly good and thus maddeningly short (at less than three minutes)! “Tommy” on the same Shadowmania 1 album as the new “Don’t” makes creative use of this new equivalent of 1970s Afrobeat. And the opening bars of the amusing, elliptical narrative of “Gossiping” and 1997’s “Loner” seem a direct homage to New Jack Swing’s own partial origins in 1980s breakdance music. In a truly international twist, songs like the “Don’t” remake and “Tommy” are one part Soca, one part Al B. Sure! or Arrested Development, and one part Maxi Priest-style global Reggae.

“Gossiping,” from the album Shadowmania, vol. 1 (1995)

 

Interestingly, David Bowie, sharing Shadow’s fascination with the now-mature New Jack Swing style, was working with Al B. Sure! on the song Black Tie White Noise at the same time that Dingolay was in production. Around the same time, Miles Davis was also working with Easy Mo Bee on his final album, the 1992 Jazz-Hip Hop fusion project, Doo Bop. Hip Hop for its part was also reaching out to Jazz. Guru, from the Hip Hop crew, Gang Starr, released his own Hip Hop-Jazz fusion album, Jazzmatazz vol. 1 not long afterwards in 1993 to be followed by three sequels.

The first half of the nineties was a time of great cross-fertilisation in popular music and Shadow, ever the innovator, was at the forefront of the Trinbagonian module of this global phenomenon. In 1973, he had put the bass on top of the music to give us a proto-morphic Soca. In 1993, he had brought the drum back to the fore (albeit from a drum machine) as the driver of a new kind of rhythm-driven Soca-futurism. It wasn’t just “New Jack Soca.” It was quite distinct from that single branch of its multipronged inspiration (i.e., New Jack Swing) and has outlived that now-dated American subgenre, especially in the perennial “Poverty is Hell.”

In the 1990s, some Calypsonians had started going into the studio and rehashing their greatest hits on synthesizers so they could make a record (and a few dollars) on the cheap without too many musicians. Shadow himself tried this once—on The Best of Shadow vol. 1. The result, as with most other senior Kaisonians was uninteresting, and even painful to listen to. However, throughout the nineties and 2000s, it was more often the case that when Shadow synthesized one of his old hits, it was often with a very different and sometimes, even more powerful new arrangement.

This is one of the perennial differences between a musician and a front man, a Calypsonian and a mere singer/performer. With a musician, the music keeps deepening. And while we can critique almost every one of Shadow’s synthesized remakes of his signature “Bassman” along the same lines as all those cheesy greatest hits by other Calypsonians, the two versions of “Bassman” on 2001’s Just for You album are superb. Why do these remakes of the untouchable, almost un-re-attainable “Bassman” finally work, after two or three previous attempts?

The horns!

In the year 2000, Shadow crossed the final frontier in his musical journey. The expanding complexity in his increasingly electronic instrumentation had reached their apogee in shadolingo-laced, electronic albums like Dingolay (1993). On the unapologetically experimental, shadolingo-heavy Eternal Energy: The Shadi-Wadi Rhythms (1997), Shadow seems to have gone into the studio by himself to push the possibilities of electro-Soca yet further. This album is decidedly stripped down in its sound, but it establishes the complex and hard-driving rhythms that will characterise the albums to follow. Up to Dingolay, Shadow had become used to having as many as six or eight different instruments and/or sounds going at the same time on an average song and after the Shadi-Wadi sound and rhythm experiment, he was ready to go back to that and expand the instrument count even further.

“Ease Up” from the album Eternal Energy: The Shadi-Wadi Rhythms (1997)

 

Keeping all the Shadi-Wadielectronic sounds, including the sometimes-hectic rhythm tracks, Shadow hired a live drummer, Ron Sylvester. And to all those idiosyncratic synthesized sounds, he added a full horn section. The still-new electric, drum-and-bass-heavy sound was now souped-up on rich (and expensive) acoustics.

Working with real brass was not as ballsy a gamble as it might sound. Some of the favourite sounds produced on synthesizers for popular music are ones that approximate brass, reeds and woodwinds. But part of the fun in those sounds is that they do not mimic these instruments too closely and end up being sounds of their own. When used, however, to replacehorns (as they sometimes are in those corny greatest hits remakes), they sound jokey and juvenile like music from a cartoon. This is why previous remakes of “Bassman” like on 1998’s The Best of Shadow vol. 1 had failed. They had attempted to replace horns with digital facsimiles.

But now, real horns were back, and it is worth considering that the elevation of the bass in Shadow’s archetypal, original “Bassman” back in 1974 was only half of its success; the other half was its expert, rapid-fire, staccato horns that ended with that TAT-tada-DAAH like some superhero theme music—but a stylish one like 1960s Batman; not 1980s He-Man! The expert horns on 2000’s Am I Sweet or What? were played by David Jacob and Philo Neptune, under the glorious return of Frankie MacIntosh as arranger. On the following albums, Just for You (2001), Goumangala (2001 for 2002), Fully Loaded (2004), Sound of My Soul (2005) and Enjoy Your Life (2007) these horn players were either joined or replaced by Roger Jagessar and Michael Lindsay, Curtis Lewis, plus Patrick Spicer, Pedro Lezama, David Phillip, and Ancil Daniel. Am I Sweet or What? drummer, Ron Sylvester, was replaced on Just for You and going forward by Sonilal Samaroo.

“Goumangala,” from the album of the same name (2001)

 

The new, multidimensional sound rumbled low in the basslines. Under Shadow’s, Fitz Melo’s and “Beaver” Henderson’s arrangements, the horns were crisp and tight, blaring like the best at Brassorama. Samaroo was hitting those drums like they were hardened children he caught ‘breakin’ biche’! They thumped, boomed and cracked like thunderclouds. The synths droned, twinkled, whistled, hissed and wheezed like a space ship passing through the rings and atmosphere of Saturn. The music hit you on all octaves. If you didn’t think Shadow could come any more sophisticated than Dingolay, he was surprising you once again. How could this music be so different and still be so Shadow?

 

Back to the Beyond: Shadolingo Is…

And if I doh want to dance,

He does have meh in a trance

—“Bassman” from the album The Bassman (1973)

 

With all this music in my soul,

Beyond my control

—“Musical Me” from the album Fully Loaded (2004)

Shadolingo can be traced across nearly the entire arc of Shadow’s career but do we know what it is and what it is doing?

From its sound and function in Shadow’s music, it is obvious that Shadolingo is improvised; not composed. When Shadow pepper’s Badjohn Georgie with a “Niminimdiwh niminimdiwh idiggidimdiwh” in “Whop Cocoyea” or exclaims “Humni-anai-heh! Hamni-adda!” at the beginning of “Snakes” it is not because he put pencil to paper to conjugate the verbs “imi” or “humn,” but that the music told him to utter those ‘words’ on the fourth or ninth or seventeenth take at the studio in 2004 and 1984 respectively. And if the crowd at the tent in 2005 asked him to sing those songs only the studio way while he was up on stage, they would miss out on the “Widdiyimday widimmihimday wadaggihamdai” or “Oondee-yayai-heh! Omnee-yayao!” he might have given them instead when the music touched him that night. In fact, Shadow would not and could not accede to their stodgy wishes. That’s not how shadolingo works. The music and the mood produce it, direct it and send it sliding, whipping or careening into the world. But from where?

From its ‘extra-linguistic,’ and ‘para-symbolic’ dismantling of the building blocks of sensible language, shadolingo seems to both originate from and reach back towards something beyond. In artistic traditions that celebrate the primacy of the artist as author, improvisation is neither encouraged nor celebrated. While systematic experimentation and innovation are supported, even engendered within these composed arts as part of the process of learning, practising and mastering one’s craft, chance and ‘happy accidents’ are unwelcome.

Imposing one’s will upon the stone, wood, canvas or paper is elevated above the management of happenstance—even with the finest instruments and/or the finest materials. For to admit the author’s lack of control or dominance over his (the masculine pronoun is not just incidental here) materials and methods is to admit his partial or total failure as a great master. Inspiration, yes, accident, fortuity or intervention, no. Mastery but not mystery in their technique is what made Michelangelo and Mozart, Rembrandt and Chopin household words. Even Picasso, with all his obvious formal references to African art, was/is celebrated more for what his will did with/made of his (chance) encounter with “primitive” art. It was the same with Glenn Miller and other white bandleaders and their ‘domestication’ of that “race music” called Jazz.

Until Jackson Pollock and the other action painters of the New York School of abstract expressionism (i.e., flinging, dashing, pasting and scratching paint until ‘something’ told them to stop), and the developments in Jazz that had presaged and then accompanied “ab-ex” in North America (from old New Orleans Dixieland improvisation to Pharaoh Sanders Free Jazz), Western fine art had little place for chance and Nature’s co-authorship with man as he makes art. Western religions, particularly the Protestant churches and a great part of Islam, continue to struggle with the idea that God Himself might be playing dice with the universe (to paraphrase Einstein’s own Judeo-Christian anxiety on the topic) in processes like evolution.

Western classical music was composed by geniuses, then notated on paper, then played from there with a dash of the human spirit as befitting only the most expert musician—within reason. While musicians were allowed to add certain emphases here and nuances there, they dared not skip or add a note! The European peasantry could indulge in that savagery at their jigs, jotas and backcountry mazurkas but the music composed for assembled, well-dressed audiences would have none of that. The personal genius of the master composer was not to be subject to editing by some pisant harpsichordist or cello-come-lately at an impromptu fête in County Cork or Normandy somewhere.

This primacy of composition over improvisation demonstrates a fundamental difference between the fine arts of the West (and indeed much of the Global North) and the world beyond it. African, Amerindian and even classical Indian musics place far greater emphasis on improvisation[17] albeit to different degrees. And Amerindian and African musics especially have an abiding relationship with trance,[18] and even possession by music and rhythm.

Listening to shadolingo, it is no secret that Shadow is often in some kind of ecstatic state when he spits it—opposites like ‘sudden inspiration’ and ‘arranged composition’ collide during performance and elevate him into musical paroxysm. In that state, he is not just a master of inanimate instruments and acquired skills; he is a master of natural flows, waves, and cycles of sound. He is curating chaos (that mother of all creativity), determining its boundaries but otherwise allowing it to play out, express and manifest. As Khalil Gibran describes children,[19] so too music comes through Shadow rather than just from him. His mastery lies in polishing his craft and himself as instrument of that passage, as rudder of the “musical madness.” Art passes through everyone a different way depending on the degree to which they polish their craft and tune their instrument—the self being the instrument in question. This is why art is bigger than individual people and some examples of it get protected by UNESCO as our combined human patrimony—if enough of us concur that the work by an individual or a small subsection of us speaks of and to all of us.

 

Crossroads vision 2b_enhanced_galaxy3

Crossroads Vision 1, digitally manipulated graphite drawing. Lawrence Waldron.

In Shadow’s brand of mastery, he becomes the ladder, pole or potomitan[20] between the chaotic matrix of creativity and the ordered world of rhythm, tempo, melody, poetry etc. In the throes of shadolingo, he allows his role as author/composer/arranger to become dissolved into moderator/mediator/medium. Put another way, he ceases to push musical notes and syllables around like their boss and instead, lifts the lid/opens the roof on the crossroads and lets us glance at and listen to, for a moment, the swirling, blinding, deafening nursery of all ideas. The shadolingo issues forth, in short threads or long skeins. In Shadow’s music, we encounter more than inspired compositions; we glimpse creativity itself—if but for a few bars of music.

Can you imagine if all of Shadow’s music was pure shadolingo? The Calypso and Soca authorities would never have let him through the door at the Carnival competitions.

We can guess what Shadow’s mind-state is when he makes himself the axis mundi, uniting raw, awe-inspiring creativity and expertly arranged finished product. When he peppers us with shadolingo, even in our ecstatic response, we feel we’ve encountered something like this before. The Spiritual Baptists and Orisha practitioners give us some clue in their rituals and non-lexical utterances that Shadow might be on some kind of musical ‘moaning ground’ or singing out from some kind of zest or psychotropic, shamanic experience? Is he truly in a bass-induced trance when he sings phrases of shadolingo? What exactly is a trance anyway?

On this mundane side of the crossroads, where words are defined, even if ineffectually policed by schoolmarms (look how we were able to just make up the word “shadolingo” without being clapped in irons!), we like to make sure we’re using the right words when we talk about the word-shattering dynamics of shadolingo. Let’s get on the same page in the dictionary with regard to words like “trance” and “improvisation.”

The Oxford lexicographers define a trance as a “half-conscious state characterized by an absence of response to external stimuli, typically as induced by hypnosis or entered by a medium.” One wonders how they arrived at that “half” proportion. One also wonders whether the word trance can actually be applied to the state in which shadolingo is uttered or sung since Shadow must be more than just “half-conscious” to respond to the composed elements of the music in real time, and with such improvisatory aplomb no less. But as the dictionary offers up the etymological origins of the word, “trance” we seem to get closer to a description of Shadow’s mind-state during shadolingo. The roots of the word are closer to shadolingo than the word itself.

As it happens, “trance” was first used in Middle English, borrowed from the French verb, “transir” which means “to depart” or “fall into a trance” (perhaps we should put stress on the “fall” as verb), and the French usage, in turn, derives from the Latin verb, “transire,” which means “to go across.” Now, we get a far more accurate image of Shadow in transit between states, transcending linguistic, cultural, mental and phenomenological boundaries to arrive at pre-lexical vocalisations, and transmitting through our speakers the pore-raising experience of that crossroads liminality. As we go back in time, stripping “trance” of its nineteenth-century freight of hypnotic influence, mummy-unwrapping parties, table-top seances and other Victorian parlour games to the pre-Imperial roots of the word, we find a more universal meaning that might apply to shadolingo. To be in trance is to transcend.

Field recording of the Maroni River Caribs of Surinam, “Shamanic Ritual: The Dance”

There is a fairly large body of research on the link between music and trance, especially as employed by shamans and other ritual specialists.[21]  In fact, music is known to be one of several ways one can enter a trance or trance-like state. Repeated or rhythmic motions, including repetitive recitations, chants, singing and instrument-playing can cause the participant in such activities to become entranced.[22]  Indeed most music depends on repetition to hold its form and that repetition triggers anticipation, participation and hypnotic effects.[23] Of course, the other means of attaining trance is through the use of psychotropic substances. Our Amerindian forebears were adept at both these methods, sometimes using them together, and their traditional arts and music give evidence of this.

About - Jewels of Taino Art Presented by VICINI

Images of the Arawakan behique (shaman) in Taíno sculpture and ceramics. These examples are from the island of Hispaniola and represent the shaman (a and b from left to right) as the entheogen first takes effect or exhausted after it wears off; (c and d) in the depth of the visions brought by the drug (cohoba).

 

All of these techniques, from strenuous repetitive dances to sonorous and irresistible rhythms and melodies to sniffed, snorted and ingested entheogens (formerly known as “hallucinogens”) have been used by ritual specialists throughout history to achieve altered states of consciousness, to communicate with the dead, the gods, the indescribable fabric of the universe, and then return with vision, prophecy, wisdom.

Shadow’s method of crossing over has always been music—“give me muuusic!” he insists in “Don’t Try Dat” (1978) to a wealthy lady trying to bribe him off his ethereal musical perch. Music supplies the pounding rhythms from drum and bass that drag us down through the floor. It exalts us with the melodies, themes and chords that return, repeat and vary, sweeping us along. Then the shadolingo comes and ‘all fall down!’ We feel as if we have left our sweaty flesh to pound and stomp the earth, while we reach into the noumenon. No instruments were ever constructed to so faithfully produce repetition as the electronic ones. And they have served Shadow well in his quest to reach for the cosmic. Since the 1970s, sounds can be digitised, sequenced and looped to infinity but also endlessly manipulated and varied to surprising and downright mystical effect. As such, after the skin drums and ideophones under a starry sky, there are few kinds of music more entrancing than electronic music.

What of the word, “improvised”? Here, in the realm of decipherable words, how might we define “improvisation” before trying to apply it to shadolingo? Does the dictionary definition of that word allow Shadow to be more than “half-conscious” as he straddles the musical eternal and the finite structure of a recording? From the Latin root, “providere,” meaning “to make preparation for,” the English verb “to improvise” (i.e., with that antonymic prefix “im” in front of it) means “to create and perform (music, drama, or verse) spontaneously or without preparation.” There is no variance here, contemporary or ancient, between shadolingo (or Calypso extempore for that matter) and the intended English, French or Latin meanings of “improvise”/“improviser”/“improvvisare” respectively. Thus, the lexicographic origins of “trance” and “improvisation” both apply to the practice of Shadow’s in-the-moment para-lexical lingo.

Singing Sandra’s “The War Goes On” (early 2000s)

It is both in the slippage from the self that is part of trance, and in the lightning-fast reflexes of improvisation that shadolingo pours through its sole exponent, the Shadow. No other Kaisonian does it, although, on occasion, you might catch Duke, Singing Sandra or others briefly doing something similar and comparably powerful (as in the last minute of Sandra’s “The War Goes On” or between the verses on her “Ancient Rhythm,” 2003). Yet, trance and improvisation would seem to be opposites since the former causes you to lose yourself (often through repetitive motions or vocalisations) and the latter requires you to be supremely present in the moment (looking out for, interacting with, and causing changes in the composed music).

Gnawa music brings people into trance during the Lila ceremony, Morocco.

 

Moreover, you can use music to achieve trance in two major ways, and these ways too are virtually opposite—droning and improvisation. In droning, the repetition is what ironically lifts you out of the humdrum into that serene but sometimes adrenal zone that experienced meditators and runners speak of. An Indian tambura chimes behind the sitar lifting you to heights above the paisley brocade of an evening raga. The chants of the Malian-Moroccan Gnaoui/Gnawa singers pulse atop hectic tbel drums whipping you into a mental frenzy before punching through your fever or spirit possession.[24] The crystals inside an Amerindian shaman’s shakshak (maraca) swirl and swish like the accelerated winds of a hurricane or the heartbeat of your mother as you curl in the calabash of her uterus. In all these cases, droning repetition unzips your mind and subsumes or subverts your regular routine with a new, feverish one. The goal is often healing, forcing you to leave your body or mind before returning you to a restored version of it.

