This review is in collaboration with CaribbeanTales-TV.com.
From the opening moments of Calypso Dreams the sweet melody and unique lyric styling of calypso grips you and never lets you go. In the award-winning documentary, released in 2004, directors Geoffrey Dunn and Michael Horne draw viewers into an unadulterated, honest and grand celebration and interrogation of the calypso art form. And what better place to do this than calypso’s birthplace – Trinidad and Tobago. Here is my review in three easy to chew slices:
Slice #1 – Verses of Versatility
Some documentaries take an historical approach to their subject matter. And while Calypso Dreams does delve quite a bit into calypso history the format is not dry and chronological but lively and conversational. There is little to no narration and the directors let the calypsonians do the talking and, wonderfully, a whole lot of singing. And this is a wise choice because the larger than life and supremely charming personalities of the musicians practically leap off the screen. You feel like you are sitting in the bar with Lord Relator (Willard Harris) as he sings and strums his guitar with friends or liming with Mighty Sparrow (Dr Slinger Francisco) and Lord Superior (Andrew Marcano) as they delightfully deliver verses of Jean and Dinah. Singing along, or at the very least tapping you feet, is required for the full experience.
Slice #2 – A Chorus of Calypsonians
The vast number of calypsonians featured in this documentary is most impressive. You have the aforementioned Sparrow, Superior and Relator but there are also the eloquent David Rudder, the historian Chalkdust (Dr Hollis Liverpool), the unpredictable Crazy (Edwin Ayoung), the contemplative Bro Valentino (Emrold Phillip) and late veterans like Mighty Terror (Fitzgerald Henry), Lord Brigo (Samuel Abraham) and “extempo” (extemporaneous singing) master Lord Pretender (Aldric Farrell). There is also a segment on female calypsonians and their struggles, and we hear the perspectives of calypso queen Calypso Rose (Linda McArtha Sandy-Lewis), Denyse Plummer, Singing Sandra (Sandra DesVignes-Millington) and Shereen Caesar. Dunn and Horne present a veritable feast of calypsonians and hearing their views and seeing them sing, especially those who have passed on, is a very rewarding experience.
Slice #3 – Everything you wanted to know
The documentary touches on a number of areas concerning calypso. The calypsonians chat about: the role of the calypsonian as “the poor man’s newspaper” as Brigo says; the variety of topics that the art form covers including politics, history, sex and taking politicians to task; the origin of the sobriquet and how Sparrow became the Mighty Sparrow; and, best of all, calypsonians on the impact of iconic calypsonians like Sparrow – Chalkdust said God gave him all the gifts of calypso – and the Grandmaster Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts). And speaking of Kitchener black and white footage of him singing in England in 1952 is one of the highlights of the archival video and photos featured.
There is also an interview with US singer Harry Belafonte, known for his covers of calypso tunes like Rum and Coca Cola, and he explains that while he was marketed as the “king of calypso.” and the stir that caused in Trinidad and Tobago, it was a title he never wanted, desired nor earned. There are a couple of elements of calypso left out of the documentary such as the annual Calypso Monarch competition and the role calypso plays in the annual Carnival celebrations. But more than a decade after its release Calypso Dreams remains fresh, engaging, humorous and vastly informative. And it is must see for Caribbean audiences, music fans or anyone interested in the art of calypso.
This review is brought to you in collaboration of CaribbeanTales-TV.com which has a treasure trove of Caribbean film content available for viewing including Calypso Dreams. To subscribe you can check out http://caribbeantales-tv.com/.