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Calypso and the church

The trinidad Guardian / Earlier this year, when he was conducting Brigo’s (Samuel Abraham) funeral, his son, Roman Catholic priest Father Bonnie Anthony Abraham, said he was introduced to spirituality by his father and even did his thesis, “Brigo: Prophet and Sage”, based on his father’s works.

Many people may not appreciate how Calypsonians have played their part in fostering an understanding of our various forms of spirituality.

Calypsonians, being highly creative people, are very different from the rest of us. Each one has given us their unique outlook on life and they should be so honoured in Calypso History Month. The month is a good opportunity to focus on them and what determined their spiritual lives.

We tend to label calypsonians either as political and social commentators or as the composers of festive music. But many calypsonians first began singing at school and church choirs or as devotees in the Orisha palais or at Spiritual Baptist Churches.

Admittedly, there have been times when calypsonians were critical about faiths in T&T, in particular the African faiths, but there are even more times when they sang sincerely and respectfully about spiritual life, liturgy, living and worship.

The calypsonian’s attitudes to African faiths have been documented in books like Professor Gordon Rohlehr’s Calypso and Society in Pre-Independence Trinidad. He noted that Spiritual Baptist hymns which were recorded and sung by calypsonians began to rival mainstream calypsoes for popularity in the 1930s and 1940s.

What may not be well known is the role played by the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution (Black Power) of 1970. The movement led to works by Ras Shorty I (Garfield Blackman), David Rudder, Andre Tanker as well as the Gospelypso genre.

Dr Michael Toussaint, UWI history lecturer, reflecting on “Trinidad Calypso as Postmodernism in The Diaspora: Linking Rhythms, Lyrics and the Ancestral Spirits”, wrote “We (T&T) are currently witnessing an unprecedented level of Orisha religiosity in the Trinidad calypso”. The calypsoes of Singing Sandra, Ella Andall and her collaboration with the late Devon Mathews immediately come to mind.

Among Catholics a change in liturgy and devotional music followed the Second Vatican Council, opened in October 1962 by Pope John XXIII. Brother Paschal Jordan, now Prior of the Abbey at Mt St Benedict, has written about “The rise of the Black power movement in 1970 and the subsequent consciousness …that began to spill over into new music for worship.”

The simultaneous development of new Catholic music and Gospelypso is outlined by Rochelle Livingstone-Lewis in a 1995 Caribbean Studies thesis. She wrote “In 1972 and 1973, local songs were already composed for use in the Catholic Folk Mass, showing a trend towards the use of indigenous material in a sacred context. This may very well have been the Catholic

Church’s response to this cry for contextualisation of the religion. They recognised that efforts towards making the religion more applicable to the locals was indeed necessary (…) It is in this vein that Gospelypso emerges. The Catholic Church has set the precedent and the climate was right for the emergence of Gospelypso.”

The Youth for Christ organisation held its first Gospelypso rally in 1972 leading to a series of calypso competitions that had, as their theme, the message of the Gospel. Today we may enjoy inspirational works from artistes as varied as Rose (McCartha Lewis), Ras Shorty I, Sean Daniel, Jadee (Jerry Dane Sellier), Isaac Blackman, The Professor (Noel Richards), Diamond (Patrick Purcell Lewis), Denyse Plummer, Delamo (Franz Lamkin), Tambu (Christopher Herbert), Bomber (Clifton Ryan), King Luta (Morel Peters), Sparrow (Slinger Francisco), Chalkdust (Dr Hollis Liverpool) and scores of older singers.

Some of these calypsonians are prominent in the Christian churches or have made the Churches their forum. Others work among the Spiritual Baptists. Yet others like Nelson (Robert Nelson), and Composer (Fred Mitchell), who is now named Baba Olu Sino Amono Ifayomi, are leaders in the Orisha faith.

Aiyegoro Ome

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