Now imagine what happens when improvised vocalisations like shadolingo join that already elevated state. This is why words that make no sense can speak truth, can impart wisdom and well-being.

I know yuh singing nonsense,

But yet ah love yuh nonsense.

Is obeah!

Yuh wokin’ obeah!

…yumooneeyuyh-amooneyuyoi!

—“Obeah” from Return of the Shadow (1982)

“Obeah,” from the album Return of the Shadow (1982)

At the crossroads, opposites like sense and nonsense, meaning and meaninglessness, icons and iconoclasty, regularity and irregularity, the repetitive and the improvised, the self-aware and the selfless meet and get stacked up on top of each other like lenses. The order of that stack determines whether we get laser focus, refraction or broad dispersal of psychedelic sounds.[25]

In this paradoxical, liminal mind-space at the crux of language and music, the lenses of melody and rhythm ultimately subsume those of linguistic meaning. The conventions of human language refract into shadolingo. As the eternal comes pouring out the human voice, an instrument usually used for language, nonsense makes perfect sense as music.

Despite its antagonism to the conventions of spoken language, shadolingo’s communicatory function makes it as much a language as music.

Crossroads vision 3_enhanced

Crossroads Vision 2, graphite on watermarked  envelope paper. Lawrence Waldron.

 

What Shadolingo For?: Shadolingo Does…

We define shadolingo, trace its use across time, and then pore over the European etymologies of “trance” and “improvisation” to make sure we’re thinking straight about the source of these para-lexical utterances. But is shadolingo just an abstract, made-up musical category or does it do something? It’s already clear that one of the functions of shadolingo is to bulldoze the semiotic structure of language to use its building blocks (i.e., vowels, consonants, hisses, stops etc.) instead for purely musical expression. Another function of shadolingo is to unshackle the singer and the listener both from history and restore them to a state of mental and emotional freedom.

The “longing to be free from the psychological and cultural freight of language” mentioned much earlier in this essay does not specify which language. Well, first, I am of the opinion that if Shadow grew up speaking Inuit, Igbo or Telegu, he would have still broken down into shadolingo. So, the short answer is, “all language.” But in the immediate wake of the Black Power years in Trinidad & Tobago, in which pan-Africanism was driving the sound of the new Soca musical idiom; when Duke’s “Black is Beautiful” (1969) was sung with pride and a deceptively conservative-sounding Chalkdust commented that young people were still “colour crazy, in fathead and daishiki,” with some talking about returning to Africa or India (from “We is We,” on the 1972 album, First Time Around)[26]; when Trinbagonians put up their rainbow of fists and put their hard West Indian “t” in the Black American saying, “Right on!”, the language to throw off was English. It didn’t seem to completely jive with the rhythms of Afro/Indo-diasporic music.[27]

Shadolingo, when it first broke out, demonstrated a dissatisfaction with European-derived lyrical and musical conventions. Even the heavily Africanized, Indianized, Celticized maritime forms of these that we speak, sing and perform in the formerly British West Indies seemed to be lacking some…essence. Given our position here at the Shadowlingo blog on Shadow’s vital role in the early development of Soca, many of us would add to this anticolonial linguistic dissatisfaction, and outright rebellion against English, the throwing off of the musical structures of 1960s-style Calypso, which had been dominated by dashing, metropolitan Sparrow and the returned Londoner, Lord Kitchener.

Language is not the same as culture. The fact that we speak English doesn’t make us Brits. But every language carries a massive cultural freight that shapes the minds of its users. Our Midnight Robber is more likely to quote Shakespeare than Voltaire or Valmiki. Many of us know more about Robin Hood and even Dick Turpin than we do the exploits of Mansa Musa or the Taíno culture hero Deminán Caracaracol…even though we are living on Arawakan land in black and brown bodies. It is not just because our ancestors were physically colonised by the British that we are carrying countless British cultural and mental habits, although that physical conquest more fully explains other aspects of our culture, from our economic to political systems. It is also because the British imposed upon and then left us with their language as a vector of their culture. Our anglicisation (and Anglo-Americanisation) continues through this language.

As regrettable as this is, I personally don’t stay up at nights mulling it over. Because it is too much spilt milk to cry over. It is, in fact, an ocean of milk and requires a boat (or a strong stomach),[28] not tears. Across Africa itself, Arabic, French and English are the most common national languages,[29] thanks to comparable colonising processes there. It’s not as if we can go back to Africa (or India) and be baptismally/Gangetically restored because over there too, culture is forever changed by Europeans (and Middle Easterners).

Yet, from their Bantu loan words (like “tote” and “nitty-gritty”), neologisms (not least of which is “dreadlocks”) and trendy slangs (from “hepcat” to the derived “hipster”) to their grammar, African Diaspora people especially have had a greater effect on the English language than any other non-Europeans.[30] To say “big big” to mean “very/truly big” is to apply West African syntax to an Anglo Saxon language. And when the whole world says, “okay,” they seldom consider that they might be speaking Mande.[31] Black and brown people have made English their own, from Jamaica to Jaipur. So, while the English language has shaped and confined our minds in many ways, we have, in turn, reshaped both local and world English(es) to reflect our folkways and thought patterns.

No island of the Caribbean has more different kinds of English than Trinidad, with its cosmopolitan population filtering the lingua franca through Kikongo, Yoruba, Hindi, Chinese, Lebanese and Syrian Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish grammars, feelings, logics, and other structures. Yet, as mentioned above, even those multiple Trinidadianisations of English are inadequate for Shadow when he reaches back to his roots. For Shadow, Africa was the oldest part of himself that he could find, offering the idioms closest to music’s shrouded, roiling core, and in musically induced trance, he fell back on constituent syllabaries derived from the languages betwixt the Congo and the Bight of Benin. Yet, he was reaching for a mother tongue even more ancient than those. ‘Mixed up well, And poured in party’[32] the right liquified vowels melodiously swirling together, the right pre-linguistic consonants pulsing outward from his chest to his vocal cords, could send him and us back to “Nature’s cradle,” still rocking and making new galaxies.

Even with its Bantu love of long m’s, n’s and bouncy syllables, shadolingo is not just reaching for lost African languages bred out of us by the French and British, but to a place beyond and before language itself. It stretches through (not past) Africa, towards something more fundamental, more pre-cultural, more cosmic in the nature of sound itself. This might make it sound like it springs from some primitivistic urge,[33] but its close coupling with electronic music (as exhaustively proven above) makes shadolingo a language of the eternal and fundamental, rather than of the undeveloped beginning. The lingo is not just chronologically “before” but conceptually prior. And it is this reaching for the fundamental that urged Shadow to mash up language into phonetic modules, vocal building blocks so it could better serve music.

 

Shadolingo in Retrospect

In 1973, Shadow walked into Semp Studio, looked at the band and broke them down in his mind, considering guitar, brass, drums/percussion and bass separately. With these component instruments of Calypso thus arrayed before his mind’s eye/ear, he decided to speed up the horns, shuffle the priority of the instruments to put the bass on top and, while the bass was playing the rhythm instead of the drums, he insisted it not play on the beats but mostly between them. The bass was the call and the beats were the response! What?! On a song called “Bassman,” after just three bars of four beats each, the next bar seemed to spiral out of control,  downward through the thickening strings on the bass guitar.

Tum pee dim pom—pom (4 beats/5 notes of onomatopoeic proto-shadolingo)

Bpum pee dim pom—pom (4 beats/5notes)

Bpum pee dim pom—pom (4 beats/5 notes)

Tim tim tim tim tom pom pom pim pom pim pom pom (6 beats/12 descending notes)[34]

Should we follow the beats or the bass? Musicians and Carnival revellers alike decided—the bass! We lost track of the bars but never the bass, and yet somehow still kept the beat. It’s a good thing we weren’t thinking about it at the time. We might have tripped over ourselves and tumbled in the madding crowd.

Shadow had returned to fundamentals and out of that core had reinvented an increasingly staid Calypso music. And after we finished prancing, we asked ourselves “Wait! Whah jus’ happen dey?”

Two years later, encouraged by the success of his syllabic calling out of Farrel’s bass notes in “Bassman,” Shadow did the same on “Constant Jamin”

Wim dim wim pim pim pim

Pim dim wam wam tam-pahm

Listening to himself ape the bass, he decided to go deeper. Like Wassily Kandinsky seeing his painting laying on its side, liking it that way and wondering why a painting always had to be a picture per se,[35] Shadow wondered why a syllable always had to make a recognisable word or imitate another instrument. He ruminated on the human voice and broke it down into composite sounds. But this decision wasn’t shrewd and strategic like putting the bass on top the music had been. This session of young Shadow’s master class in ‘Back to Basics’ would be about improvisation, informed by instincts almost beyond his own control. When it came to his extempore utterances, he would let Nature take the wheel…and his vocal cords.

The resulting shadolingo took only two years to develop from catchy onomatopoeia on “Bassman” to a mature and distinguishing mode of vocal expression on “Constant Jamin’.” Two years from an idea to a full-fledged musical philosophy.

In his experiments with electronic sound, Shadow yet again, broke music down into composite noises—into ones and zeros, in fact. And from those digital building blocks, he reconstituted Kaiso yet again in the 1980s and ’90s. Ironically, few instruments better support the cosmic origin and vision of shadolingo than synthesizers. In his experiments with and transitions to electronic music from the 1970s to 2000s Shadow seems to have been seeking an instrumental scaffold along which his otherworldly compositions, lyrics and shadolingo could climb into the world.

In turning our bodies over to these machines in Shadow’s employ, had we surrendered our trembling souls to cold technology, or had we surrendered our writhing but ageing bodies to the cosmic clockwork that the machines denote and connote in their digital, atomic fundamentalism? The abstract question lingered only for a moment, before “Poverty is Hell” or “Stranger” swept it away like an inconsequential dust mote on a polished dance floor…and we transcended.

Shadow’s constant return to the centre of the crossroads has never been out of a longing for simplicity, and definitely not for restoration to some sylvan or ‘primitive’ past. It has always been out of fathomless creativity, and an unending quest for (and receptivity to) new ideas. Not mere novelty (i.e., coolness) or vainglorious resurrection (to rejuvenate his career) but a proven theory of sustainable renewal. Shadow restlessly composed music all his life, at all hours of the night and day, in dry and wet and stormy seasons of life. This restlessness bid him to invent what had never been heard before and to renovate what had. It was in his explorative search of music that he circled back time and again to its mysterious core. And from this axis, he came back to us every few years, like a prophet down off the mountain, with new sounds and innovations in instrumentation and vocality. If we are just ‘fans’ we will praise him as the lone voice at the crossroads, chanting in his own language. If we follow his example, however, we will search out our own centre and find our own voice as persons, and as a people.

 

Epilogue: Shadow, the Kaisofuturist

While preparing her recent memorial article on Shadow, journalist Erin MacLeod asked me several important questions about this towering Kaisonian and his legacy. I did what I could to answer intelligently in the limited time we both had. In the course of our back and forth by e-mail, MacLeod also made passing reference to whether Shadow might be considered an Afrofuturist, to which I never responded. It is not that I had never considered this question before. In fact, in my private reflections I have often compared Shadow not only to the ‘Mad Monk, Thelonious’ as I call him (pre-Afrofuturist, certainly, but carrying the gene), but also to Sun Ra, the original Afrofuturist musician/composer/performer/mystic/philosopher-poet.

But I demurred to call Shadow an Afrofuturist. Shadow’s persona has always been chromatically and symbolically black, and culturally pro-Black, but not primarily concerned with Blackness or any other kind of identity. And, while he is some kind of futurist—definitely a Kaisofuturist, in light of the visionary use of electronic instrumentation he introduced and shepherded—he is not just an Afrofuturist. Alongside his use of black as philosophical antipode, Shadow has always earnestly explored himself as both finite individual in the “aging system” and as “cosmic baby” in the grand scheme. He has done this while also placing himself and his music beyond the reach of the shifting alliances, affiliations, and temporal considerations between the microcosm and the macro cosmos.

Expanding from MacLeod’s question, Shadow was the consummate outsider, belonging to nothing (except his own tent both figuratively and physically at the 1970s Master’s Den), but both dread individualist and loving universalist at once. He was far less interested in blackifying the scriptural past or the digital future than in considering the paradoxes of both culture and nature overlaid (e.g., the cock and the farmer in “Cook Curry and Crow” are both victim and perpetrator, in both natural and cultural forms of predation). He always saw the internal contradictions, ironies, similarities, grotesquery and beauty of structures and systems. And in the last decade of his career, he was particularly interested in overlaying the technological with the organic as horns and drums re-joined the digital instruments.

An odd thing stood out to me at the various memorials for this outsider in the hours and days before and after his funeral—the way in which the different camps came out to praise Shadow’s name and claim him, when in fact Shadow was not a true member of any of their respective coteries. Race, religion, political parties, credential-granting institutions are all local, temporal concerns that Shadow might have referenced (and not always complimentarily) but none were anywhere near the core of Shadow’s raison d’etre.

The old Black Power activists from the seventies have always embraced Shadow because of how he himself presented and performed Blackness in the face of that brown-skinned metropolitanism that dominates post-Independence Trinidad (more than in Tobago), from the halls of government to advertising billboards. But Shadow has never been just concerned with elevating African or Black identity.

At one memorial, I was glad to hear some Shadow aficionados grumbling audibly about hypocrisy during some of the evangelical prayers and speeches given in Shadow’s remembrance. For when a singular Christian pastor delivers funerary benedictions over Shadow’s body, in the absence of a Hindu pundit (Shadow has massive Indo-Trini fans!), Muslim imam (especially one of the progressive ones we have in Trinidad), and when not even an Orisha spiritual leader is invited to speak as befits our plural society, I wondered if this singular pastor was familiar with Shadow’s oeuvre and the fact that his songs never mention Jesus or even “God.”

In his music, Shadow often praised Nature instead (like in “My Vibes are Heavy”) and seemed to believe in a kind of natural Creator, which he never presumed to describe but which he references in the effulgent “Hills Over Yonder” (B-side of the 1978 single “Something Wrong”) and “Music (Dingolay).” To hear Shadow exasperatedly utter “What more yuh want? Aahhhh Lord!” at the end of “Sing Boy Sing” (2004) is amusing in that, given his lack of songs crying out to God to “put a hand” as we say, that “Aahhh Lord” is obviously an idiom (like “Oh gorm!” or “Oh shit, man!”) used for emotive effect. “Aahhh Lord” is the closest Shadow ever came to mentioning anybody’s God by name. He was obviously not an atheist; he just didn’t believe in the isms that wrack Trinbago with schisms.

“Sing Boy Sing,” from the album Fully Loaded (2004)

 

In the same way that this transcendent Shadow has never pledged allegiance to any particular deity in song, he has not supported any political party, and has likewise never identified with any contemporary construction of “race” beyond inhabiting his negritude without shame and wielding it as an axe to open the ontological cracks in metropolitan creolité/creolity/mestizaje.

Shadow never told all these groups, “No, I am not with you” but as they all rushed to stamp his coffin like corporate sponsors, I was possessed of a burning urge to disabuse them of their folly. Rather than startin’ to cuss like Rufus in “Doh Mess wid Meh Head” (1979), I am doing it here on Shadowlingo. Steupps!

Shadow’s is the true “every creed and race” philosophy enshrined in our national anthem, not the Christocentric, honey-brown tyranny of the majority that gives fatigue to dark-skinned Blacks and Indians about their “Madras” and “tar baby” blackness, decries their polytheistic savagery, assumes fifth-generation Chinese Trinidadians are foreigners before they even open their mouths, or presumes everybody knows and wants to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the commencement of public events.

With his ‘live and let live’ attitude, the Shadow, now dubbed “Dr Winston Bailey” by the University of the West Indies, who spent so much of his life ideating, experimenting, suffering, innovating on the periphery of the Trinidad music establishment was, perhaps not ironically, one of our republic’s best citizens. But he was never one for membership in movements, parties, committees and such. Soca came and acknowledged him as a member, granting him admittance to a movement that hardly recognised he was one of its very progenitors. Imagine that! In the end, Shadow’s ‘membership’ in any demographic was/is a matter of resemblance; not subscription. Shadow always doin’ he own t’ing.

 

Endnotes

[1] From the song of the same name (i.e., “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby)”), written by Irish-American James Royce Shannon in 1913 for the Tin Pan Alley musical play Shameen Dhu.

[2] From the 1980 song of the same name by the British Rock band, The Police. The title of their acclaimed third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, like the hit song from it quoted here, saw the band experimenting with language, meaning, and the possibilities of disentangled syllables, portmanteau and ‘meaninglessness.’

[3] Cadavre exquis, also known as exquisite cadavre/exquisite corpse, is a Surrealist collaborative practice of combining words or images in unexpected ways. Each collaborator writes or draws a section of the composition connected to the other section(s) but often with only partial knowledge of the other composer’s words or images.

[4] Derived from the Surrealist cadavre exquismethod, the Dadaist cut-up techniquescrambles, then rearranges words to break down, reconfigure and expand meaning. The cut-up technique has been used by many writers and composers, two of the most famous being author William S. Burroughs and musician David Bowie.

[5] Citing Stephen Glazier’s 1983 book, Marchin’ the Pilgrims Home, Walter Pitts describes ‘doption (derived from “adoption”) somewhat starkly as part of a “possession ritual” in which “hymns undergo…a rhythmic transformation involving loud hyperventilation in which European text gives way to nonsense syllables.” See Walter Pitts, ““If You Caint Get the Boat, Take a Log”: Cultural Reinterpretation in the Afro-Baptist Ritual,” in American Ethnologist, vol. 16 no. 2 (May 1989), 279-293.

[6] There are notable exceptions in the verses of “Enjoy Yourself” on the Zess Man album (1977) where the high pitch communicates both earnest and paradoxical sweetness and is even used for some of the shadolingo; and in the brief falsetto on the darkly philosophical single, “Evolution” (1979).

[7] Called gamelan in Indonesia and kulintang in the Philippines.

[8] And lyrics have been the preoccupation of this web space.

[9] Is it the J. Alexander from the future Zess Man album?

[10] The method of transcription here was to break the utterance into rhythmic parts, which in this case numbered ten, and listen closely for the vowel changes in time with those ten parts, even though the vowels essentially blended together. After six parts of “u” (“oo”) and “o” (“oh”) sounds, the voice changed over to “a” (“ah”) and “eh” (“yay”) sounds.

