Calypso with Etienne
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Calypso traces its roots to West Africa in the 1600s, drawing on traditions of social commentary and improvisational lyrics in song. Modern calypso was born in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1900s, when these West African traditions mixed with chantuelle, a Creole vocal tradition that accompanied stick fights known as kalenda. Calypso developed in tandem with Carnival and Kambule. Kambule is the solemn costumed procession commemorating the emancipation of enslaved Africans, and Carnival is the pre-Lenten ritual brought to Trinidad by French Catholic settlers. It was within this fertile breeding ground of masquerades, parades, and musical competitions that all the elements of calypso were developed, including the steel pan and steel band. As the century progressed, well-known calypso singers began performing and recording in New York, which led to a New York version of calypso that dealt with themes specific to life in the city.
Etienne was born in Trinidad and grew up with calypso, as well as many other kinds of music. He went on to study jazz trumpet, first in Florida and then in New York. As a trumpet player, bandleader, and composer, he is drawing constantly on his Afro-Caribbean roots. “Jazz is creole music,” he says. “As a person in the new world, I’ve been influenced by so much music. I come from a fusion of rhythms, a fusion of cultures.”
Introduce your students to Etienne with this “Meet Etienne” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Etienne and the other Spring Semester artists.
Resources for Teachers
The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.
- You can hear more of Etienne’s music at etiennecharles.com.
- Lord Kitchener: Klassic Kitchener, Volumes 1–4
- London is the Place for Me, Volumes 1–4
- Mighty Sparrow, Volumes 1–4
- Mighty Spoiler: Unspoilt
- Roaring Lion: Sacred 78’s
- Steel Band: Trinidadian Panharmonic Orchestra (Smithsonian Folkways)
- West Indian Folksongs for Children (Smithsonian Folkways)
- Calypso Awakening: From the Emory Cook Collection (Smithsonian Folkways)
- Calypso Calaloo: Early Carnival Music in Trinidad by Donald Hill
- Music from Behind the Bridge: Steelband Spirit and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago by Shannon Dudley
- Calypso Dreams directed by Geoffrey Dunn and Michael Horne
- PAN! Our Musical Odyssey directed by Jérôme Guiot and Thierry Teston
New York City Resources
- West Indian American Day Carnival and Parade: The West Indian American Day Carnival Association plans this event, which takes place every Labor Day in Brooklyn. The organization also offers Caribbean cultural programs year-round.
- PanFest: This annual steel pan youth competition is held in Brooklyn and hosted by the Carlos Lezama Archives and Caribbean Cultural Center.
- Steel Bands of New York: This website is a directory of steel bands in New York City.