Various Artists – Smithsonian Folkways, Calypso Awakening from the Emory Cook Collection

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Trinidad Carnival in all its glory.

Calypso was the sound of Carnival and Trinidad, and this glorious live recording by Emory Cook captures a Calypso tent in full swing; you feel you're part of the audience, laughing, sweating, and enjoying the elaborate wordplay of the songs. And there's some rare talent on display, with people like Lord Melody and Mighty Sparrow, two of the genre's towering figures. It becomes especially interesting when they indulge in a picong, or contest, extemporizing calypsos to score off each other. It's glorious stuff, with its roots in West Africa. But that's not all. There's also some wonderful steel band playing (the other hallmark of Trinidad's Carnival), yet there's no doubt that it's the singing that's the centerpiece here. There's topical material ("Federation"), wicked humor ("Booboo Man") and more sophistication in the arrangements than you might expect, with a full band often chiming in. This is Trinidad Carnival in all its glory.