[11] The Pop music applications of synthesized sounds had always tended to be more organic than critics recognised or admitted. Even the ultra-computerized, mechanistic pioneers of electronic music, Kraftwerk, were known to use such sounds with both futuristic aspirations and socio-political irony, making no attempt to moderate their thick ‘inner city’ Düsseldorf accents on the vocals, which sounded to most Germans like a Kingston Jamaican accent sounds to most Anglophone West Indians or a Brooklyn accent sounds to most U.S. Americans.

[12] P.N.M.: People’s National Movement, whose symbol is the balisier (Heliconia bihai) referred to in the song as the nest of snakes.

[13] Popular acronym for the eighties New Wave group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

[14] Also see: https://entropia-records.com/shadow-sweet-sweet-dreams-time-will-tell/and http://pan-african-music.com/en/shadow-sweet-sweet-dreams-soca-revolutionnee-a-trinidad/

[15] I am uncertain of the order in which these songs were actually recorded versus the order in which they were pressed and published on the record.

[16] For a short Bunji bio, see https://www.vprecords.com/bunji-garlin/and for Bunji’s 2019 ode to Shadow, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL8HoLKx-1g

[17] For a brief discussion of improvisation in African music, both across the continent and in Jazz, see AfroPop: http://afropop.org/articles/improvisation-musicians-and-scholars-speak

[18] Western listeners to Indian classical music might find the drone of a tambour to be ‘entrancing’ but in fact trained or accustomed listeners of such music are aware that it intends to evoke nine distinct emotions or rasas depending on the melodies or tempos of the ragas being played.

[19] In the book The Prophet, the sage says of children, “They come through you not from you.”

[20] The potomitan is the centrepost in a Vodun temple (ounfò), “extending from floor to ceiling,” understood to be a kind of axis mundi “through which the lwa[orishas/spirits] descend and possess the faithful.” Phyllis Galembo, Visions and Voices of Haiti(Berkeley California: Ten Speed Press, 1998), 36, 58.

[21] See Jack Hunter’s references in his article, “Music and Altered States of Consciousness in Shamanism and Spirit Possession: An Overview of the Literature.”

[22] Compare the scientific study of music and trance by Rouget 1985to the empirical study of these by Jankowsky 2007, 2010.

[23] See Elizabeth Helmuth Margulis, On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind(Oxford University Press, 2013); and Tom Service, “Stuck on Repeat: Why We Love Repetition in Music,”2016;

[24] Deborah Kapchan makes the interesting point about Gnawa music, the ritual music of former Malian slaves in Morocco, that “there is a metonymic relation between the state of being possessed by a spirit and the historical state of being possessed by an owner.”https://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/46-1/Moroccan%20Gnawa.pdf

[25] Hopefully, the reader will forgive my synesthetic description as it is my opinion that shadolingo is just the auditory range of a broader transcendent experience in creativity.

[26] I describe Chalkdust’s “We is We” critique of “fathead and daishiki” as “deceptively conservative” because this bold and inherently progressive composition actually asserts that it is right in Trinbago that we will find our identity rather than in looking back through Afrocentric, Indocentric, Sinocentric, Eurocentric, Syro-Lebano-centric romanticisms which place Trinbago on the ontological periphery rather than at the center.

[27] We might consider that Indo-Trinidadians, still in possession of much of their ancestral Hindi, began ‘socafying’ their Chutney music, which became a music revolution of its own by the 1980s.

[28] This is an oblique reference to the Hindu scripture, the Samudra Manthana in which the gods actually cooperate with the demons to churn a cosmic, milky ocean into amrita (the elixir of immortality) and in the process extract the impurities from this vast ocean for the benefit of all life. In more orthodox versions of the narrative, Shiva swallows the poison to spare the world, but it is so strong it scorches his throat blue. It is possible to see the spinning Mount Mandara (used as the churning rod at the physical and symbolic centre of this episode) in this beloved narrative as a planet or island in an opaque cosmos, churning its surroundings into a state of perpetual fertility. For quick reference, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samudra_manthan

[29] See https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/african_languages.htm

[30] See PBS’s The Story of English, program 5: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UutNB2OzUjs; Also see Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/language-and-mind/201808/why-african-american-english-is-not-broken-english

[31] This linguistic attribution remains controversial. See Joseph E. Holloway and Kellersberger Vass, The African Heritage of American English(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).

[32] “Put a touch of cowbells, And mix it up well. Then pour it in party, And give it to me”—from “I’m Sick” on the same Mystical Moods album as “If I Wine, I Wine.”

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Shadow Funeral Webcast

Posted: October 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

shadow-flipside_crop.jpg

WACK Radio 90.1 Radio will webcast the proceedings of Shadow’s funeral at the Queen’s Park Savannah, starting at 10:00 am local time on Tuesday, October 30th, 2018.

 

The Shadow Keeps on Movin’

Posted: October 23, 2018 in Uncategorized
ShadowOfShadow_BestOf_inside1_EdwardBarrow

Detail of a photo of Shadow by Edward Barrow

As he often reminded us, Shadow was not from our realm. While he was with us, we were amazed, astounded, awed by his profound wisdom, his revolutionary musical vision, his eccentric persona, his mysterious talent. When living legends die, they pass into yet a higher circle of heroism. The Shadowlingo blog was launched in humbled, chastened response to Denyse Plummer’s rebuke and admonition that we not wait until our heroes are dead to lay crowns on their heads. We were determined not to let that happen to our philosopher-poet, Winston Bailey, de baddest bard!

Shadow moves on now into a lofty pantheon of Calypso ancestors. But even as a towering caryatid alongside fearsome Atilla, debonair Lion, dulcet Terror, paradoxical Spoiler, and philharmonic Kitch, Shadow will still stand alone, singular in his cosmic view and in his truly post-colonial legacy that bids us to question everything.

The notices of Shadow’s death are telegraphically short at this point, on this first day of the staggering news. Shadowlingo will post any particularly intelligent articles from the media that get at the multidimensional nature of Shadow’s career and contribution.

Carivele screenshot

The long-awaited Independence Golden Anniversary issue of CariVele magazine became available online at the end of 2015. In it, alongside many fine articles by T&T music and arts scholars such as Kim Johnson, Winthrop Holder and Geoffrey Maclean, is a Waldron article about Shadow that celebrates his career and contributions. Subscribe to CariVele for access to the massive anniversary issue whose pages pay tribute to the national treasures of T&T, whether living or dead. Definitely a collector’s item.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 5.37.36 PM

Part of this essay was previously presented at the Trinidad and Tobago Folk Arts Institute’s symposium on Lord Kitchener at Medgar Evers College (City University of New York), January, 2009.

 

abandoned-shoe

Ah tell she, “Throw ‘way de damned shoe!” And I throw ‘way meh shoe too,  She say, “Whole day I hopin’ I could bounce up someone like you!”

Calypso-Happy

A United Nations survey published in 2013 found Trinbagonians to be the happiest people in the Caribbean.[i] The findings attributed this feeling of well being to the satisfaction of several social and economic criteria, including the national GDP, personal health and life expectancy, perceptions of social liberty, love and family life, and the demonstration of personal generosity. As it turns out, in the following year (2014) another international survey, the World Giving Index, named Trinidad and Tobago the tenth most generous country in the world.[ii] It seems that Trinis are not only full of joy but like to ‘spread joy,’ too, to take the Trini idiom literally. Of course, these surveys were done before the recent downturn in the price of petroleum and T&T’s impending recession, but it is nevertheless remarkable that a country with a decades-old, major crime problem could be the happiest in the region. Editorialisations on the happiness surveys (e.g., one in Black Enterprise) mentioned matter-of-factly that Carnival (a factor not possessed by every country and therefore not on the U.N. criteria list) might also have had something to do with Trinbagonian happiness. I concur.

When the anticipation for Christmas paranging gives way to the festival itself, and when that excitement has no chance to subside on, say, New Years morning because it is overtaken immediately by the anticipation for Carnival, the nation’s festival calendar seems to be one of no small importance. And lest we should wonder what we’re going to do with the rest of the year (e.g., will we sink into a post-party depression?), the multicultural nature of the country ensures that there will be Easter, Phagwa (Holi), Emancipation Day, Indian Arrival Day, First Peoples Heritage Day, Hosay, Eid-ul Fitr, Divali and a number of other holidays to punctuate the year and keep the festivities going. Few of the religious holidays are sombre occasions. Trinidadian Muslims, for instance, may not be universal fans of Carnival, but if you’ve been to an Eid cook-off in south or central Trinidad, you’d know that Trini Muslims ‘like dey fête, too.’ They might not jump and wine but after five or six different helpings of sweet sawine from as many different mothers, aunts, cousins and sisters, you can barely move anyway. And it goes without saying that not only Muslims are invited to Eid celebrations, just as not only Hindus come to watch Ravana (Rawan) burn at Ramleela. Even on the most religious holidays, Trinbagonians put the ‘fest’ in festival. And the chief of festivals is the pre-Lenten Carnival, your last chance to ‘get on bad’ before retreating into austerity for six weeks.

But not everyone is an expert at letting their dreads down and loosening their inhibitions. Some take some polite convincing, some seductive cajoling to unhook the rusted latch on their caged party animal. Some even require instruction. Hard-drinking American film actor, Humphrey Bogart, used to call New Years Eve “amateur night”[iii] and just like those out-of-practice drinkers in Times Square, a large percentage of the people swelling the throngs at Carnival haven’t ‘bussed a wine’ in a while. They’ve been busy or preoccupied with work, children or school. Some have been living in basement studio apartments in Brooklyn, where they might hit their head on the ceiling pipes or break the radiator if they spontaneously attempted a jump-and-wave, so they stay truly out of practice, while settled out of town. Some amateur-class Carnival revellers have only recently strayed from attending church twice or thrice per week so they need step-by-step directions…unless they’ve been grinding on the sly like some of our outwardly upright citizens are known to do behind closed doors or under cover of night. Yet other erstwhile revellers have had personal problems, from dengue to tabanca, preventing them from unclenching their grip on the reins of finance or physical conduct.

In this essay, I compare and contrast two of the greatest Calypso anthems to Carnival’s unleashing of the exuberant beast, Kitchener’s “Margie” (1970 Carnival) and Shadow’s “Ah Come Out to Play” (1974 Carnival). Certainly, people had been singing about this subject of breaking away at Carnival long before grandmaster Kitch and the then upstart Shadow. And the electronic Socas of today seem to take it as their modus operandi to drive the listener into an adrenal (and perhaps narcotic-assisted) frenzy with their callisthenic instructions about waving things, and those computer driven beats with all the relentlessness of machine pistons.

It is not as if none of these new Socas have the spark of lyrical genius. In its celebratory 21st century way Lyrikal’s 2015 “Cloud 9” recalls the bacchanal travelogue of yesteryear. From verse to verse, Lyrikal extols the virtues of “living for tonight” and he means only tonight. In the morning, he doesn’t even want to hear about tonight, for it will be long gone. Tomorrow will be another ‘now’; not this one. If you take a picture of him tonight, living in the moment, he warns you not to bother tagging him when you post it on your social media tomorrow. He’s not interested in anything but tonight. The song explicitly rejects both past and future. This isn’t exactly what Zen masters mean by, ‘the here and now.’ It is not selfless serenity but hedonistic, somewhat desperate disregard of past and future; a reflexive and escapist, rather than reflective and empiricist, presentism. It is the wildness of ancient Greco-Roman festivals of the wine god from which we get the term “bacchanal,” especially of those usually housebound wives, cutting loose for the first time in a year. It is the reckless abandon of West Indian Carnival, which attracts participants from all over the world.

There are several ways to unpack Carnival in a song. You can gloss on its typifying events and behaviours, like in Calypso Rose’s “Going Down San Fernando” (1977); give us a slice of the action by reporting on a protagonist in the midst of the festival, like Blueboy (Super Blue) in “Ethel” (1981); you can state in abstract terms your opinion of, or approach to, Carnival, like Machel does in “Happiest Man Alive” (2014). Or you can write a piece of literature that potentially does all of the above and more in a fully developed narrative that enables us the listeners to live/relive Carnival through your scenario, thereby understanding experientially (as we dance to it in the streets and parties) and dialectically (as we turn its lyrics over in our minds) the meaning of the festival.

Explainer’s “Lorraine,” from the Carnival of 1982, is a good example of a song that does all three of the above, giving us a poignant narrative of a Trini stuck in freezing New York during the Carnival season who suddenly decides he is leaving for his island, even if that means leaving his woman behind. Over his shoulder and already out the door with his grip, he invites her to join him if she likes. The Soca isn’t just a story of longing about a shivering ‘Triniyorker’ émigré who decides to return home to Carnival and shake off his melancholy; it is also an exposition on the then-contemporary customs, requisite attitude, and even the meaning of the occasion. It is also a superb piece of music that cannot be resisted, with an appropriately exalting use of horns that tug at your heartstrings (and perhaps even your patriotism) while making you break a sweat in your Carnival costume. I do not doubt that occasionally its lyrics and music together have made pores raise on the arms of returning expats, causing them to mix a few tears with all that sun-flecked perspiration.

So with rich and timeless Carnival stories like “Lorraine” out there it might seem arbitrary to choose Kitchener’s “Margie” and Shadow’s “Ah Come Out to Play” as Carnival literary works of a piece, worth comparing closely. But I have thought about these two songs for a long time—together. While it is foolish to think or propose that in a body of work so vast as the libertine hymns to Carnival there should be any one or two ‘best’ Calypsos, these two are certainly exemplars of a particular sub-genre of Carnival Calypsos. We might call them, “learning to leggo” Calypsos as they explore that topic in intimate, psychological detail. Moreover, these two compositions relate to each other in interesting ways across a span of only three or four years, which makes them contemporaries (even though ‘Carnival years’ are like dog years for all the distance that is perceived between them in T&T’s busy festival round), even counterparts in a shared early ‘70s Trinbagonian zeitgeist. All of these linking factors prompt this analysis.

The two songs not only take gaining the ‘license to leggo’ (or the “Permission to Mash Up de Place” as David Rudder called it later in ‘87) as their theme, they take it as the topic of their literary narrative, and as their polemic stance. They also can be contrasted in terms of Kitchener’s attempt to convince “Margie” to ‘leggo’ versus Shadow being the one who is pulled into an escalating ‘leggo’ process by an unnamed female catalyst.

Margie

It might strike the reader as highly irregular to heap so much praise upon any musician other than Shadow here, on the Shadowlingo blog, but I would venture that the composition “Margie” is not only a masterpiece of the aforementioned ‘literary polemic’ sub-genre of Carnival-themed Calypsos but also an exemplar of the Calypso musical form itself. No discussion of this length could possibly approach this peerless opus by Lord Kitchener with the analytical thoroughness it deserves as a singular work, even in the illustrious career of a composer whom many consider the nation’s greatest. A more involved essay might attempt to place this superlative Calypso in its historical context within the revue Calypsonians strike and black power upheavals of 1970 and even the personal life of Lord Kitchener around the time it was being composed.[iv] But a brief and confessedly, loving treatment follows here, issuing naturally from the storyline in “Margie”’s lyrics, and from the beauty of its music:

Margie

From the album, Sock It to Me Kitch, by Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), 1970

 

Margie,

Girl you always makin’ row,

You could vex, yuh could please,

Yuh must listen now:

You always wanted me

to make you so happy.

Well darlin’, I find de solution

To your desire and ambition.

 

[Chorus]

Come leh-we lime,

As de people say.

Now is de time,

On Carnival Day.

Ah want yuh come in town;

Don’t you let me down.

Just throw on yuh morning duster,

An’ pick me up by Green Corner.

We only ragin’ as it is said,

And paintin’ de town in red.

We go make bacchanal for dis Carnival!

 

Darling,

There’s no time to frown your face.

You must twist,

You must jump,

You must shake your waist.

You must forget de past,

And leh we play we mas.

Remember you come to have yuh fun,

So let bygones be bygones.

 

[Chorus]

Come leh-we lime,

As de people say.

Now is de time,

On Carnival Day.

Ah want yuh come in town;

Don’t you let me down.

Just throw on yuh morning duster,

An’ pick me up by Green Corner.

We only ragin’ as it is said,

And paintin’ de town in red.

We go make bacchanal for dis Carnival!

 

Doux-doux,

Now that yuh inside de band,

You could move as yuh like,

‘Cause you wit yuh man.

So darlin’ make yuh play,

An’ start to ding-o-lay.

Let me see yuh body line

movin’ up like a ball o’ twine.

 

[Chorus]

Come leh-we lime,

As de people say.

Now is de time,

On Carnival Day.

Ah want yuh come in town;

Don’t you let me down.

Just throw on yuh morning duster,

An’ pick me up by Green Corner.

We only ragin’ as it is said,

And paintin’ de town in red.

We go make bacchanal for dis Carnival!

 

The lyrical content of the Calypso seems relatively simple as Calypsos go, especially given the social commentary and lexicographical feats of 1930s and 1940s Calypsonians such as Atilla, Radio and Invader. And let’s not forget that Black Power is on everyone’s mind at this time so to dodge a direct engagement with politics is a deliberate move. Nevertheless, there are three levels to the song’s text. Kitchener sings of a personal relationship in crisis, which encounters the stressing or potentially ameliorating conditions of a national holiday, Carnival, (which necessarily raises certain national issues through which the personal ones can be viewed in the song), and the confluence of the personal into the national unfolds not only as a Carnival narrative but also as an evangelical expostulation on the healing powers of Carnival. Indeed, “Margie” is no less than a polite Carnival polemic, revealed within a Carnival story, masterfully composed and arranged like a Carnival Road March.

In the first verse we join a romance that’s been in trouble for some time now between the singer and the namesake character, Margie. Kitchener implores her to put aside her reservations and grudges with the promise that she will be restored by Carnival, the warm camaraderie and reckless abandon proposed in the chorus.

The state of conflict established by the first verse and the ensuing resolution proposed by the chorus are both surrogates for the gender, class and religious differences within Trinidad and Tobago, which traditionally are suspended at Carnival (at least nominally). “Margie,” and indeed all adversaries with whom we live in close proximity are entreated to “Forget de past, and leh we play we mas” in an exhalting Tchaikovskiesque passage sung by Kitch and arranged by Clive Bradley.

