Caribbean Music: "Kaiso" — Some history and examples to listen to!
Growing up in the Caribbean, especially being raised by Trinidadians, I have been exposed to a variety of music from across the region. Particularly music out of Trinidad.
Like every kind of music there are influences from outside of the Caribbean, particularly West Africa as enslaved Africans brought their cultures with them across the Atlantic. Kaiso appears to have taken hold in Trinidad first.
The word Kaiso perhaps originates in West Africa from the Ibibio language, meaning ‘go forward’ which was used during what would eventually be called ‘limbo’, where the participant would bend backwards under a lowered pole without touching it.
Kaiso is known for being politically subversive, and often with some sexual innuendo.
Usually it is lighthearted but with sarcastic or mocking lyrics and quite often involves some form of story-telling.
It is sometimes also called Soca or Calypso, but Kaiso is referred to as the more ‘authentic’ and older version of Soca with the latter having a more modern connotation and is usually much faster in tempo than Kaiso.
Here are some examples of older Kaiso from Trinidad
If you have trouble understanding what is being said, let me know and I can translate it for you!!
So get some rum, have a dance around and enjoy!
Roaring Lion recording from 1934, so the recording itself isn’t great.
You can hear some of the jazz influence.
"If you want to be happy and live a king's life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
If you want to be happy and live a king's life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
All you gotta do is just as I say
And then you would be jolly, merry and gay
That's from a logical point of view
Always love a woman uglier than you."
Lord Pretender started singing kaiso in 1929 at the age of 12.
You might recognise this from the Andrews Sisters song of the same name. It was taken without permission and copyrighted in the USA, claiming authorship. Eventually Lord Invader won a lawsuit against the publisher. You can read more about it here
Mighty Dougla song about repatriation, and the fact that if people are mixed racially they can't repatriate to one country - they'd have to be split in two, done in a comical way of course. 'Dougla' refers to a mixture of black and indian.
Because they sending Indians to India [India] and the Negroes back to Africa,
Can somebody please just tell me, where they sending poor me? [Poor Dougie]
I am neither one nor the other, six of one, half a dozen of the other
If they serious about sending back people for true, they got to split me in two.
The Mighty Sparrow, my personal favourite, so it’s hard for me to just choose a couple of his songs.
Lying Excuses is about a man giving excuses to his wife when she catches him with another woman.
De reason meh hand was in she bosom
Ah was feeling to see if she had ah gun!
She didn't ha no gun by she chest, that is why
Ah was searchin under she dress
That's all, that is all, that is all.
Smart Bajan is about a villainous Barbadian that moves to Trinidad to set up a wishing fountain in order to take money from ‘foolish’ Trinis. There are sometimes tensions between Barbadians and Trinidadians.
A medley of some great songs by Sparrow.
Jean and Dinah
Jean and Dinah, Rosita and Clementina,
Round the corner posing, bet your life is something they selling
And if you catch them broken, you can get em all for nothing
Don't make no row, the yankees gone and Sparrow take over now
The Lizard run up she foot and it dissappear,
Everybody keeps searching everywhere,
Where the lizard, teacher Mildred?
Under she dress, taking a rest
The way she jolly and happy, I swear the lizard must be tickling she!
Drunk and Disorderly
Drunk and disorderly, always in custody
Me friends and me family, all man fed up with me, cause I
Drunk and disorderly, every weekend I in the jail
Drunk and disorderly, nobody to stand me bail
The Witch Doctor! (Obeah is like Vodou, Papa Bois is a folklore character, a crapaud is a toad.)
A fun song about a lying competition by Lord Nelson
I had meh eye on "Liar de Lion"
Cause I know he does come with some good ones
But they had a younger fella named Devo
Come from some village there in Tobago
He same he father is Tobago's best fisherman
Catch a fish a mile wide, 80 feet in span
He had to tie it on de boat and swim back to land
To get he brother Eric to give him a hand
Lord Kitchener, the ‘Grandmaster of Soca’, who started singing in the 1930s and whose career stretched 6 decades before his death in 2000.
"Love in the cemetery" is a story about Kitch encountering duppies in a cemetery (duppy is a dead person)
This one is also about the tensions between Barbadians and Trinidadians that sometimes occur, and not being privy to those cultural cues you may not catch some of it. But here it is anyway.
Punche a Crema is a drink popular in Trinidad around Christmas time, and this song can be heard all over around that time. Trinidadians love a piece of fête (party). Lewwe drunk if we drunkin!
I love Caribbean Christmas.
Again Mooma, I have invited Jamaica Lovely Grenada, Barbados also Guyana It's an invitation for a stupendous occasion You can just imagine, we drinking till New Year's morning.
That will be all for today!
I hope that you enjoyed this little romp through some music that you don’t hear every day, unless you live in the Caribbean!
Do you have a favourite kaiso / soca song?
If you need a translation, let me know in the comments :P