Garth Cartwright attends a rare London performance from the Queen of Calypso at the Jazz Cafe (Photo by Colm Moore)
Calypso Rose has been an infrequent visitor to British shores over several decades, tending to often play Notting Hill Carnival-related events. Her profile has risen dramatically in 2016 with the release of her superb new album Far From Home, it being produced by Ivan Duran alongside Manu Chao (and released via his French record label). Rose is one of the wellsprings of contemporary Caribbean music yet often overlooked in recent decades so its great to see a veteran like her winning a wider audience.
Born McArtha Linda Sandy-Lewis on the Caribbean island of Tobago in 1940, Rose wrote her first calypso aged 15 and turned professional in 1964. Her witty, outspoken songs have made her a much celebrated – and sometimes controversial – performer at home and tonight she proved age had not mellowed her, ribald innuendo and belly ‘dancing’ occurring over the performance. Age has taken its toll in other ways – Rose’s voice is often croaky and she finds performing tiring, taking a break midway through the 80-minute set. Her bassist is a mainstay of the Trinidadian scene but the rest of the band are French and, in true French world music tradition, tend to favour a thumping funk rock that is shorn of musical subtlety. That said, Calypso Rose overcame the band’s shortcomings to charm, tease and sing such classics as ‘Do Dem Back’, ‘Fire in Me Wire’ and ‘Black Israel’. On a bleak autumn night she ignited the heat of Carnival in London’s Jazz Cafe.