From the first chorus Carnival is set up as a shining destination, the motive for getting Margie out of her unhappy home. Imploring Margie to join the festivities, Kitch’s Calypso almost seems to presage the ‘wave yuh rag’ jump-and-wave phenomenon with its instructions on how to be a Carnival reveller (especially in the chorus and third verse). We’ll lime, and rage, and paint the town red. But this Calypso also sets Carnival in a broader, systemic role as a stage upon which are satirized and solved the problems of people, groups, and indeed the nation: “I find de solution to your desire and ambition,” boasts Kitch, like a street vendor selling Carnival itself. The Calypso audaciously hawks Carnival as a tingling balm to Margie’s previously unstated intransigence, but it also addresses itself to Margie’s disappointed expectations of happiness with her partner these past few months or years. Even though nowadays, “Girl you always makin’ row” it is understood that “[y]ou always wanted me to make you so happy.” Kitch thinks that Carnival is the panacea.

Kitchener realizes that his “solution” to his domestic disharmony might seem absurd but thrusts it upon Margie anyway, disregarding her objections “You could vex, you could please, you must listen now” demanding to be heard. His ‘Carnival solution’ is of great urgency and import. And he argues for it forcefully. Note the progression in the first line of each verse from a formal “Margie” to an informal “Darling” to a loving “Doux-doux” as Kitch escalates his charm offensive.

The rhetorical footing that “Margie” takes from its very onset requires that the song take an unexpectedly sequential, even logical progression in its advocacy of Carnival’s irrational merriment. The Calypso proposes that Margie bury the hatchet at Carnival. The choruses explain to her how she might get herself into a Carnival situation, commencing at the famous/infamous Green Corner (which becomes even more of a landmark once it is immortalized in this song). She is assured that even if she refuses to fuss over her appearance in any way and turns up in her morning duster, she will be welcome. Of course, if she has to come and meet up with her man at Green Corner it means that he is running off to Carnival earlier than she is. This gives his invitation to Margie the not-so-subtle aspect of an ultimatum. It certainly gives urgency to his argument that Carnival is where the problems will be worked out—do or die, with or without all parties involved.

Moved by Kitch’s passionate presentation of his case, Margie seems to accede to his invitation so that by the second verse we hear him instructing her in the finer points of Carnival revelry, with the twisting; the jumping; and the shaking of the waist. Margie has joined Carnival. Finally, by the third verse she has thrown caution to the wind finding herself in the crush of “de band.” Kitch reassures her that on his watch, she can abandon her inhibitions with no fear of reprisals or untoward advances: “You could move as yuh like, cause you wit yuh man.” Thus as he basks in the success of his argument he takes the added step of ensuring a bacchanal without disaster. In his patented fedora, Kitch is the consummate gentleman.

The optimistic tone of “Margie” is impossible to ignore, despite the fact that the two people in the song are clearly working through an ongoing conflict. Its evocation of only the happiest moments of Carnival (there’s no mention here of inappropriate Harriman-like[v] class-bating, or of sending any Carnival ‘badjohn’ off to his “long funeral from the Royal Hospital”),[vi] combined with the soaring chorus evoke nothing less than a Carnival utopia. The hooliganism of Small Island Pride’s “Carnival Celebration” (1956) has been expunged and the infamous controversies between Carnival judges and the artistes (raised to epic proportions by Shadow’s “Jump, Judges Jump” in 1976) are rendered irrelevant. As the chorus calls a diffident Margie to the carefree action in Port-of-Spain, Kitchener weaves a complex web of conflicting, bittersweet emotions through his compelling argumentation, elaborate music, and defiant hope that Carnival is the ultimate solution.

The emotional complexity and rhetorical thrust of the song “Margie” is more evident in the chorus than any verse of the Calypso. Indeed the chorus itself is longer than any of the verses,[vii] making it far less of a refrain and more of a thematic and dialectical device. It is an equal partner with the verses in the song’ cordial (White says, “sly”)[viii] inveiglement for Margie to join Kitch in the Carnival multitudes.

The beautiful, compound chorus has four distinctly different passages: the lyrics from “Come leh we lime” to “on Carnival Day” are characterized by a sweet verbal enticement on top of curiously melancholy combinations of musical notes (as if Lord Kitchener remembers all the Carnivals past with a sad, distant fondness…like in 1978’s “The Carnival is Over”); as these notes descend, the lyrics “Ah want yuh come in town” and “Don’t you let me down” act like a bridge to the rest of the chorus, where “Just throw on your mornin’ duster, and pick me up by Green Corner” are sung to a jaunty melody (whose phrasing presages “Sugar Bum Bum” by eight years) on top of a typical quadrille-inspired Calypso beat designed for “chipping” down the street; before the elated chorus soars to a crescendo.

All the musicians in “Margie” have distinct roles until just before this crescendo. In the first three quarters of the chorus, arranger-conductor Clive Bradley is merely answering Kitch with punctuating runs, rolls and bursts of woodwinds and horns, but at “We’ll be raging as it is said” the entire arrangement, including backup singers, joins the Grandmaster in the chorus’ final heraldic ascent. It is a kind of triumphant fanfare to Carnival.

Overall, the celebratory timbre of “Margie”’s lyrics; the sometimes melancholy strains of the music; the rhetorical, narrative progression of the verses; and the happy conclusion give “Margie” a certain nostalgic air, perhaps for the sixties just gone by—for this particular kind of Calypso is more in that mode, in fact like an ultimate, sophisticated perfection of the sixties style. “Margie,” its music and lyrics are crisp, and idyllic like a fanciful reminiscence; sweet and sad like a romance; yet hot and infectious enough to have swept the streets and fêtes of 1970. The mirthful celebrants sang along with it at the top of their lungs innumerable times. Indeed, its singular combination of complex yet dulcet music and deceptively simple lyrics made it fun to sing aloud, and a consummate challenge to play on pan (but that’s another story!).

No Calypso can be all Calypsos to all people. As Commandor says “You Can’t Finish Pleasing People.”[ix] Some Calypsos are more lyrical than others; some are more musical than others. Some are political; a few, very romantic; some exuberant and even erotic in their celebration of Carnival bacchanal. But for its simultaneously abstract and narrative approach to (of all issues!) conflict resolution; in its focus on Carnival as the culmination of both the ritual calendar of Trinidad and Tobago and Trinbagonian esprit de corps; for the superlative arrangement by Clive Bradley of one of Kitchener’s most ambitious compositions; for the tune’s ready, and intentional, adaptability to Trinidad and Tobago’s other great musical form, Pan; for its inspired synthesis of all the above; and for its serendipitous incidence at the historical apogee of the Calypso form[x] and arguably the Grandmaster’s Calypso (i.e., pre-Soca) career, “Margie” is the epitome of Calypso itself.

Ah Come Out to Play

Suffice it to say that “Margie” is a hard act to follow as anthemic Carnival dialectics go. But in his notorious song, “The Threat,” from the same year as “Margie” no less, Shadow was the man who vowed to overthrow Kitchener (and Sparrow). It is doubtful Shadow was directly tackling a three-year old “Margie” with “Ah Come Out to Play,” for the two songs take such different approaches to the same destination. But in those heady, experimental days where Shadow and Art DeCoteau had started featuring the bass (like a Funk band) instead of using it for rhythm (like Calypso, Rock or older R&B), Shadow made us come to expect a Margie-class slice of Carnival every few years (instead of once every decade or so) even from the people actively pioneering a new music, the one that would eventually become known as Soca. “Ah Come Out to Play,” however, was not one of the more experimental sounds on Shadow’s premier album. It is in some ways an unusual Calypso but still a Calypso all the same (i.e., not a Soca). This makes it directly comparable with “Margie” in terms of its music in addition to the lyrical content discussed here.

“Ah Come Out to Play” never won Road March like “Margie” did. It was crowded out of the number one spot by another song by Shadow, “Bass Man.” Need it be stressed how hot and bright Shadow was burning that year?

 

Ah Come Out to Play

From the album, Bass Man, by Shadow (Winston Bailey), 1973

 

It was Tuesday night,

Last Lap Carnival.

Meh head feeling right,

Ah bounce up this goal.

She say, “I drink up meh whiskey,

And I smoke up meh tampee,

And right now I’m searching for

A man to jump up wit me.”

 

[Chorus]

“But yuh dancin’ like yuh ‘fraid to touch me.”

I come out to play!

“Hold me tight around meh belly.”

I come out to play!

“Like yuh ‘fraid meh man go beat yuh.”

I come out to play!

“Me aint have no man, I tell yuh.”

“I only hope you aint have no woman in de band,

Cuz if you have a woman, dat go be real confusion.

I am in search of a man with your description,

And yuh got to play wid me from now until Ash Wednesday!”

 

I say “Doux-doux come,

Take a drink o’ rum.”

She say, “Meh shoe buss,

An’ I lost meh purse.”

I tell she, “T’row way de damned shoe,”

And I t’row way meh shoe, too.

She say “Whole day, I hoping

I could bounce up someone like you!”

 

[Chorus]

“But why yuh dancin’ like yuh ‘fraid to touch me.”

I come out to play!

“Hold me tight around meh belly.”

I come out to play!

“Like yuh ‘fraid meh man go beat yuh.”

I come out to play!

“Me aint have no man, I tell yuh.”

“I only hope you aint have no woman in de band,

Cuz if you have a woman, dat go be real confusion.

I am in search of a man with your description,

And yuh got to play wid me from now until Ash Wednesday!”

  

About half past nine

Now she start to wine,

Then she bawl, “Oh lossss!

Meh elastic burst!”

I tell she throw way the damned thing

the elastic was holding,

“We can’t stay to join it back,

We got to catch de Last Lap!”

 [Chorus]

 

As the song unfolds, Shadow describes a revelry that is actually escalating in the waning hours of Carnival. The sun has already gone down on Carnival Tuesday when our bard ‘bounces up’ this woman who is solemnly resolved to squeeze the last drops of joy and freedom out of the festival. We don’t know for sure what Shadow has been doing all day, whether he has been one of those furtive ‘amateurs’ or if he has been holding his own in the gyrating, glistening horde. But on this fateful Carnival Tuesday night he enters the hot orbit of the uninhibited woman who dispenses with whatever is left of his reservations.

At first our boy seems out of his depth. But as the verses process, as if up a Port of Spain street or across the Savannah stage, we get an image of two people increasingly egging each other on, and a Carnival jump-up that eventually goes so far out of bounds, and which has gone on for so long, that the yet-quickening revellers are beginning to fly apart like ragged toys. Their accoutrements become frayed, then undone, and are eventually flung from their bodies. Dared by the audacious woman, who asks him if he is afraid to get too close to her, Shadow accepts her challenge and starts matching her pitch.

The woman expresses some passing concern with whether Shadow has his own woman who might object to the solicited closeness but she’s not really, terribly concerned. “I only hope you don’t have no woman in the band,” is all she can manage with all due respect to whichever woman from whom she might be borrowing this man. But the loan is inevitable because come hell or high water, she’s ‘come out to play!’

Shadow never addresses her passing concern anyway and the two leave it at that.

The two cover some distance together, distressing their bodies and clothing in the constant motion (or is it in the increasing physical closeness?). When one of the woman’s shoes finally falls apart, Shadow tells her throw it away and in a reckless gesture of solidarity throws away his own shoes as well. Our boy is now emboldened. His pitch is now feverish. As she accedes and discards her shoes, along with her own remaining worries, either about the contents of her lost purse or the prospect of chipping barefoot (or at least hop-and-drop) on the hard, littered ground, Shadow brashly enters the breakneck inner circle of her orbit. Now we don’t know who’s pulling whom.

The music for “Ah Come Out to Play” is catchy as all hell, in the same way that California surf music or the theme song from the 1960s Batman TV show are. Ascending and descending scales, punctuated by bursts of vocals and/or horns at the end of each ascent or descent is a recipe for a song that sticks in your head (even against your will). In “Ah Come Out to Play,” Shadow’s voice does that. He ascends with “Yuh dancin’ like yuh ‘fraid to touch meh,” with a higher note for each syllable, and descends on “Hold me tight around my belly.” An “I come out to play!” is shouted at the end of each of those progressions. So the song is carried along on rising and ebbing waves of voice and music…with a shout at each crest, and a shout at each trough. Shadow and his unnamed female ‘co-tagonist’ provide the motion in this ocean.

The brass arrangements switch between sassy blares of the horns and staccato bursts that answer the hectic drum kit, tit for tat, just as Shadow answers the woman’s challenges to stop being so coy and come out of his shell. Drum rolls and crashing cymbals add drama to the already thrilling choruses.

A part of the music that the casual listener might not catch is the electric guitar, which strums innocuously throughout most of the song, simply accompanying the much more complex work of the bass.[xi] The bass for its part is deep down under the music, holding it together in the Calypso way even if not with typical Calypso phrasing, rather than the star of the show like in “Bass Man” (1973) and later Soca. But near the end of the song, the guitar stops strumming along and instead starts playing an ascending and descending progression similar to, but rather playfully riffing on, Shadow’s singing in the past choruses. The ends of these guitar progressions, too, are each marked by an exclamation of “I come out to play!” Thus the resolution ‘to party right!’ pins down each peak and each valley of the song. Shadow makes the woman’s vow his own. He, too, has come out to play!

By the third verse, the ‘Bacchanal lady’ as David Rudder might call her has begun to break out of her very clothes. The stitches of her costume or outfit have given way as she was breaking ‘way and in a brief, last show of concern for propriety she complains about her burst elastic. But now Shadow’s gravity has taken over their binary orbit. He doesn’t care about any elastic! He snaps her out of her moment of sobriety, commanding her to give the damned elastic the same treatment they gave their shoes. With the urgency of an office clerk running to catch the last timely bus to Port of Spain, Shadow explains that they can’t stay to work on her wardrobe malfunction. If they do, they might miss part of Last Lap—that ultimate, mad gasp of Carnival on the littered front steps of Ash Wednesday. Regardless of how Shadow had spent his Carnival Monday, and even most of Tuesday—whether as a mookish wallfower or full-fledged ‘dancer boy’ spreading joy—tonight he has finally thrown off the shackles of his inhibitions. In the waning hours of Carnival Tuesday he has finally attained something close to true mirth, maybe even a bit of happiness.

Why do I qualify Shadow’s potential ‘happiness’ here? Because Shadow is, well, Shadow; the man in black; a man given to contemplation and analysis. And we know that such analysis shines too much light on the ignorance that would otherwise be bliss. Deep thinkers like Shadow are not known for walking around smiling at everybody and feeling carefree. After all, Shadow admits that he wishes he could dump his conscience out in the sea! Yet throughout his career, Shadow has written Calypsos that encourage people to throw off their concerns, and just fête, dammit. In his early career he did this especially in Calypsos that remind us how short, puzzling or ironic life is so we might as well take a few pleasures now. In a gentle falsetto on De Zess Man album (1978), Shadow warns the listener to “Enjoy Yourself” because,

Since you born,

your time start to run,

moving like jet,

heading for Mr. Death.

Yet, despite these occasional but sufficiently numerous inducements to “Enjoy Your Life” as he named his album in 2007, Shadow’s songs seldom again approached the musical and lyrical giddiness of “Ah Come Out to Play,” although, admittedly the average dancer cannot keep up with the frantic pace of the music on the album, Constant Jamin (1975), and the lyrics of its “Shift Your Carcass,” a much more contentious song about a much less approachable female reveller, made it a 1976 Carnival anthem in its own right. However, “Ah Come Out to Play” is the one song by Shadow that puts him, in my opinion, in a very small club of Calypsonians who have written true odes to Carnival itself, songs which simultaneously function as compelling narratives and expository, polemical defences of the festival.

There are countless songs about Carnival and even more songs that were made just to make us dance at Carnival. “Ah Come Out to Play” is not just one of those. Rather it lifts the bonnet of Carnival, and shines a spotlight on an episode, a personal microcosm like “Margie,” that in itself captures the essence of Carnival as a national macrocosm. “Ah Come Out to Play” at once reveals Shadow’s genius, a genius that places him with the grandmasters of the Calypso/Soca mediums, but also an unexpected lacuna in his magnificent oeuvre. Shadow does indeed have several songs about Carnival, from 1973’s “The Prance” to 1993’s “Long Time Carnival (Pay de Devil)” and beyond, but few not only elucidate the festival through the simulation of a fully narrated episode or event but also unveil its vital personal, social and cultural function. Yes, “Ah Come Out to Play” does all that…as does Kitchener’s “Margie.” Listen to them again.

Ash Wednesday looms over “Ah Come Out to Play” as a kind of void beyond the fête, a place and a time when “Party Done!” to quote Angela Hunte and Machel (2015). The Ash Wednesday drain drives the spin of Tuesday’s Last Lap like a black hole’s gravity drives the rotation of a galaxy. As they circle the funnel of Ash Wednesday’s event horizon, beyond which they cannot even imagine, Shadow and the woman who ‘came out to play’ have already reached a kind of oblivion. They’ve lost themselves in the music and the chanting and the jumping and prancing and the chipping and the dancing. They don’t know each other’s jobs (the woman probably doesn’t even know she’ll be in a Calypso next year!) or even each other’s names for that matter. They are not just individual beings anymore—not after throwing off the morays, mindsets, and the very selfhood that makes them legally recognized citizens. Carnival is ‘the being’ now, the exuberant beast. And they are the composite cells and the shifting impulses that make that beast ebb and flow, prance and pummel. It’s not just the future that is inconceivable to them. They’ve ‘forgotten the past as they play their mas.’

We don’t realize at first quite the number of things that these two Calypsos, “Margie” and “Ah Come Out to Play,” are doing on lyrical and musical levels. Maybe while mulling them over at Maracas Bay the next, hung-over day we begin to get a glimpse in retrospect. Unlike Lyrikal, Kitch and Shadow never told us they were living only in the now. Instead their characters, actions and circumstances in these two songs demonstrated this ‘present-ness’ ineluctably while sweeping us along with them…

It is the conundrum of now-ness that if you are completely present in it, you are effectively quite absent, and cannot stop to tell us what’s happening in ‘real time.’

