A Review of Alex Bruno's Publication: Historical Perspectives of Calypso and Soca
Alex "Double A, Pawol" Bruno must be complimented for his publication "Historical Perspectives of Calypso and Soca: A Celebration of Past, Present, and Future Women in Calypso" which was scheduled to be launched last week at the UWI- Dominica. (The event was subsequently postponed).
In my view, this publication is well researched and a tool that every library, student and Calypso fan should try to own a copy. In fact Alex states in his foreword that this work was inspired by the crowning of Tasha P in 2011 as the first woman Calypso Monarch.
The publication therefore is unique on quite a few fronts: it does not seek to promote Trinidad as the "land of Calypso" as other scholars of Calypso have done. Instead it emphasizes the role of the African slave and its connection with the French Creoles as existed in Trinidad, Martinique, St Lucia, and Dominica notwithstanding the fact that TNT made the most of it through its marketing and financial capabilities.
Secondly, it's the first publication of its kind that I know of which uses women as the central figure in what has been promoted as a masculine endeavor.
Thirdly, it brings a fresh perspective in the promotion of the role of Dominica as co- founders of Soca music.
In fact, it is amazing that the beat is attributed to TNT when Dominican writers and even Cadance, which came before, was very instrumental in Soca's formation. It is because of the above that I find the manuscript, which I was favored to receive, so interesting, particularly as Dominica seems to be the last bastion of hope for Calypso seeing that the other territories for the most part are sold on Soca. Could it be that the sufferings of the runaway slaves such as Calypso, Angelique, Victorin, Charlotte and other females hold greater meaning for us here? The art form, Bruno surmises, epitomizes pain, injustice and a call for freedom through the pen of novelist Jean Rhys, Mable Moir James, Phyllis Shand Alfrey.
Interestingly, the author sees the Calypso writer, himself as a calypsonian, as the commencement of a chain which ultimately ends with the singer/performer. Hence the patriotic expressions of a Cissy Cauderion is of no less significance from a modern day Pat Aaron who points out society's socio-political ills through the persona of six-time monarch Dennison 'Dice ' Joseph.
This is what Alex Bruno explores through empirical data and writings of Dr. Eric Williams, Dr. Lennox Honychurch, Sir Gordon Rohler and others. The latter, in his 2004 publication "A Scuffling of Islands- Essays on Calypso" while acknowledging the connection of patois-speaking slaves and the Calypso art form stopped short of documenting any involvement of Dominica, or its music, as parts of the publication. This is why "A Historical Perspective of Calypso and Soca" adds a welcomed dimension, perhaps the other half of the story, never before explored or told.
Moreover, this is documented through the eyes of the female calypsonian at a time when women were the object of sexual ridicule from the 'Jean and Dinah' and 'Teacher Mildred' days of the Mighty Sparrow. The fact is the "De lizard run up she foot and disappear…" but where? According to Bruno, the laugher receded when regional artistes like Calypso Rose (TNT), Wendy Allen (Barbados), Patrice Cadette (St Lucia) came on the scene. Then later our own Ophelia debunking the myth of Greek philosopher Aristotle and a French neurologist who sought to minimize women as "lesser men' to perhaps Calypso 'men' such as the Lord Tokyo, Idol, Breaker, Solo , Saints, Spark, NC, Brakes, Hurricane, Scrunter, Hunter or the Dice.
Throughout this journey of women finding their place in Calypso, Bruno takes us through the travails on the plantation, the politics which gave rise to the formation the DCA in 1978 and testimonials from executive members, 1st president King Shakey, and others who were part of the revolutionary move away from the Jaycees who once held claim to the art form. Back-up bands Liquid Ice, Boys and Dem, Swinging Teens, Swinging Stars and even, B Plus bands are all credited for their contribution to the rise of Calypso.
Early works of writers such as Chris Seraphine, Dennis Joseph and Emcees Patrick John and Harrigan, significant movers and shakers of the time, are also mentioned. Bruno himself an MC/ performer, and an executive member of the DCA for some ten years brings in his perspective on matters while documenting the work of various presidents from Vaughn 'Shakey' James in 1978, the longest serving -Ras Kelly to Derrick 'Hunter' St Rose in 2013. The purpose and origin of the Kaiso Hall of Fame and the first inductees are all captured in detail by UWI's Dr. Francis Severin in the citations that form an integral part of that section of the book.
Bruno uses the publication to capture, as Calypso alone is able to, some of the political upheaval and economic concerns and instabilities even to the extent of publishing lyrics as they were sung. But through it all, the foundation is laid for the presence of women in 1978 with 'Kon lan bi' followed by the Lady A, Mavis Bruno, some four years later. Alex Bruno documents the struggle for women's acceptance in a male-dominated arena, through the voices of various artistes and his own personal experiences.
There was some triumph when Jahlee was crowned Woman Queen of Calypso paving the way for a plethora of women into the arena -Swinging Janice, Yakima, Lady Edna, Cauliflower, Singing V, Leandra, Lady Christine, Sandy, Tarina, Dutchess, Lady Star, Janae…until the combination of writers Gina Letang and Ian Jackson bore fruit and it became 'Woman Time" not only a crown for Tasha P, but for all women who thought it could not be done. Bruno's book is a timely and insightful piece of literature.