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Saturday, November 26, 2016

A few months ago I saw a video clip on social media that raised my pores, but for good reason. It captured a European audience of young, old and everything in-between chanting the name Calypso Rose. On stage, a visibly-moved Rose, draped in a blue sequinned outfit, clasped her hands in silent but effusive gratitude.

I too was deeply moved by the embrace of an audience on the other side of the planet of a sound that echoes my home.

Here is this Titan of the calypso pantheon, a genre encoded with the DNA of Trinidad and Tobago, thrilling audiences who probably never heard calypso before.

All the more impressive is the fact that Calypso Rose is riding this crest of revival at the age of 76.

Intrigued by this exciting world of Rose 2.O, I started following her Facebook page. I also actively scanned the Internet for other snippets of information about this revival, or more appropriately, reinvention.

The Tobago-born singer is the spear-tip of a well thought out plan formulated to connect her with new audiences in Europe.

My online rummaging exposed an impressive social media presence and numerous articles in established international publications such as the Guardian (UK).

Calypso Rose also features in a slew of television interviews and performances, particularly in France.

Plainly put, the international coverage this Tobago-born performer attracts is astounding.

I began to wonder, “What de hell really goin’ on here?” How is this septuagenarian singer finding, not a second wind but a gale?

The enraptured faces of new European fans at her concert performances, the invariably reverential tone of articles on her life and music; Calypso Rose has caught lightening in a bottle. But then like attracts like doesn’t it?

It is tempting to run with the impression that Rose’s success in the European market was an overnight happening.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. No one knows that more than her manager Jean Michel Gibert.

A French national, Jean Michel has been working in this country for several years to promote Caribbean culture.

When I sat down to speak with him recently, Jean Michel explained that Calypso Rose’s success is the result of extensive collaboration spanning three years with other artistes and music producers.

This is supported by a dynamic team at her France-based record label, Because Music.

Her new album, Far from Home, reflects these artistic alliances. Belizean producer Ivan Duran co-wrote songs on the album.

Also having input on the recordings was Canada-based Trinidadian musician Drew Gonsalves.

Drew is making his own waves internationally with his band Kobotown and their genetically modified interpretation of calypso music. He is actually a childhood friend of mine.

When I last spoke with him about his music and touring, he was quick to point out it isn’t calypso in the purest sense.

He sees it as a fusion of styles with the heart and soul of calypso. Yet Drew’s voice, delivery and the cadence of his art echoes more of our rich calypso traditions than any contemporary music in Trinidad today.

In many ways, this was the treatment given to the Calypso Rose sound; songs with the Calypso base genome and additions of other musical influences sampled from all over the world.

Doing the gene-splicing was Manu Chao, a French Musician who has achieved considerable international acclaim.

Jean Michel introduced Manu Chao to Calypso Rose and to hear him tell it, there was an instant connection between the two.

He lent his own international influences to the new album, tweaking the energy and shaping an eclectic sound. The result is an absolutely spellbinding expression of Calypso Rose’s prowess as an entertainer. Tracks like Leave me alone and Abatina are evocative of that old school calypso flavour that can oscillate your waist almost independently of your mind.

Jean Michel believes it is that unique calypso sensibility that has helped Rose capture legions of devotees in Europe. That’s not to understate the role of Calypso Rose’s seductive charm and persona in her success. At 76 she is, at times, scarcely able to move under her own power, often needing support from those around her to get about. Once on stage though, she appears to tap into some mystical force. With a smile potent enough to outshine stage lighting, she titillates audiences with the occasional, impish gyration.

In one newspaper interview she says, “I’m a party animal, always have been.” Looking at her performances, I believe her. In Denmark, Belgium and France Calypso Rose has thrilled concert goers, not just with incredible music, but her inimitable character.

I still get goose pimples when I look at her concert clips. I am proud of what she has done to pollinate distant ears with echoes of a genre that is all but forgotten in T&T. More than anything else, I am happy for her. It is difficult to think of another so deserving of this torrent of accolades, even if it is far from home.


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