 

Epilogue: On Not Returning to the Scene of the “Learning to Leggo” Lime

The only reason Shadow’s seeming disregard of this lyrical territory after “Ah Come Out to Play” is even noteworthy is because Calypso is a medium inextricably connected to the festival of Carnival (for better or worse, as I have said elsewhere on the Shadowlingo blog) and so for the genius of Shadow to have been brought to bare on it so rarely in that “Ah Come Out to Play” micro-macro polemical way is unusual. Shadow has proven time and again how ably he can revisit a theme and make the sequel as good as or even better than the original, so to speak (a rare talent in itself). So to never again have put us on the ground, in the crowd to fully inhabit Carnival characters and their circumstances and thereby discover Carnival itself as we do in “Ah Come Out to Play” Shadow has surprised us. He has not returned to the scene of this particular Carnival lime.

If it is one thing we have been exploring on Shadowlingo is that Shadow has spent much of his career thinking about multivalent issues, profound questions, perennial problems, big ideas. This is perhaps why his considerable intellect has not returned as often as others might, and with characteristic Shadow aplomb, to the psychological interior of Carnival. For every “Carnival Scenery” (1976), “Shift Your Carcass” (1975) or “If I Wine, I Wine” (1984) by Shadow, there are two or three songs like “Mrs. Harriman” (1972) by Kitchener or “How You Jammin’ So?” (1976) by Sparrow. These numerous, expert and apropos celebrations of Carnival in the Carnival-pendant musical form of Calypso are but one reason among many why these senior Calypsonians continued to dominate the festival competitions well after the beginning of Shadow’s career. Shadow has had no special claim to being prolific in the ‘Carnival-themed Calypso’ sub-genre so dominated by Sparrow and Kitch, then by Arrow, Nelson, Merchant etc., and now by performers such as Fay-Ann Lyons, Alison Hinds, and Benjai. Even non-Trinbagonian Calypsonians such as Short Shirt (e.g., with “Tourist Leggo,” 1976) and relatively rare local female ones such as Calypso Rose (e.g., with “Going Down San Fernando,” 1977) can match the ‘King from Hell’ in this field—Carnival-themed hit for hit. And, as mentioned above, the younger generations, even more analytical artistes from Rudder to Bunji, occupy few territories as enthusiastically as they do this one. Yet, the ability to catch what seems like all of Carnival in the teacup of a song, to temporarily ensnare the Carnival ethos in the biography of two or three of its participants—rather than merely singing its praises or raising its broad themes like most do—remains the elite achievement of a few, not least of which is the man in black.

 

Sources

Anthony, Michael. “Kitchener: A man destined for greatness.” Express, February 23, 2000 pp 4-5. (Online:http://www.nalis.gov.tt/Biography/History_LORDKITCHENER_PeopleOfTheCentury.htm)

Bellour, Hélène, Kim Johnson et al. Renegades: the history of the Renegades Steel Orchestra of Orchestra of Trinidad and Tobago. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 2002.

McIntosh, Frankie. “Tribute to Clive Bradley.” In When Steel Talks online: http://www.panonthenet.com/articles/ny/bradley/frankie.htm

Neil, Ancil Anthony. Voices From the Hills: Despers and Laventille. New York: A.A. Neil, 1987.

http://www.nalis.gov.tt/Biography/History_LORDKITCHENER_PeopleOfTheCentury.htm

Noblett, Richard. London is the Place for Me: Trinidadian Calypso in London 1950-1956. Compact disc liner notes. London: Honest John’s Records, 2002.

Oyewole, G. Godwin, “Lord Kitchener: The Grandmaster.” March 2nd 2000, at http://www.tntisland.com/kitchbio.html

Pareles, Jon. “Lord Kitchener, 77, Calypso Songwriter.” New York: New York Times, Feb. 2000. http://www.tntisland.com/kitch25.html

Slater, Les, “Lord Kitchener and Pan have a Thing Going” In Pan, Fall 1987, vol.2 No.1 (Online: http://www.panonthenet.com/articles/pan_mag/kitch_1987.htm).

Warner, Keith. Kaiso: The Trinidad Calypso. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1985.

White, Timothy. “Lord Kitchener: Once and Future Monarch of Mas.” Liner Notes in Lord Kitchener: Klassic Kitchener volume one. St. Philip, Barbados: Ice Records, 1994.

 

Endnotes

[i] Black Enterprise: http://www.blackenterprise.com/lifestyle/trinidad-and-tobago-named-happiest-country-in-the-caribbean/ (accessed, Jan. 22nd 2016); and Caribbean Journal: http://caribjournal.com/2015/04/24/this-is-the-happiest-country-in-the-caribbean/ (accessed January 22nd, 2016).

[ii] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/11/19/chart-the-worlds-most-generous-countries/ (accessed January 31st, 2016).

[iii] Humphrey Bogart Estate Facebook Timeline: https://www.facebook.com/HumphreyBogartEstate/photos/a.161316697241279.33530.156081931098089/502760566430222/ (accessed January 22nd, 2016).

[iv] Les Slater, personal communication.

[v] See “Mrs. Harriman” by Kitchener (1972).

[vi] From “The Road” by Kitchener (1963).

[vii] Chrosuses that are longer than verses are not in and of themselves rare. Calypsos as diverse as Sparrow’s lurid “60 Million Frenchmen Could Not be Wrong” and Shorty’s exhalted “Om Shanti, Om” both feature choruses that are longer than their verses, in the latter case, Shorty makes a portion of the Isha Upanishad a major part of the chorus.

[viii] White 1994.

[ix] From Calypso Atrocities, Cook recording 1959.

[x] After “Margie,” Soca would soon be born in the studios of Lord Shorty, Shadow and Maestro.

[xi] Unfortunately, it is an all too common occurrence that the album jackets of the day often did not name the studio musicians. On the Bass Man album, only Shadow (Winston Bailey) and Art De Coteau are listed as the composer and arranger respectively, and the Sparks as the backing vocals.

Illustration from the 100 Heath & Co. edition of Gulliver's Travels into Several Remote Regions of the World

Illustration from the 1900 Heath & Co. edition of Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Regions of the World

In Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel, now known as Gulliver’s Travels[i], the minute people of the island nation of Lilliput not only make war on their neighbours but have barely survived several internecine struggles between the two major sects of their own religion. It seems that one sect decrees that a boiled egg should be cracked from the small end and the other believes that it should be cracked from the big end. The smallenders and bigenders argue their positions citing various traditions and historical incidents but all of it boils down to sectarian interpretations of the scriptural injunction to break an egg from the “convenient” end. Civil war has broken out over this issue, in which blood and treasure has been cast to the religio-political winds and even rulers have lost their crowns, and, on occasion, their very lives. Naturally the borders of little Lilliput and its people (small in so many ways) cannot contain such a monumental penchant for niggling pedantry and obtuse, trifling conflict. And so unsurprisingly, Lilliput declares war on their island neighbour, Blefuscu.

The fact that the officious Lilliputians would presume to tell each other (and others) how to do everything, down to how to crack an egg, and can disagree on these instructions to the extent that war becomes the decisive option demonstrates clearly that the Lilliputians cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees. They have a problem first with priorities, and last with conflict resolution. We gaze down on their tiny, fictitious island nation, somewhere in the Indian Ocean according to their author, and laugh at their silliness. A war over boiled eggs? Really?

If someone reminds us of the War of Jenkin’s Ear, which broke out little more than a decade after Swift released Gulliver’s thrilling travelogue, and which lasted almost another decade, we are quick to point out, “Well, you see, that war was about far more than just a Spaniard cutting off an Englishman’s ear.” Nobody in our modern civilizations fights in court, Parliament, Congress or on some local or foreign battlefield over things like where to put a hole, or which hole to put something in, or the color of clothes, or the color of skin, or what a word like “convenient” or “modest” or “righteous” or “liberation” means. We are not those obstreperous little Lilliputians. We have real issues. Issues upon which our very identities, cultures, societies, nations hinge! And, come to think of it, if people don’t break an egg correctly, well, then we are on a slippery slope indeed. Today breakfast, tomorrow, the virtue of our daughters!

Walkin’ in town

Meh good partner comin’ down,

“Why yuh getting so fat?”

“Why yuh eatin’ like dat?”

“Watch the size of your head, boy!”

“Yuh eatin’ too much bread.”

When people presume to tell us not only what to do, but what to eat, where to go, even how to walk and certainly how to talk, we have a lot of thinking to do and a lot of decisions to make. Whence comes their authority to give us advice or instructions? Are they bidding us to uphold tradition, act on conscience or abide by the law? If it is the law, is the law practical law, abstract law, provincial law or national law, natural law, divine law, cosmic law? Are these types of laws compatible? If or when they are not, what to do? We don’t want to confuse our authorities, so are church and state really separate, especially in a country where every creed/religion and race is supposed to find an equal place? But perhaps the most fundamental question we might have of any advisor or recommender is “why”? Why ought I accede to these laws, this advice or these instructions? Shouldn’t we understand these traditions we follow, these restrictions that bind us? Perhaps an even better question is “who”? Who is this giving me advice and instructions? Is it really advice, or just the proverbial vain “ole talk”?

Shadow’s 1980 hit “Toe Jam” is remarkable for many reasons, from its malodorous title to its almost too melodious music. The tune has one of Shadow’s patented sing-song melodies that reminds you of children’s game songs. There’s a distinct ‘tank-a-lank’ (or, in American, Nye-nye-nye-NEH-neh) attitude to what that saxophone is doing in particular. And the piano’s answer to the horns has a simple, deliberate attack like a schoolmarm leading the children in practicing the melody for the umpteenth time. One can imagine Melville and Frances Herskovits or Alan Lomax sitting there with their field notes and a microphone cocked at the uniformed children, ready to press Record, 

They tell me don’t walk with Jacob

Because Jacob does walk and shake up.

[Piano: ting-tong-ting-TONG

ting-tong-ting-TANG]

They tell me don’t talk to Bertram

Because de man foot stink with toe jam.

Maybe J.D. Elder is there explaining to the foreign anthropologists/ethnomusicologists what the children mean by these words and their sassy gestures and pantomimes as they imitate jiggling Jacob and putrid Bertram. Dancing all around the sweet melody a synthesizer seems to imitate the rude noises children make with their lips when they’re bored.

The music conspires with the lyrics to declare that all the social prescriptions and proscriptions recounted in the song are a kind of child’s play, a kind of game with real winners and losers, mind you, but trifling and ridiculous when seen from the outside, like a parliamentary referendum on how to get into a boiled egg.

Make no mistake, jiggling (or is it “jittery”?) Jacob is a Lilliputian egg and “Toe Jam” is a Gulliverian parable. It is from floating above and looking down on the shocking ridiculousness of our conventions and conflicts that Shadow has written many of his critical, satirical and absurdist masterpieces, from “Animal Kingdom” (1975) with a role reversal more than worthy of Jonathan Swift, to “Conscience” (1981) with its criminal longing for a liberated conscience, to the vicissitudes of “Money Funny” (2005), to his allegories “Cook, Curry and Crow” (1980), “Snakes” (1984) and “The Truth” (1985). And it is as the consummate outsider, a black-robed, black-hatted Gulliver that Shadow chose “Toe Jam” as the satirical title of this song.

Of all the words and lyrical turns of phrase throughout the composition, he chose not a title about people telling him “what to do” and how to do it; not “Don’t Walk with Jacob” as the first line of the chorus and perhaps an intuitively good title; not “the Knowledge I Want to Get” as a good rebuttal to all the bogus advice offered in the song, but rather “Toe Jam,” a silly word used by children to accuse a rival of having smelly feet.

The social arbitrators are reduced to knobby-kneed schoolyard bullies, inquisitors in khaki pants gathering their allies to chastise, persecute or denounce some unworthy constituent for his fetid socks. Shadow doesn’t bother to hide his contempt for these arbitrators of taste and propriety…because “son-of-a-bitch Winston” (which his own mother calls him, thereby insulting herself on the infamous 1974 track) is known for his trouble with dubious authority figures.

Authority is very much an issue in this song, like in so many by Shadow that question the credentials of various kinds of judges of beauty, intelligence, skill, and Calypso (and pan) itself. The last four lines of every stanza of “Toe Jam” begin with a propositional “If,” followed by some would-be proof of knowledge (and presumably wisdom) that his advisors might possess if they were worthy, but which Shadow then contests with a question of his own. Of his “fans” who try to tell him how to breathe, stand and emote as he sings, he says,

Sometimes offstage

My fans does get me in a rage,

Telling me how to sing,

How I must pose an’ thing,

How I must put meh mouth

To get meh sweet voice out.

 

If they really know

the way I should sing,

How come they don’t know

I could really sing?

In other words, if they’re so wise about every damned thing I do on stage, how come they don’t know that they are my fans precisely because I know what I’m doing? ‘If you like my singing and are here to hear it, how come you don’t recognize its expertise?’ This is perhaps a much bigger question, especially for Trinidadians who tend not to respect very highly the very arts that they claim to love (n.b. I do not include Tobagonians here because as supposedly less cosmopolitan, “small island” people, they seem to show a lot more appreciation for their own local talents, including Shadow, than do Trinis)…but maybe we’ll tackle this issue another day.

The ultimate rebuttal of authority in “Toe Jam” lies in Shadow’s unaddressed concern with “Mr. Death.” With all the abstruse advice on how to walk, talk, dress, eat, sing and whose company one should keep, Shadow finds himself starved for any response to the questions that really matter to him, the questions that dog him, in fact. What is Life? What is Death? What will become of me? How long do I have? How to deal with “the Aging System”? How to suffer sickness and decrepitude? How to escape Mr. Death?

Those big questions, the self-appointed and credentialed advisors alike have no answer for. They can tell you stop walking with flouncing Jacob or stink-foot Bertram. They can tell you what to wear when you go to that place they sent you. They can tell you the precise angle at which to to crack a boiled egg but they cannot answer the obvious questions staring us all in the face.

It’s almost as if all these little recommendations of theirs are for distracting us from the big questions…as if keeping us busy maintaining the illusion of propriety will cause us not to notice the yawning chasm between performing tradition and perceiving truth, affecting propriety and effecting peace, striking gestures and forging justice, getting justice and knowing unqualified love, cultivating habits and engendering happiness. If we are kept busy with Lilliputian concerns, we will never get around to interrogating life itself. If Lilliputian conventions can “keep this nigger boy running” (as characterised in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man), he will never get a chance to apprehend himself, contemplate his state and overthrow his social captors.

But if “nigger boy” clings to the busywork that Lilliput H.Q. has prepared for him he will always have a lofty sense of propriety, even a proud (but fictive) sense of control. And out of these misdirected ‘senses’ and concerns we will berate his fellow Lilliputians for their respective levels of impropriety and lack of cultivation. He and his niggling fellow Lilliputians might even descend into a perpetual Night of the Long Knives (a.k.a. “Operation Hummingbird”), tit-for-tat, jook-fuh-jook, vainly attempting to achieve purity of practice, faith, nationality, race as they distill some ultimately unimportant part of themselves into a fine, colourless, synthetic substance.

The questions Shadow wants to tackle are light years away from the ones we are taught to ask then answer in the rote catechisms of “mad” society, “lunatic” politics and many of the myriad creeds of Trinidad & Tobago (with none of which Shadow claims affiliation). Shadow’s questions affect every human being on earth, but the Lilliputian concern of how to dress or speak differs from Bridgetown to Trenchtown, much less Detroit to Dakkar, especially if you’re a woman. The most perennial questions across Shadow’s lyric-writing career have regarded aging and death, inspiration and joy, ethics and fairness (including reward and retribution), and the beauty and mysterious origins of music itself.

How would keeping your mind on your elocution, your posture, your appearance or the company you appear with greatly advance the exploration or resolution of any of these concerns? How does Jacob’s jiggling obstruct our understanding of death or our inspiration for a new work of art or music? And it’s not just that Shadow is the mystic come down from LesCoteux to befuddle us with grand and esoteric questions that don’t change the price of tea in China. We plainly see that the Lilliputians have as few solutions for pollution and human trafficking as for Shadow’s pet concerns of poverty, sickness, old age and death. Where is the Lilliputian 10-year plan for addressing climate change? In a maritime environment full of steady wind, blazing sun and roiling oceanic currents, where is the Lilliputian green energy strategy? Wherever Lilliputians’ priorities are, they’re not with the major problems of the day.

So Shadow gets up on stage, poses how he likes, puts his mouth just how he damned well wants it, and with a sage verse, peppered with a few crazy syllables of shadolingo, breaks us out of our pedantic cage. Like birds we take flight and soar over Lilliput. And as we gain the altitude to see our fragile lifespans stretched out in front of, and behind, us we consider our accomplishments and errors, great loves and nemeses, injuries and exaltations with a kind of jovial equanimity.[ii] From these heights we can’t even smell the toe jam.

Endnotes

[i] The original title is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships in the verbose title style of travelogue written in Swift’s day.

[ii] This ‘jovial equanimity’ is a trademark of Shadow, who can approach even the catastrophe of 1492 (“Columbus Lie,” 1989) or slavery (“The African,” 1974) with enough detachment as to achieve a certain level of humour, and from there point out the absurdities of, say, “discovering” America and Amerindians who had “discovered the lands before.” One might argue that slavery and the Conquest are no laughing matter but Shadow shows us that we might keep our sanity (and humanity) by maintaining this jovial equanimity in the midst of the fight: as we critique and contest chauvinism, cruelty and coercion. His work illustrates that in the realm of words and music, even kicksy irony and jokey satire is a tool of struggle. Perhaps we will expand on this later at Shadowlingo.

From the beginning Shadow set out to be contrary, not only in the content of his lyrics and his innovation of Calypso music but also in his on-stage persona. This article offers a visual analysis of Shadow’s persona—his image—with a few expository detours along the way to sketch the landscape under and behind the shadow that was cast. I owe Winthrop Holder and Dalton Narine many thanks for some fact-checking around the unfolding of events in the 1970s when I was but a wee lad and dem was big man arready. But because there is still a little disagreement among us about certain things, I take full responsibility for any historical errors herein. Thanks Shadow soldiers!

