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Culture Tuesdays: Calypso


Calypso is a style of Afro-Carribbean music that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. It was developed in the 17th century from the West African Kaiso and canboulay music brought by African Slaves. The slaves were stripped of all connections to their homeland and family and not allowed to talk to each other. They used calypso to mock the slave masters and to communicate with each other.

Calypso evolved into a way of spreading news around Trinidad. Politicians, journalists, and public figures often debated the content of each song, and many islanders considered these songs the most reliable news source. Calypsonians pushed the boundaries of free speech as their lyrics spread news of any topic relevant to island life, including speaking out against political corruption.

Steelpans (also known as steel drums or pans), is a musical Instrument from Trinidad and Tobago used to play calypso. Steel pan musicians are called pannists.

The pan is struck using a pair of straight sticks tipped with rubber; the size and type of rubber tip varies according to the class of pan being played. Some musicians use four pansticks, holding two in each hand. This skill and performance style grew out of Trinidad and Tobago’s early 20th-century carnival percussion groups known as the Tamboo Bamboo. The pan is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.

The first calypso recording was made in 1914. In the late 1920s, Calypso tents were formed. Calypso tents were used by Calypsonians to practice before carnival. “The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is an annual event held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in Trinidad and Tobago. The event is well known for participants’ colorful costumes and exuberant celebrations” (Wikipedia). Today, calypso tents are used to showcase new music for Carnival season.

Click the link above to watch the Panmasters play Calypso music using the steel pan!

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