Before Reggae

Posted by Joe Goldmark, November 21, 2014 06:00pm | Post a Comment

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Before Reggae, Rock Steady, and Ska, Calypso was the folk music of the English speaking Caribbean. Like all good folk music, calypsos told stories in song and were often written to celebrate topical events. The music originated with slaves on the plantations. By the golden era of the late 1920s and '30s, there were many diverse influences including music heard from U.S. radio waves that reached the islands.

Here’s what Wikipedia says: Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago during the early to mid-20th century. Its rhythms can be traced back to West African Kaiso and the arrival of French planters and their slaves from the French Antilles in the 1600s.

Some of the earliest recordings were by Atilla the Hun, and The Roaring Lion, in the early 1930s.

Atilla – “Roosevelt in Trinidad”

Roaring Lion – “Ugly Woman”



Next came Lord Invader and Wilmoth Houdini in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Lord Invader – “Rum & Coca Cola”


Wilmoth Houdini – “War Declaration


The 1940s featured the Mighty Spoiler and the roots of Lord Kitchener & the Mighty Bomber.

Mighty Spoiler – “Bedbug”



Into the ‘50s & early ‘60s where calypso was king! Lord Melody & Lord Kitchener were on top.

Lord Kitchener – “Take You Meat Out My Rice”


Lord Melody – “The Creature From The Black Lagoon”

Mighty Bomber – “Bomber’s Sister”


And of course Harry Belafonte, who brought pop or folk-calypso to the world in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Harry Belafonte – “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”


The 1960s were the heyday of the Mighty Sparrow, acknowledged as the greatest calypso singer, and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, who were mostly instrumental and often covered American tunes.

Mighty Sparrow – “Good Morning Mr. Walker”


Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – “Soul Limbo”


An offshoot of calypso was “Steelband” or “Steelpan” music from Trinidad.

Esso Trinidad Steel Band – “Spanish Flea”



Steel Drum Documentary:

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Reggae (20), Rock Steady (1), Ska (5), Calypso (1), Atilla The Hun (1), Mighty Spoiler (1), Steelband (1), Steelpan (1), Caribbean (4), Trinidad (1), Steel Drum (1), Byron Lee And The Dragonaires (1), Harry Belafonte (4), Mighty Sparrow (1), Lord Melody (1), Lord Kitchener (1), Mighty Bomber (1), The Roaring Lion (1), Lord Invader (1), Wilmoth Houdini (1)