ShadowOfShadow_BestOf_inside1_EdwardBarrow

Photo of Shadow’s silhouette by Edward Barrow (detail)

Shadow Takes Centre Stage

In the 1970s, while other Calypsonians glittered in sequins and blinded the audience on Dimanche Gras night with the electric colours of their outfits, Shadow stepped out in black. When trademark dance moves and on-stage hi-jinks ruled the roost, sometimes splitting the sides of the audience in laughter, Shadow stood still, arms at his sides, or fidgeted—only from the knees down—in his patented tiptoe “dance.” If you were lucky, you might see him extend the tiptoe into a full fledged “skip-rope” leap into their air, not quite as high as a Maasai tribesman, but completely vertical, arms still at his sides.[i] Shadow was not just an original, he was redefining the medium: in the studio; on the album cover; and on the stage.

Cloaked in Darkness: of the Sobriquet and the Sartorial

When Winston Bailey was a young fellow, there was an American mystery show on the radio. It was called The Shadow. The protagonist of this show was advertised as a dark, brooding character who stalked the night. Spooky, discordant music introduced each episode of the serial, followed by sinister laughter. Finally the narrator’s voice (in the 1940s, provided by Orson Welles) provided the programme with its signature introduction:

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”

The Shadow was described as “a man of wealth, a student of science, and master of other people’s minds”. What impression did this ominous character make on the young Winston Bailey sitting by the radio?

Broadcast of The Shadow episode, Carnival of Death, 1940

Since in the 1930s The Shadow’s disguise—described in broadcasts and illustrated in magazines, published advertisements and other promotional materials in the U.S. and abroad—was a black cloak, with a high collar and a broad, black hat. It would make its way into the persona that the adult Winston Bailey would construct for himself beginning in the 1970s. The liner notes from his first album frankly acknowledge this connection.[ii]

And the very name of the mysterious vigilante, “The Shadow,” seems to be at least part of the mysterious inspiration from which Bailey drew his sobriquet sometime in the late 1960s. For unlike many other Calypsonians, who received their nom de guerre from more senior members of the Calypso fraternity (like receiving a noble title from a monarch), the upstart Bailey selected his own sobriquet—in blatant, Napoleonic disregard of pre-existing hierarchies, hierarchies that saw, for example, Lord Blakie confer on Leroy Calliste the name “Black Stalin,” Commander confer on Kenroy Smith the title “Black Prince” and Lord Shorty, confer on Timothy Watkins the title “Baron”.

But right from the start, Calypsonian Shadow’s persona would begin to evolve, and diverge from the radio vigilante’s on the radio. This was bound to happen. At any given point people are acting as: products of their upbringing and personal history; reflections of their situation in world history and their geographical and cultural locations in the world; and as conscious (and self-conscious) agents of their own analytical outlooks, convictions, inspirations, aspirations and impulses. It can be difficult figuring out your own mind, and which of the above factors are making you do what. This is because these factors act on each other while shaping our behaviour.

With this in mind, the unilateral concept of “influence,” in this case from American radio, seems a bit simplistic (i.e., the concept that an idea comes only from one place, is handed down whole and is preserved by the receiver as if the receiver were a mere receptacle). This is why I would propose that Winston Bailey’s Calypso persona was a shrewd selection from elements of the mystique of ‘The Shadow’ on radio but was a selection mitigated by several other, more local factors.[iii]

After all, in Winston Bailey’s youth, no one became “a man of wealth” (like the vigilante on the radio) by singing Calypso. In fact Bailey has always evinced a particularly ‘bohemian’ purity in privileging artistic creativity over capital gains. And as far as we know, while he always had an interest in science and science fiction, it was never Bailey’s intention to manipulate and “master” other men’s minds. Quite the opposite. He teases men’s minds with mysteries, enigmas, dilemmas, and conundrums. He doesn’t persuade them to confess nor does he bring them to justice. He troubles their conscience and leaves them fiddling with potentially liberating questions; not with restraining handcuffs. So The Shadow’s outward persona, not his modus operandi, seems to be what Bailey selected from the radio vigilante.

On the other hand, long before little Winston ever heard The Shadow on the radio, and long after it went off the air, another dark figure in a long cape and sprawling black hat haunted the Carnivals of Trinidad & Tobago, and haunted young Winston’s imagination: the Midnight Robber.

The Midnight Robber has been an important stock character in Trinidad & Tobago Carnival for about a century.[iv] This macabre character may sport a dash or more of colour in his overall accoutrements, but he often dresses mostly in dark colours, with appliquéd skulls, bones and other symbols of death, destruction and decay, especially on the inside or back of his cape. His broad-brimmed hat may be in the bolero, cowboy, fedora or some other style—as long as the brim becomes a veritable parasol over his shoulders. He blows a whistle to announce his entrance and to punctuate his speeches, and may carry a pistol, or two.

midnight-robber-6bhonore_640

Commentor (Brian Honoré) as the Midnight Robber, O’Cangaceiro

By the 1950s and ‘60s, bands of Robbers could be seen roving together, but “long ago in Tobago, the Carnival wasn’t so.” For the original Robbers from the period of Winston’s youth, on both islands, were solitary figures who seldom spoke to each other.[v] They frightened and berated the Carnival bystanders instead. The Midnight Robber speaks in “robber talk,” a verbose and boastful rigmarole of self-reflexive praise-singing, a deliberate inversion of the griot tradition, which sings the praises of leaders and ancestors (while also carrying the news and reciting the histories). Almost a century before “brag rap” in the Hip Hop tradition the Midnight Robber was singing his own praises in the form of frightful and wicked autobiographies, mythologized self-histories, with Olympic levels of ‘lyrical dexterity’:

I am the voice of the Agent of Death Valley,

From the day my mother gave birth to me

The sun refused to shine

And the earth started to tremble.

Terror hit the city streets.

 

From the age of one

my toys were cannons and machine guns

 

…from the age of four

my name was marked with blood stains on every door

 

…at the age of seven my physical structure

was of steel ribs, iron jaws, and copper bowels…

Excerpt from Commentor’s Robber Talk, featuring the speech of Andrew “Puggy” Joseph, the Midnight Robber known as The Agent of Death Valley

Thus in the costume and the repertoire of the Midnight Robber, we find some other elements of Bailey’s “Shadow” persona, especially that of the bombastic bull in the Calypso china shop that he was to become in 1971, issuing threats to the revered kings of the genre:

I quite agree Kitchener is great

But in ‘71 he must feel meh weight.

If those steelband boys give this tune a little try

Kitchee boy, water in yuh eye!

 

So tell Kitchener

to prepare for real war.

 

And tell Sparrow and Blakie

to leave Kitchener to me.

And if they ignore me,

Well it’s licks for everybody.

When Shadow issued his Threat, some people wondered who this cheeky young fellow was. Was he worth watching or a mere ‘mocking pretender’?

Actor, choreographer and scholar Jeff Henry says of the Midnight Robber, “The Robber was a locally evolved character whose focus and thrust indicated a subversive intention in the people of African descent. In their quest not only for a profile, but for a voice in their developing society, the Robber proved to be an effective conduit. The bombast and extreme exaggeration conveyed a hidden anger and resistance to authority. In all its manifestations, a contained powerlessness was evident and deeply understood by spectators.”[vi]

Thus, in 1971, “The Threat,” like a Midnight Robber speech, was the menacing growl of an outsider, the vainglory of the yet-powerless. But in 1974, Shadow would prove he was no powerless pretender, making good on his treat with his monstrous debut album and a double Road March victory (see section, “Steps into the Shadow,” below). And yet for decades thereafter Shadow did not soften his tone. In fact since “The Threat” he has never put down the mantle of the Midnight Robber for very long. From his follow-up album, ominously, Robberishly titled King from Hell to the equally menacing Dreadness (1976) and beyond, he rained earthly and infernal retribution down on the wicked, the coquettish, and the officious alike. On these recordings he echoed the wrathful aspect of the Midnight Robber far more than the righteous retribution of The Shadow on old radio.

And when I bounce up a woman who come out for love

I huggin’ she up like a real turtle dove.

I would make so much love that you won’t realise

All I want is to dig out your eye. 

You tellin’ yourself you pick up a man.

I tellin’ mehself I have one to hang…

—“King from Hell,” 1974

Poverty dread.

Misery dread.

And I was born in them,

So I must be dread.

 

When a man tough;

Tough, tough, tough,

Man does think instead

Cuz they ‘fraid to dead!

 

I always cool,

Like somebody fool.

But when man threaten

I does smell [their] coffin.

—“Dread Wizard,” 1979

Young Bailey did not just invoke the physical appearance and lyrical posture of the Midnight Robber. Also attributable to Robber tradition is a precise part of the mystique that Bailey adopted for his Shadow persona. For Bailey’s would not be simply a watcher, and knower and corrector of the evils of men like The Shadow on the radio. He would also be a product of mysterious natural forces, a mystic, a bard, a spinner of a cosmic (not just urban) mythos and ethos.

The Shadow of detective lore cloaks himself in darkness to terrorize evil men. But the Midnight Robber is a product of the darkness, born on moonless nights, when the earth stood still, or trembled; when the other babies were stillborn and deformed! One is reminded of the villain Bain’s speech to that other dark vigilante, Batman, in Christopher Nolan’s third film of his trilogy.

Bain is more like a Midnight Robber. “The shadows betray you,” he says to his caped, blue-blooded rival, “because they belong to me.” And as he is the inverse of the dark, tortured hero, the Midnight Robber is the unencumbered, amoral wreaker of havoc, the nemesis of The Shadow.

So between extrajudicial para-cop, The Shadow, and supernatural villain, the Midnight Robber stood Winston. His legs spanned the X of the crossroads between the righteous and the wrathful.

But he would seek neither to, ‘master other people’s minds’ like The Shadow nor cloud them with “influential spells and supernatural powers” like some Midnight Robbers[vii] but rather to open their minds with questions (see the post “Judges Jump to Conclusions”). Of course, Bailey would turn out to be more than just both or neither Shadow and/or/nor Midnight Robber. He would become something else. Bailey has often been “something else.”

So just as the Shadow radio programme from America was a popular phenomenon of Winston’s youth, informing his choice of a persona, the Midnight Robber was an aspect of his upbringing and cultural history, perhaps predisposing him to mysterious, hypnotic protagonists with whom he might identify. But not everyone would be attracted to such characters. So what in Bailey’s personal history might have shaped his taste for: (a) a hero in black that operates outside the accepted institutions of the realm (like The Shadow); and/or (b) a spectral and grandiose being with mythic origins that stupefies his rivals (like the Midnight Robber)? And what stroke of genius caused Bailey to identify a need in Calypso for such a dark character?

Black Beauty

Black is all colours and none, a colour out of which anything can come, inside of which anything can happen. Black is possibility. Black is infinity.

But in the Judeo-Christian milieu of colonial and “post-colonial” Trinidad & Tobago where Hindus and practitioners of African religions are routinely marginalised (if not chastised) by chauvinists, the colour black carries definite macabre connotations. Shadow’s decision to adopt this as his colour was definitely a conscious move to situate himself as an opposing pole to that of his jolly peers in their shiny, sequinned suits and sparkling jewellery. By choosing this colour Shadow signalled that he had begun his exploration of the language of opposites.

In the surviving African traditions of Trinidad & Tobago, however, black has a somewhat different symbolism than that held at trembling arms-length by the administrators in town or the pale-frocked ladies in the pews. Black is the colour associated with two orishas that we might link very closely to Shadow’s style, his message and the symbolism that he deliberately adopted in his early career.

Black is the colour of the crossroads gatekeeper Eshu (Elegguá), the messenger between the corporeal and spiritual realms and reverser of conditions; and Ogun, the lord of metals, the crafting thereof into tools and weapons, and the patron orisha of blacksmiths, warriors and all manner of craftspeople and technologists. Black is not the only colour assigned to these orishas. While Eshu is symbolised by black in opposition with red or white (as befits his role as Reverser), Ogun devotees often wear black and green. The precise meanings of these colours as symbolic of these particular orishas is kept in secrecy by their devotees but it is not unusual to see green foods on an altar to Ogun, and blacksmiths derive their very name from the colour of metal and the ash and carbon that is part of their fiery art. So we can guess at a partial explanation.

We cannot ignore that there was an intentional racial implication here too as Shadow proceeded to cloak himself in this darkest of colours only two or three years after the beginning of T&T’s Black Power movement. Shadow is not a high-brown fella; is not a ‘red man’ in line with the predominant tastes of Trinidad’s brown-skinned majority. He chose black as a badge of pride in the complexion and the self-evident ethnicity that made him so unlike the Calypso darlings of yesteryear (from Roaring Lion to the Mighty Sparrow) and as a satirical rebuke of the association of blackness with negative states and behaviours.

This engrained, archetypal tendency in ‘the West’ to literally denigrate the undesirable as “black” had been explored broadly and attacked directly by the Mighty Composer in his “Black Fallacy” Calypso of 1970. There was little to say lyrically after this thorough, near encyclopaedic rebuttal of literary characterisations and popular idioms from “blackmail” and “blackjacks” to “blackballing,” and from “black market” and “black magic” to “Black Friday.” So Shadow adopted the visual symbolism of blackness instead. Every time you saw him you would think about this troublesome category and transcend to embracing black.

In the limited gene pool of writers that have tackled Shadow seriously, much has been said about the African aspect of Shadow’s blackness.[viii] But I would offer a caveat in locating Shadow’s colour choice primarily in social constructions of race. While many attribute to Shadow the most African of origins and inspirations, not only based on his rhythms and what I call his recondite syllabic “shadolingo” (the namesake of this blog, spelled with the “w” so people can find it more easily in web searches) but also on the time in Trinbagonian history out of which he emerged, Shadow seldom talks about Africa and race in interviews. He sings about Africa rarely; about race even more rarely and often, only obliquely. Even in his direct interrogation of the Calypso judges in 1999-2000’s “What Wrong?” he never asks about his complexion.

I propose that as a student of nature, a mystic, a cosmic philosopher race is too corporeal and mundane a topic to dwell on for Shadow. Let me propose an even greater blasphemy to the prevailing scholarship that informs analyses of Shadow by saying that Shadow’s music comes out of him, partially through Tobago, and partially through Africa from a place before Africa, before Pangaea, before Earth!

Shadow flows from the dark matter of the astral plane. You can fiddle with his race if you wish. It’s part of him. Like you, I believe it’s part of him that bothers the Carnival judges sometimes (whether they admit it or not). To them, he’s so strange and so…Negro, at the same time.

So then, how do we reconcile cosmic blackness and racial blackness? Yes, that’s where a discussion of Shadow brings us. Did you think we’d end up here—straddling the awesome, infinite universe and the racial treachery of society?

We might consider that the dark chroma of Shadow’s persona was shaped by previous and then contemporary life experiences of the 1960s and ‘70s, and that it provided a corporeal and temporal foundation, a platform from which he launched his probing, questioning, mysterious, joyful experiment in music, poetry, and philosophical thought. As much as it might have said about him at the time of inception (and continues to say), Shadow-blackness, or ‘the Shadow mystique,’ has been a tool for exploration, a device that opens up a universe of ideas from any location. We are fortunate and proud that the location in question has been the island Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.

Steps into the Shadow

In image, thought, lyrics and creative creed Winston Bailey has always been the quintessential outsider. His inspiration, persona, and performance all come from somewhere beyond Calypso’s broad, corporeal sphere. But his geographic origins also lie far outside the typical watershed of Calypso—the cosmopolitan capital city of Port-of-Spain and the hilly catchment surrounding its northern and eastern boundaries. Although he was born in Belmont in Trinidad, Shadow’s mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Les Coteaux, Tobago early in his childhood. Shadow has always considered this village on the western side of Tobago to be his home both historically and symbolically. Now, it might surprise some people—especially those from outside the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago—that the mere fact of being from Tobago would make Shadow an instant outsider or underdog. But suffice it to say that the relationship between these two ‘sister isles’ is…well…complicated.

Tobago is perceived by many Trinidadians as a slow-paced, paradisiacal, somewhat rural (or ‘backward’) and outlying province of the twin-island nation and Tobagonians are seen by some as veritable foreigners in Trinidad. Tobagonians for their part have often felt neglected by government initiatives and policies drafted in Trinidad, seemingly with only that island in mind, have complained about this openly, and have on occasion proposed secession. To some Trinidadians, Tobagonians might as well be Grenadians—and as a matter of fact, I’ve heard some Grenadians claim Tobago as more Grenadian than Trinidadian. Thus, much of the usual ‘xeno-politics’ that clandestinely, subtly or brazenly affect the appreciation, criticism and official judging of Calypsos (at Carnival competitions) by artistes from Grenada to Antigua have also affected Calypsonians from Tobago. Tobagonian Lord Nelson’s 1978 Soca, “Foreigner,” encapsulates the ironies of being othered in one’s own country.

“Foreigner” by Lord Nelson, from the 1978 album Black Gold

Certainly, Trinidad Calypso history is full of revered, naturalized Grenadians especially, such as Small Island Pride and the Mighty Bomber but even they are considered a notch above the ‘foreigner’ status that Nelson describes in his brooding song about Trinidadian regionalism. In short, if you live ‘in town’ long enough (i.e., in the cosmopolitan milieu of the capital), many Trinidadians there will learn to overlook your foreign origins, and even hold you closer than people from the proverbial provinces, including Tobago. City people, after all, are a separate breed onto themselves.

Still, Lord Nelson, Calypso Rose and Shadow among several others have managed to largely overcome these urban Trinidadian biases to be hailed as Trinbagonian national treasures, even as Tobagonians swell with pride every time one of them trounces singers from the bigger island in Carnival competitions.

So coming out of the village of Les Coteaux, in western Tobago automatically made Winston Bailey an outsider to the 1950s and ‘60s Calypso scene. But it was an outsider status he could and would mostly transcend. He didn’t ask the judges “Am I from Tobago or what?” in 2000 either. But maybe that was the other elephant in the room for just a small, stubborn few.

Winston’s country youth in Tobago, minding his grandparents’ animals, observing them closely and even talking to them as children often do left him with a deep fascination with the interior life of non-human creatures, not just a passing allegorical interest as in the case of other Calypsonians of “Sly Mongoose” and “Donkey City” fame. His wayward, sometimes even homeless wanderings during his teenage years along much of the western part of Tobago tested and deepened his resolve as a seeker, one who peers and listens deeply into the rhythms and harmonies of nature.

