Album Review | Top of the World | Various Artists – Calypso: Musical Poetry in the Carribean 1955-69
Words by Garth Cartwright
This joyous compilation aims to demonstrate calypso’s pre-ska popularity across the Caribbean region and beyond. The first calypso recordings were in 1912, pre-dating the first jazz or blues recordings and the fact that the tiny island of Trinidad proved to be such a musical powerhouse is dwelt upon in the heavily illustrated booklet. Calypso gained a controversial stature due to its singers using it as a medium to criticise those who held power while boasting about sex, drinking, gambling and other such activities in 19th-century Trinidad. It went on to become one of the first Afro-diaspora music forms to win wide international popularity.
The album gathers 19 rare gems that find Calypsonians in Trinidad, Panama, Jamaica, NYC and London celebrating everything from the moon landing to James Bond heroine Pussy Galore. The songs feature lots of witty innuendo along with deeper meditations on race and place. The legendary Lord Kitchener (pictured above) is here but Mighty Sparrow is not, leaving room for Azie Lawrence, Mighty Douga, Lord Cobra, Young Growler and other less famous names. Top marks to Soul Jazz for avoiding obvious favourites and taking pride in the presentation of a music that, today, is often only noted during Carnival (in London and Trinidad).