The Rise of Dominica’s Calypso Art-form (content courtesy Mr. Ian “Black Starliner” Jackson)

Calypso in Dominica, though unofficially done on the streets was formalized in 1958 with the Jaycees service organization. Prior to this, there were Chantwells following from the African Griot traditions where persons made fun of each other particularly the white massa and land owners in the form of story and “Beff”. The observed dates were from the late 1900s when slavery was said to be “Abolished” provided a moment when the “Freed workers” could now make fun of Massa using Creole etc

Nonetheless in 1958 the first king was crown when calypso was removed from the streets and became a staged art form. This was King Observer. In ensuing years there were the Adventurer, followed by DE Saint and Mighty Spark (Embert Stowe & Herman James respectively, both medical dispensers).

The first three -peat King who dominated in the 60’s was De Idol- Alrick Jackson (my Dad) who incidentally is the grandfather of reigning National Female monarch Janae. Then there was the popular Lord Breaker of the Gaylords Power Union Fame, Lord Tokyo the first calypsonian locally to have recorded an album on vinyl disc and Roland James – the Spider, brother of Herman “Sparky” James, a back to back calypso monarch.

Some of the dominant compositions in the 60s and 70s era was as follows “Ilene”, ‘Mr Couplan ( Idol), “Point Michel Girls” by Lord Bingo, “Ma doe suck it to me” by Chubby, “Mas in de Cemetery” by King Solo, “Byo bwa” by Katera “Tennis Shoe Tongue” by the late Tokeyo…just to name a few.

However in the 70s entered Lord Solo, second three peat King, King Ency (Dominica’s most Crown King together with King Dice), De Tronada, and of course King Shakey (Now the holder of several Doctorate and Masters Degrees). It was under the stewardship of King Shakey that the Dominica Calypso Association was formed in 1977.

Later in 80s Wizard, Scrunter, and Ventura were to dominate, then joining them were King Hurricane and King Brakes, now a priest. By the turn of the new century saw the rise of two of Dominica’s best ever in the persons of Kings Hunter, most regionally renowned and marketable calypsonian, and Dice who has won the crown a record 7 times plus 5 road march wins. The 2015 King Karessah, Observer and only National female monarch Tasha P are the only three who have ever defeated the Dice.

When one talks of calypso the song writer composer plays an integral role and heading the list is the prolific Pat Aaron who has composed winning compositions for several monarchs both in the Junior and National competitions. The Late Freddy Mendes, Ian Jackson, Tim Durand have been some of the leading composers over the past 20 years. Both Pat Aaron and Ian Jackson have been awarded the Golden Drum by the National Cultural Council for their composition skills and contribution to calypso.

The calypso genre has been the most impacting in Dominica. As a matter of fact Dominica’s Association is the only one with full autonomy in the region. It plans and hosts its own shows without government intervention or subvention. Not even Trinidad can boast of such a feat. One calypsonian correctly stated in song “Calypso can make or break government”. This is obviously so true because the pulse of the country both politically and socially are best borne out by calypsonians. In 1994 Hurricane’s “Tiway yo” (Take them out) saw the removal of the Freedom Party from office, Spider’s “Singing Sankey”(for OJ and John) literally buried the Patrick John administration in 1980 or on a lighter side Rabbit’s “Marry de girl Charlie” by coincidence or otherwise saw vows exchanged for the now President Charles Savarin.

Dominica Calypso Association
Bath Estate