The nights of that same wayward youth, sometimes spent outside in the un-electrified, starry blackness of rural Tobago seem to have expanded the young seeker’s curiosity to cosmic breadths. The rich folklore of Tobago with its jumbies[ix] and mythic characters like La Diablesse[x], douens[xi], and loup garou[xii] lent an eerie aspect to Winston’s otherwise astronomical enchantment with the night.

After leaving his grandparents’ home where he had picked up some musical training from his grandfather and local musicians, Winston wandered the countryside and continued his musical training mostly on his own (i.e., autodidactically and solitarily)—on the road, in the forest, under the sky. In the process, he became a self-made musician and poet, resolved on becoming a professional Calypsonian. By the time he made his way down to Scarborough and took a boat to Trinidad in the late 1950s, Calypso music was reaching a kind of international crescendo.

In the following decade, what were arguably the waning years of Calypso’s second golden age, Winston learned from the best, first on the radio and then at the Calypso tents. It took him quite a while to gain his footing in the big city, this stoic from the wilderness (some of that wilderness still protected Forest Reserve today). It was during this period that he selected for himself the multivalent sobriquet, “the Shadow,” and started building the Shadow persona. The name was familiar, struck from the dark hero of radio lore. But the persona, as it evolved over the next two decades was at once clever and unfamiliar: clever in its combination of the physical aspects shared by the international, crusading radio hero and the ominous, boastful West Indian anti-hero; and unfamiliar both in how it adapted the shadowy features of those two disparate literary characters to a musician’s persona and in how it seemed neither vain nor self-indulgent like they were.

But Shadow’s initial appearances on stage in the ‘60s met with mixed results: sudden and sometimes unexpected popularity, stage fright, rejection and neglect by organisers and MC’s, self-doubt, a frustrated retreat to Tobago, an audacious decision to return to the Trinidad Calypso business, and eventually the nurturing encouragement from a few in the music business, perhaps most notably, Lord Blakie. It was Blakie who introduced young Shadow to master arranger Art De Coteau.[xiii]

In those early years of the 1970s, laying his hat where he could up in Laventille, Shadow meditated and composed music in the sporadic quiets of the day, but especially in the still of the night. In the studio, the collaboration between Shadow, the ‘farmer boy from Les Coteaux’ and master-arranger, ‘Professor’ Art de Coteau “reinvigorated” Calypso, effectively creating a new music. It is easy to be superstitious about all the ‘coteaux’ in Shadow’s life (‘coteau’ meaning ‘hill’ in French), from his hilly Tobago village home to the name of his most fruitful and influential collaborator, to the hills of Laventille—the crucible of Calypso. Three hills. The power of trinity, triad, trimurti. Zepie papa!

Trigonal zemís from Tobago. These enigmatic ancient objects can be found only in the Caribbean. Thousands of them have been made, mostly in the islands between Tobago and Hispaniola inclusively (i.e., few are found in Trinidad and none in Cuba so far as I know). Their exact functions thoughout the period they were made (from the beginning of the Common Era to the fifteenth century) are poorly understood but they were observed by Spaniards to be placed in the soils of agricultural plots to make the crops grow. The Arawak term zemí or cemí (meaning “icon” or “powerful charm/object”) is the probably origin of our word zepie/seppie, meaning “secret spell or object that enables us to prevail.” Photographs by Lawrence Waldron (Tobago Museum)

Trigonal zemís from Tobago. These enigmatic triangular/conical objects can be found only in the Caribbean. Thousands of them have been made, mostly in the islands between Tobago and Hispaniola inclusively (i.e., few are found in Trinidad and none in Cuba so far as I know). Their exact functions thoughout the period they were made (from the beginning of the Common Era to the fifteenth century) are poorly understood but they were observed by Spaniards to be placed in the soils of agricultural plots to make the crops grow. The Arawak term zemí or cemí (meaning “icon” or “powerful charm/object”) is the probable origin of our word zepie/seppie, meaning “secret spell or object that enables us to prevail.” Photographs by Lawrence Waldron (Tobago Museum)

Shadow and De Coteau, in their binary orbit, took the bottom of the music—the bass—and put it on top like Bernard Odum and Bootsy Collins had done to R&B in James Brown’s bands, making it Funk, and in the heady, subversive Black Power days of Trinidad history, the audience went insane for the reversal, the musical coup. This was a new kind of Calypso, if it was even Calypso at all. It passed through the speakers, down into the earth and pulsed up into our bones before we even heard it in our ears.

The self-named, uncanny Shadow, the mystic from up in Les Coteaux had come from outside and had overthrown the ‘house of music.’ He stepped onto the Dimanche Gras stage on February 24th, 1974, dressed in black with a floppy black hat, and the bass started talking like a guitar in front of and on top of the music. By the time he complained that “Every time I lie down in meh bed, Ah hearin’ a bassman in meh head” the audience could feel the bassman rattling their ribcages, rupturing their cochleas and making their hearts ‘beat mistakes.’ In the legend of that night, the Mighty Sparrow conceded defeat in his own heart and steeled himself for the judges’ verdict. He himself was shocked when they named him Calypso Monarch instead of Shadow.[xiv] The audience was not happy.

Dimanche Gras loss aside, the Shadow had arrived. That same outraged crowd of newly minted Shadowphiles filed out of the stands that Sunday night and returned to fight another day…the very next morning. Hell, some of them never left the Savannah. And by the end of that Carnival Tuesday Shadow had won the Road March, the people’s choice of what they wanted to prance to in their costumes or ‘civilian’ attire. Not only did Shadow’s “Bass Man” win this popular award. The second most-played song was also his, a tune called “Ah Come out to Play,” which captured the reckless abandon of Carnival itself in the vein of Kitchener’s immortal “Margie,”[xv] but in that inimitable ‘Shadow + Art De Coteau’ style.

From 1974 to around 1985, Shadow continued to craft his dark, mystical persona. As the 1970s rolled on, the rebellious young bard in the pink suit on the cover of both The Bass Man and King from Hell albums receded not only into blackness but seemed to disappear under the broadening brim of his black hat. Somewhere between 1975 and 1976, audience members lost sight of his eyes entirely.

And by the end of the decade he had introduced his infamous skeleton costume—a black suit like many of his others, but this one with white, glow-in-the-dark skeleton bones appliquéd onto the front. While skeleton mas is found throughout the Americas from Trinidad Carnival to Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, Shadow’s nightglow skeleton suit was straight out of the new American Halloween catalogue. But it had never been seen in this context before—on stage, singing Calypso! When the spotlights went out and the psychedelic ‘black light’ came on, the recontextualised skeleton was all that was left, dancing skip-rope style under a black hat as the Shadow’s voice rang,

And in de middle of de night,

Jumbies came out in de bright.

They heard de melody,

So they come to jump with me.

 

“We want Calypso,

Sing more Calypso,

We love Calypso,

Sing more Calypso.

 

…and if you stop that jam

We make you a jumbie man!

And as the synthesizer and bass of the new sound started to do that thing together—pulsing and buzzing at the same time, the buzzing “bass warm like Tiger Balm”—audiences were mesmerised…electrified…damned near electrocuted.

On the cover of the 1980 album Doh Mess wit meh Head Shadow is pictured wearing the by-then infamous skeleton suit, looking like an off-duty jumbie on his way home from a hard day’s night back at the cemetery (with that inexplicable briefcase!…what’s in that briefcase?!).

Doh Mess Wid Meh Head (1980)

By 1985, if we had been in any doubt at all about the Midnight Robber aspect of his persona, Shadow made it abundantly clear. The back cover of the 1984 album, Mystical Moods, features Shadow with his back to the photographer, with his arms out to display the iconic appliqués and embroidery on his cape. On either side are boiling cauldrons, embroidered in thin, wire-line (i.e., of unwavering thickness, visually echoing Vodun vévés). The cauldrons send snakes of steam into the surrounding darkness of his cape. In the centre of the cape, at the bottom, is a third cauldron with what appears to be much fancier embroidery on its body. And in the very middle of Shadow’s back are the skull and crossbones, above which is a five-pointed star. These are ominous symbols typical of the Midnight Robber, with his claims of occult powers and origins.

ShadowMysticalMoods_B

While the first decade of Shadow album covers took some pains to help in the construction of his macabre and mystical persona, the next decade was mostly a mixed bag of imagery in which Shadow seemed to be trying on some ‘different hats’ as it were. This urges us to look more closely at the role of the album covers in the construction of the Shadow mystique.

Dark Jackets: Calypso, Album Art, and Shadow

Calypso music is not known for the artistry of its album covers. Some of the worst designed, worst photographed, worst drawn, worst typeset jackets in published music history have hitched their jalopy wagons to some of the best music—Calypso music. Local Calypso publishing has never had a ‘Reid Miles period’ of graphic design like Blue Note did with its iconic album covers of the 1950s and ’60s. So Calypso fans learn quickly that you really can’t judge the Calypso book by its album covers.

The way that an album cover can sit in your lap and fire your imagination as you get into the groove of the music is a beloved, nostalgic and increasingly resurgent pleasure. Record companies have never stopped making vinyl records—with their nice, big, printed album covers—and some have even increased their production in recent years, and not just because some audiophiles have rejected the tinny, hissing timbre of digital ‘if I don’t have a digit for it I’m leaving it out’ music. The sensual experience of the LP, its jacket, its smell, its tactile interface, its collectability are making a bit of a come-back in the age of MP3s. Who would have predicted that?[xvi]

The reasons for the just plain ‘bad’ album covers in Calypso publishing history are myriad, relating to the economics of the local record companies, some of which just come and go; and the seasonality of Calypso itself, a much lamented reality in the business as the Trinbagonian public listens to imported music for much of the year between Carnival and Christmas. Both of these are ‘sustainability’ problems with which Shadow and other Calypsonians for whom images are important have tried to contend.

But another, far more systemic problem affecting the visual marketing of Calypso music in Trinidad (where the records are pressed and the jackets are printed) is the limited pool of creative visual artists with skills and insights to serve the music industry. Note that the charge here is not a lack of ‘qualified’ artists because a lot of people walk around the island with ‘qualifications’ in various arts not directly related to the beloved, revered and institutionally nurtured ‘Festival Arts,’ ‘qualifications’ which some of them got the devil-knows-where. But the pool of visual specialists in Trinidad who think hard and apply sharply honed skills to the production of insightful and expressive album covers has never approached the size to sustain the album-cover, and now CD-cover making business. Another sustainability issue related to Calypso seasonality.

But this points to an even broader problem in the nation, especially in the bigger island of Trinidad, which is expected to be the publishing centre. That problem is the lack of reverence for the visual arts in general. What are some of the reasons for this? I deal with that in the Appendix to this article as not to distract from the discussion of the Shadow persona itself.

With all the historical, social and economic vicissitudes effecting the dearth of trained, inspired and affordable artists for album covers, Shadow managed to get some effective album covers made in the 1970s and part of the ‘80s. Some of these directly participated in the construction of his persona as the dark wizard; others did not. The first two albums, Bassman and King from Hell, while they reflect a professional and typically 1970s style of album jacket design (a la Granville Straker’s un-credited designers in New York?), they contribute nothing to the dark persona Shadow had already adopted for the stage. Rather they seem to ignore it. On these first albums, evidently using different pictures from the same photo shoot by Cecil Wharff, the artiste is featured in a magenta outfit clutching his cerulean-coloured guitar.

But while the layout of the collage elements by Sam Rodney Jr. is a little ungainly on the jacket of Constant Jamin’ (1975), that album was the first to introduce the silhouette of Shadow in his long, black coat and big, black hat. This silhouette would become a kind of emblem, versions of it appearing on several other album jackets, and on 7” singles as a logo. For example, it appears on the front cover of Going Off (1983), hastily rendered by Ming Tung betwixt two moulting trees.

An almost frustratingly dark, poorly exposed photograph is featured on the cover of If I Coulda, I Woulda, I Shoulda (1979) but the image manages to contribute greatly to Shadow’s obscure persona. Just discernible in the darkness is a topless, bespectacled, turbaned Shadow, lighting a cigarette with one hand while holding a vase of cockscombs in the other. Cockscomb is a flower of the global amaranth family (a symbol of immortality in the ancient Mediterranean world) and here with his turban and lit match, Shadow looks like he’s about to use them in some secret ritual.

The early album that makes the most use of classic studio arts (i.e., drawing and painting in this case) is Music Fever, whose Trinidad and Barbadian prints feature two different works of art, one featuring a painting of Shadow in a bed of musical notes, listening to his own heart with a stethoscope and another featuring a drawing of the singer in one of his patented floppy black hats staring into the distance. While the painting on the Trinidad jacket is uneven in its attention to detail, fussing over Shadow’s face but dashing off his exposed arm in the foreground, in a different colour paint no less, the drawing on the Barbados jacket is masterful through and through, energetically executed with an understanding of how to shade things of different textures.

The Trinidad album leaves the artist and designer completely uncredited and I have been unable to find out whether the artist on the Bajan print received any better treatment (an illegible signature is visible near Shadow’s left shoulder). The graphic design on both jackets is competent, the Bajan version featuring a zooming superhero type of font, as is that of If I Coulda, I Woulda, I Shoulda.

Other album covers of the 1970s feature similarly innocuous, sometimes interesting typesetting accompanied by usually poor photography, but the Dreadness album is well-photographed and designed with an interesting spin on the Shadow image. Here the musician looks like some kind of Jamaican rude boy or Cuban revolutionary (in that hat with that cigar) on both the back and front of the jacket. I suspect he’s just being a badjohn from Laventille, and I think that’s my old street in Trou Macacq he’s sitting in over on the flip side. I could be wrong. The three-dimensional-looking font is classic 1970s style for album covers and TV action dramas alike.

But in the top left hand corner of the jacket front is a little cartouche with a silhouette inside it—the emergent logo of the Shadow. It is a black figure in a broad-rimmed hat, so broad that it clears his shoulders and is in fact wider than the figure’s body. This is the unmistakeable profile of the wrathful, dreadful Midnight Robber. The album’s designer, Art Cirillo, has made this “Dreadness” album design in evident consultation with the artiste. A graphic designer who listens to the music, reads the book or understands the language (so he doesn’t put, say, the Arabic letters upside down or the Chinese ideograms backwards) is doing his job of coordinating the design with the content.

In 1981, Joe Smith snapped an interesting photo of Shadow in a long black gown and black skull cap, coming in from the waves like a Shouter returning from a baptism, and with his guitar held over his shoulder like an axe. This is the photo that “PERAZA” makes into the front and back cover of Return of the Shadow. While the print quality of the photo by Caribbean Graphics (Barbados) leaves something to be desired, the selection of this image (i.e., of the mystic coming in from the waters after some musical ritual) for an album with this name is appropriate and generates just that fascination that makes one hold on to the album cover while playing the record. And the choice of typeface (in some kind of Spanish colonial style like you might see in a Mexican frontier town) is also kind of clever, even a little amusing, like the Shadow is in a Western sequel.

I should note that misspellings of Art De Coteau’s name are common throughout these albums, which suggests that a final review by the men in charge of the music did not always happen before press time. The most embarrassing typo is perhaps “Bread Wizard” instead of “Dread Wizard” on the ‘Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda’ album, compelling every writer who ever mentions this infamous song to write a little “[sic]” next to the title each time. I have dispensed with that throughout much of this blog. “I tired, oui.”

Shadow finished composing his dark wizard image on jacket covers around the 1985 Carnival season with the Mystical Moods album (1984), whose back cover has already been mentioned. The front cover features a kind of colourful, rococo combination of painted and collaged landscape that manages somehow to be a bit spooky…in that way that the bric-a-brac in old people’s house can seem a little unnerving. In the centre of the image is a painterly-rendered tree the top of which resolves mysteriously into the head of a giant bird. Hanging from the same tree are unrelated species of strange, collaged fruit: cherries, grapes and berries. One giant fruit also hangs from the right side of the tree, and on it is pasted an image of Shadow in black, causing the curvature of the fruit to seem at once convex and concave. While this kind of rococo collage by Victor Bloise is not my taste and the boxy font for “Mystical Moods” is wholly uncalled for, I can appreciate the cosquelle creativity of the ‘bird-tree with strange fruit’ and consider it an interesting and appropriate image for a Shadow album, especially one of the last with the then-ailing Art De Coteau.

In fact for much of the next decade (i.e., from 1985 to 1995), Shadow’s album covers did not seem as concerned with perpetuating the established macabre persona he had constructed there and onstage in the first decade. The CD Shadow Mania vol. 1 is the only exception with the superb photograph by Abigail Hadeed and graphic design by none other than the future contemporary art giant, Christopher Cozier.

shadow-shadowmania1

In Abigail Hadeed’s photograph, the penumbral, in-between world of the shadow (a dark thing intimately identified with a person, having a name, but possessing no tangible substance) is pushed further into the realm of intangibility and inscrutability. Hadeed gives us a reflection of a shadow named Shadow, or rather a reflection of a shadowy silhouette of the Wizard.

Otherwise, in this second decade of his career the dark Shadow persona was now a given and was maintained on stage, while the album covers experimented with a variety of ‘looks.’ On the pastel-coloured Better than Ever (1985) Shadow is a bit of a dandy. I can hear the Miami Vice music in my head instead of the Bass Man. On Raw Energy he’s a man about town, hurriedly photographed in the glow of urban lights. In 1987, he dons the broad hat and black gown again for the High Tension cover but now he looks slick with the studio light reflecting in his shades (hey, it was the 80s!). Even his black gown is shiny.

He’s like a black, hooded assassin on the cover of Pressure Point (1988); softens his images back to plain musician for the next few albums; and then returns to overt occult references in 1992 with Moods of the Shadow for the 1993 Carnival season. On this professionally designed album cover a now bald Shadow is photographed by expert portraitist Mark Lyndersay raising his arms like a priest. But his white gown bears appliquéd snakes crawling up his chest—a big no-no in any church I’ve ever been to!—and pasted below his photo on this slickly designed jacket by contemporary artist Steve Ouditt and graphic designer Juliet Ali is a photo of a cock, favourite blood sacrifice of orisha-worshippers.

