Posts Tagged ‘Kitchener’

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.

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