Friday, April 24, 2009

St. Thomas Carnival Means ... All Things Calypso

This is the second week of carnival, and it's really rolling, now. This evening, a star studded Calypso Revue will bring the biggest international (those who travel to Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and the mainland U.S. to perform), and local Calypsonians together on the VI carnival stage. This event is in my top three.

Calypso is the unofficial (official) music of the Virgin Islands, particularly during carnival. There are several different kinds of Calypso, but what you'll find in the VI, for the most part, is Soca (basically dance music with an uptempo), and old style Calypso. Not that there aren't other forms of music, like Reggae and others.

Old style Calypso is what made the genre famous and has been around since slaves first arrived on the island's shores. The story told in the song is the most important feature of the music. The lyrics can be stingingly satirical, laugh-out-loud funny, or down-right bawdy.

Calypsonians are poets, singers and entertainers. They mostly write their own material, and are known for their entertaining presentations. The best of the best can sing extemporaneously (compose and sing songs on the spot), and are masters at double entendre (songs that have a double meaning).

Some of the famous entertainers, who hail from all parts of the Caribbean include: The Mighty Sparrow, Short Shirt, Lord Kitchner, Louis Ible, Jr., Whaddablee, Lord Nelson, King Obstinate, Calypso Rose, The Mighty Chalkdust, Singing Francine, and so many more, it is impossible to name them all.

Calypso Revue generally runs for two nights, and is incredibly entertaining. The outfits are generally glitzy, particularly on the second night, and props are used to give emphasis to the songs. It's theatre at its best.

My greatest challenge in my first two carnivals in the Virgin Islands was simply understanding the accents of the singers. If you don't know what's being said, you feel real left out when every one is screaming with laughter, singing chorus, or participating in call and response. I learned super fast.

Calypso is a unique art form that has influenced many genres of music. Think about it this way, Calypsonians were rapping long before there was anything called rap.

So, tonight Lionel Roberts Stadium will be rocking with some of the best Calypso on the planet, and I may not be there physically, but I'm going to be there in spirit ... with that chicken leg, and Red Stripe.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

St. Thomas Carnival: Echoes Through Time

Well, St. Thomas Carnival officially kicked off on April 12, and around now it is in full swing. The theme this year is: Echoes Through Time. Events like the Prince & Princess Selection Show, The Queen Selection Show, Toddler's Derby and Junior Calypso Revue (young Calypsonians), have already come and gone. But, there's so much more to come.

St. Thomas Carnival Magazine

Coming up this week are some popular events. First, there's Cultural Night, which celebrates the history and culture of the Virgin Islands, and takes place at Lionel Robert's Stadium. You can count on seeing awesome exhibitions of Quadrille and Bamboula dancing (both in elaborate costumes, of course).

The Quadrille is a parlor dance that made its way to the islands from Europe around the same time as the Waltz. The dance, described as a five-figure square dance, was observed by blacks as they served guests in the European style ballrooms of wealthy planters and merchants. They soon copied and adapted the dance for themselves, and it still survives today.

The Bamboula, on the other hand, came straight from Africa ... by way of slaves. It is a dance that comes complete with lots of drums and body movements associated with Africa, and is the only dance that is considered indigenous to the Virgin Islands.

Other Cultural Night activities include, Maypole Dances, Masqueraders, troupes, groups and more. It is a spectacular celebration.

During Cultural Night the most elaborate costumes that will lead the various troupes and floupes on the day of the big parade, will be presented. The parade is like the jewel in the crown. It is the last big event of the festival, and can I say ... it is an all day event. We're talking from 10:oo am until ... yes, it has run as late as 9:00 pm. Does anyone mind? Absolutely not. But, more on that later.

The King and Queen of the Band will be chosen based on those spectacular costumes. It is a huge honor because these costumes are so stupendous, so amazing, and some are so big, that part of their under-carriage is riding on small wheels. I call them human floats.

Then, there's Latin Calypso Night, which is a celebration of Latin music with local bands, and bands from Puerta Rico and various other islands. Dancing in the aisles is definitely allowed. This is where you get your Salsa on.

Oh, did I mention there are carnival rides and games? Well, there are. I would say it's for the kids, but you see an awful lot of folks over there who don't have children.

Also coming up at the end of this week is Calypso Revue. Now, that's one of the events I NEVER missed. Not under any circumstances.

Calypsonians are the highest level of Caribbean entertainer, and are a combination of singer, poet (most write their own songs), and performer. They are true artists. The show consists of local performers, and the best and most famous Calypsonians from all over the Caribbean, the States, Canada, or where ever they happen to be living.

These artists converge on St. Thomas at Carnival and .... IT'S ON!!!

Next time, we'll take a closer look at some famous Calypsonians who have graced St. Thomas' carnival stage in the past.

The adventures ... and misadventures of a city slicker turned mellow islander.