If we stare at the jacket long enough, we realize that Lyndersay has lit one of Shadow’s hands and has left the other in darkness, fitting symbolism for the Crossroads master. Again, this is art bouncing off the music.

Front cover of Moods of the Shadow, 1992 (Compare with back cover of Mystical Moods above

From 1992’s Moods of the Shadow to 1994’s Enchanted, the hairless Shadow seems interested in inverting the image of the dark wizard, appearing again in white in a watercolour on the latter. While the artist seems to have had some trouble with his features, the image has an elegant storybook quality, incorporating the trope of the twisted tree from albums like Going Off and Mystical Moods. Behind the Merlin-like ‘white shadow’ is an adorned, golden circle, the adornments rendered to resemble low relief sculpture. Houses, foliage and perhaps water are discernible in the stylised patterns thereon but the engraved circle reminds us of the Yoruba sculptures bordering Shadow’s portrait on the Dingolay album of the previous year, designed by Peter Shim. There, the low relief figures were reminiscent of those on an Ifa divination tray.

On Dingolay‘s jacket, lightning strikes the master’s guitar string, a fitting analogy for the electrifying music of this album that had even the children of privilege prancing in the Trinbagonian nightclubs, shouting “Poverty is hell!” But the electricity is also a prompt that the age of electronic graphic design will take over the jackets from here. Just as the music recording was going digital and Calypso and Soca musicians were switching over once and for all to CDs, the graphic designers on the margins were switching over to programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop; for better or for worse.

In the ensuing years, as Shadow grew his hair back, only silver this time, the Shadow album covers have been designed using digital cut-and-paste, and electronic tiling, watermarks, inversions and distortions. The cool tricks have been executed by technicians more skilled with computers than with the principles of design; a common occurrence in the analogue-digital transition phase of the late ‘90s, especially among people with little training in graphic design and the studio arts beyond it (which all inform graphic design in ways that many technocratic graphic designers themselves don’t always understand).

So without much thought, the name of the album goes on top or on the bottom depending on which of these positions you put Shadow’s name in. As for the colours of these CD covers: if you grab a stack of Shadow CDs from the 2000s and fan them out on the table, they will dissolve into a black, brown and silver blur—like so much spilt black coffee. Sophisticated interplays of line, form, composition, colour, value and implied digital textures are evidently not in the range of the Shadow’s jacket designers. He’s the ‘man in black’ right? So let’s just make the album blackish. Simple enough. A mediocre straight jacket outside of whose range are truly bad and truly good designs.

But we can live without those covers, just close our eyes and travel with Shadow’s music. We could dispense with them entirely, put the songs on our iTunes and go down Cedros and just watch the waves with Shadow in our earbuds. But when we’re home, trying to remember how to relax and contemplate in a Morris chair, that’s when we miss good art with good music.

Today, as the revered silver-haired national treasure, Shadow is now that familiar ‘man in black.’ The brim of that hat has narrowed somewhat to the dimensions of a 1960s Mad Men porkpie, not quite a badjohn stingy brim. And under his hat is a watershed of dreadlocks and a lifetime of coming from outside and challenging the authority inside. His 2015 single, “They Sticking,” is another missive to the Calypso authorities. Somewhat self-imitative in the melody and inexpensively electronic in the production, the lyrics of “They Sticking” are as wry as always.

They’ll give me my piece of pie

they only waiting until I die.

They trying to fool me,

like they think I’m stupidee.

They want to read eulogy,

Something they wrote for somebody

“He was a good man, a very good man,

The late man was a great man”

And if you are bad when you alive

and you doing bad things to stay alive

As soon as you close your eyes

They find you good; they start to cry.

It is not strange to hear Shadow consider his own death. He has been considering it in song since 1974, often threatening to strike out from beyond the grave. Every time he takes another spin in the judges’ tails and takes another crack at this plaintive sub-genre of making judges jump he comes up with some fresh, wry lyrics. In “They Sticking,” he has pinned down the moment when some pompous fool will read an insincere, recycled eulogy over his embalmed head…and then shower him with posthumous awards.

He might be a national treasure, faithfully coming out to every venue dressed in his black uniform but the ‘guardians’ of tradition and the gatekeepers of ‘standards’ are still unsure what to do with Shadow, this tradition of one, this species of one. The danger he faces now is in being at once venerated and outcast, like Diogenes with his lamp lit in the daytime ‘searching Athens for an honest man’ or John Craig wandering Port-of-Spain and environs with his cardboard tablets of wisdom, a person whose criticisms ‘hard-head’ people learn to disregard. Ignorance and folly can develop antibodies to wisdom by adopting its language but forgetting its meaning, in a kind of spry, functional senility.

If yuh tired hearin’ Shadow complain. If it seems like Shadow is too concerned with the opinions of the Calypso authorities he so disdains, especially at this stage in his life when he is definitely his own man and has gained respect for sticking to his Midnight Robber guns, I remind you of the importance of institutional patronage in the fostering of the arts and the role that lack thereof has played in the narrow pool of progressive visual artists in Trinidad & Tobago. We have a few LeRoy Clarkes and Dean Arlens, yes, but how many coming up behind them?

A high master of one of the few arts that are institutionally nurtured in T&T who still doesn’t receive the monetary and/or logistical support from institutional authorities, support that would enable him to hire quality musicians, staff and crew to make the music as finely as he possibly can, is bound to be frustrated. Shadow doesn’t need a medal when he’s dead. He needs to make rich, sweet, multivalent, polyrhythmic, polyphonic music NOW! And put out with decent CD covers, insightfully designed and nicely printed! Let us think about the poet-musician for a moment and the vital role he plays in critiquing the institution which he enriches, and upon which he relies in a circuitous, cultural ecology. Let us consider his importance and his delicate equilibrium before just commanding him “Sing boy, sing!” while shooting at his feet!

The silver-haired Shadow might have to draft a plan to frighten the Calypso gatekeepers one more time. But will that spectre signal his exit, like it did his entrance all those years ago?

Appendix

The Trinidadian ‘Artwinter’ or “Why Trinis Doh Care ‘Bout Visual Art”

These island territories were not founded as colonies that would specialize in cultural production. We were never meant to be islands full of deep thinkers, contemplating our lot in life or our place in the universe. The colonies of the West Indies were founded to produce sugar, cocoa, coffee and other CASH crops, which would be sold at market abroad. And to minimize the costs of material production in a ‘free’ market, the cheapest possible labour was sought—slaves and then indentured workers.

We, the callaloo hoi polloi, were meant to keep our heads down and work those tools, and if we were encouraged to count or read & write at all it was so we could read ledger books and Bibles, the former to make ourselves useful helping the supervisors with their maths, and the latter ostensibly to give us solace (but in a more practical sense to soothe the beast so he would be less savage, and thus less inclined to burn something down).

Carnival managed to slip through the chicken wire that was hammered around our work schedule and our social cycle because that festival, like the religion it was linked to by Ash Wednesday, allowed us to blow off steam, indulge ancient passions and then calm down…before we returned to work, our bestial urges slaked and our need to satirise our situation and the people who kept us in it, satisfied, hopefully for a year or so.

If even the musical instruments we used at Carnival had occasionally been banned at other times (and at other times of the year), at what point in our history were we supposed to indulge any tastes for painting and drawing and fashioning fine or expressive things in archival materials? Some of our neighbours in former Spanish or French colonies might offer a response to this.

Because throughout Latin America and the Roman Catholic Caribbean, in countries like Haiti and Cuba especially, there has never been a shortage of visual artists. This is because the Roman Catholic Church became an important, institutional patron of the visual arts from the very beginning of the Conquest of these Americas.

For over a millennium the Catholic Church has been awash in imagery and has used it in many ways to inspire and instruct the faithful. Art was a tool for evangelising Amerindians and Africans alike and it turned out that they themselves, being comfortable with icons, were quite good at making images and were quick studies in learning the new kinds of art introduced to them by Europeans.

Andrés Sánchez Galque, The Mulattos of Esmeraldas: Don Francisco de la Robe and his sons Pedro and Domingo, 1599. This Ecuadorian painting is done in a style linked to The Quito School of Ecuador and the Cuzco School of Peru, colonial church-established academies originally established to train criollos (i.e., white Creoles), mestizo, then Indigenous artists to paint in the late renaissance and baroque styles of the 16th and 17th centuries. Eventually even African-descended pupils were taught to paint in this localised style of Peru and Ecuador where it was used to paint this work, one of the earliest known Western style portraits done in the Americas. The panting shows the cacique/governor Don Francisco and his sons in European ruff-collared cloaks, Amerindian jewellery and holding spears of either African or European design. Don Francisco can be properly called a cacique because he was descended from escaped and shipwrecked Africans and the Amerindian Ecuadorians of the area nor known as Esmeraldas, still an African ethnic enclave today. The painter, Galque, was of Amerindian origins and so we have a European style painting of Africans, done by an Amerindian.

Andrés Sánchez Galque, The Mulattos of Esmeraldas: Don Francisco de la Robe and his sons Pedro and Domingo, 1599.
This Ecuadorian painting is done in a style linked to The Quito School of Ecuador and the Cuzco School of Peru, colonial  academies established by Christian friars to train criollos (i.e., white Creoles), mestizo, then Indigenous artists to paint in the late renaissance and baroque styles of the 16th and 17th centuries. Eventually even African-descended pupils were taught to paint in this localised style of Peru and Ecuador where it was used to paint this work, one of the earliest known Western style portraits done in the Americas. The panting shows the cacique/governor Don Francisco and his sons in European ruff-collared cloaks, Amerindian jewellery and holding spears of either African or European design. Don Francisco can be properly called a cacique because he was descended from escaped and shipwrecked Africans and the Amerindian Ecuadorians of the area now known as Esmeraldas (still an African ethnic enclave today). The painter, Galque, was of Amerindian descent and so we have a European style painting of Africans, done by an Amerindian.

Today, those of us who study the art history of the Americas regularly confront the irony of the catastrophic, genocidal Conquest and the fertile breeding ground it provided for a veritable explosion of artistic production, with the Church as the main patron. It is perhaps the biggest conundrum we face, the reality of our syncretic, painful (art) history.

But when Catholics ran Trinidad and Tobago, there was barely anyone here! A lot of the Amerindians had been killed off (the rest mostly confined to missions/reducciones) and a few Spaniards and comparably few enslaved Africans eked out a living on relatively modest, sometimes miserable plantations. So the system of patronage, art training and taste-making in the mainland viceroyalties never took root here. And the Catholic French, both white and ‘coloured,’ who arrived after the Cedula de Población in 1783 with all their enslaved Africans in tow to inflate and infuse the Trinbagonian population got here only a few years before the Protestant and Anglican British walked in and took the place over from Governor Chacón in 1797, basically without firing a shot.

Now, the British have always had a lot of beautiful art in their own country, where art is a far more secular and somewhat elite pursuit that has enabled the English to maintain for centuries a kind of nominal competitive parity with the Mediterranean countries. But Protestants are doctrinally aniconic, encouraging no ‘graven images’ in their thousands of often-decentralised churches. So upon the arrival of the British in Port-of-Spain at the end of the eighteenth century, it wouldn’t even have occurred to islands only just freshly stocked with Catholics that institutional patronage of the arts from the yet-newer Protestant bosses was now effectively off the table in Trinidad or Tobago. After all, people had other things to worry about while they were adjusting to British rule, and for the next couple of centuries they always seemed to have yet another thing to worry about before they gave any thought to visual art.

So as Latin America, Cuba and Hispaniola stepped into the nineteenth century and then the twentieth, transitioning all the while from sectarian Church-funded art to the highly accomplished, non-sectarian art of the romantics then modernists (with the benefit of that handed down, church-funded art training) the British colonies managed to produce very little art by comparison. I challenge the reader to consider the Martiniquan family origins and European training of Trinidad’s great nineteenth century painter, Michel Jean Cazabon to either prove or disprove my point. The reader might also go searching throughout the rest of the then British West Indies to find more than a handful of comparable artists.

Michel Jean Cazabon, Laventille View, 1860s

Laventille View (1860s) by Michel Jean Cazabon, Trinidad’s premier landscape and costumbrista painter (i.e., painter of local “types” of people) and one of Trinidad’s few painters of note in the 19th century.

In the British colonial period (when the Afro-Franco-Catholic custom of Carnival was provisionally indulged) if a governor needed a monument sculpted here or there to commemorate some important countryman of his, His Excellency could send abroad for it. Why bother to train local artists? It wasn’t as if that would become their profession, like in Peru or Mexico or Cuba. So like the persisting centuries-old (pre-British) Carnival, its attendant (and often contingent) Calypso music, and the subsequent Calypso publishing business of the twentieth century, visual art production in these Anglophone islands has hardly been sustainable as a year ‘round venture.

And today, the fact that our ancestors in Africa, India, and China (and also France, Spain and the pre-Columbian Caribbean) had lived their whole lives surrounded by, making or interacting with the visual arts (be it sculpture, painting, drawing, calligraphy, adorned pottery or handmade textiles etc) is easily forgotten. The pelau hoi polloi have been habitually, unconsciously trained out of most of our visual art impulse, regardless of our religious affiliations. For over a century and a half we were subjects of a realm in which there was little pictorial or other art being regularly commissioned by church or state. A hundred and sixty-five years is long enough to forget a tradition. So by independence in 1962, we had become a nation of rural labourers and urban bureaucrats, heavy lifters and paper-pushers…fussing over petroleum instead of sugar.

By independence time, we had accumulated some important visual artists from Sybil Atteck to Carlisle Chang. Many of them had brought back their art training from foreign schools, paid for by their families from the growing merchant class who had just enough free time and education to remember the importance of art. Thus the visual arts had become almost exclusively a private sector initiative, an elite pursuit behind gate & fence, a luxury that was free from broad societal value like it had enjoyed back in Asia, Africa, the Mediterranean or pre-Columbian days—although such societally value-less art did provide a plush (continental?) backdrop to the clinking of glasses at the most ‘social’ soirées and shindigs.

It’s not just artists who don’t fit into a nation of technicians and technocrats, accountants and attorneys, bankers and merchants. Philosophers don’t fit either. They too are obscure and elite; envied and ridiculed. Art and philosophy? “How much yuh could get fuh dat?” How much a pound is art, ethics or existentialism on the London Stock Exchange?

Christopher Cozier, Attack of the Sandwich Men, 2004

Christopher Cozier, Attack of the Sandwich Men, 2004

Ironically, even though his is one of the few socially endorsed, though admittedly Carnival-contingent, art forms (i.e., Calypso/Soca) to survive what I call the ‘artswinter of 1797 to 1962,’ Shadow is as much the misfit in this ‘mad society’ as any committed, hard-thinking, hard-working visual artist. He fits in like a bristling Kongo nkisi sculpture or delicate Rajput painting fits on the factory floor. He fits in like a LeRoy Clarke panting fits in at the KFC down Lara Promenade or a Chris Cozier installation fits into the car park at Trincity Mall (although mischievous Cozier might think that’s a cool idea). Just as ironic is the fact that it is African-looking Shadow, often cited for having the most African musical inspirations (see David Rudder’s comment in Jacob, “Shadow: the Uncrowned King”), who is the one that seems to have broken out of the cash-crop shackles to go journeying into solitary, deep thinking about our lot in life and our place in the universe. Weren’t his people brought here to cut bush for free, six and seven days a week an’ t’ing?

Notes

[i] Ironically his minimalistic skip-rope dance would become the most memorable dance move of all the Calypsonians.

[ii] “Winston Bailey…adopted the unusual name, Shadow, and…even goes on stage dressed as the famous “Shadow” of serial fame…” (Liner Notes, Bass Man, 1974)

[iii] In the same way we might look into the origins and ‘influences’ on the American radio programme, The Shadow, and find a range of superficial, facile, instinctive and deeply considered selections from the history of literature and visual symbolism.

[iv] Jeff Henry, Under the Mas’: Resistance and Rebellion in the Trinidad Masquerade (San Juan: Lexicon Trinidad, 2008), 81; Ruth West, Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3/4, Konnu and Carnival—Caribbean Festival Arts (December 1990), 43.

[v] Henry, Under the Mas’, 84.

[vi] Henry, Under the Mas’, 81.

[vii] Attributed to Midnight Robber, Two Gun Crowley in Henry, Under the Mas’, 85.

[viii] For brief but poignant discussions of Shadow in the context of racial blackness, see Bukka Renie, “Shadow: the ‘William Blake’ of Calypso” in Trinicenter.com: Bukka Renie, May 1999, http://www.trinicenter.com/BukkaRennie/1999/May/Shadowthewilliamblakeofcalypso.html

(Accessed January 18, 2015); and Claire Tancons, “Lighting the Shadow: Trinidad in and out of Light,” in Third Text, vol. 21, issue 3 (London: Routledge, 2007), 330-331.

[ix] Ghosts.

[x] The ghostly temptress.

[xi] Forest-dwelling children (in fact the souls of stillborn, aborted and other children who died before baptism) with large hats and backward feet.

[xii] A night time shape shifter.

[xiii] Debbie Jacob, “Shadow: the Uncrowned King” in Caribbean Beat, issue 16, http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-16/shadow-uncrowned-king#axzz3OuKy31B1, (Accessed January 15, 2015).

[xiv] “Shadow: the Man and his Music,” in Tobago News, March 24th, 2011, http://www.thetobagonews.com/news/Shadow___The_man__and_his__music-118628809.html, (Accessed October 24th, 2011). The Mighty Sparrow is quoted here as having said of Shadow’s performance that night, “I stood there and saw Shadow take the crowd and turn them upside down; he did what he wanted to them. I realised, if I had lost to Shadow, I would have been beaten by a great artiste.”

[xv] I hope to compare these two magnificent Road March gems in a future post.

[xvi] Actually, many people predicted the endurance and renaissance of vinyl recordings, and even after the supposed death of analogue music, the famed Japanese stylus/cartridge maker Yoshiaki Sugano, descendent of a line of expert samurai sword makers and potters, continued his quest to ‘perfect’ the record stylus. After his death in 2002, his sons have taken over the development and sales of Koetsu cartridges. See http://www.stereophile.com/news/11249/ and http://www.redbullmusicacademy.com/magazine/japanese-handcrafted-sound