An occasional epistle from singer/songwriter, Phil Corfield.
'Calypso' was the first album in America to sell a million copies in a year and the first million seller in England. Calypso music developed in Trinidad in the 17th. century, combining African rhythms brought to the island by slaves and probably French medieval rhythms and harmonies. The slaves, separated from their families and banned from speaking to one another, used Calypso songs to communicate with one another and mock their slave-masters. Calypso has a long history as protest music and also speaks of sex scandals, gossip, local news, bravado and was used to insult other practitioners of Calypso music. Rap and Hip Hop, which came about 350 years later, cover the same ground.
However the music on Belafonte's album 'Calypso' is not Calypso, it's Jamaican 'Mento'. Calypso was popular in America from about 1912, way before Mento. 'The Andrews Sisters' had a hit with the Calypso song 'Rum and Coca Cola' in 1944. This song was stolen from a Trinidadian calling himself Lord Invader (Rupert Grant) . Lord Invader brought a legal case in New York in an attempt to reclaim his song. He didn't get his copyright back but after seven years he received compensation. When Harry's first album was released the album was promoted as Calypso because Calypso was already commercially popular and therefore easier to sell. Mento is a style of Jamaican folk music typically played with acoustic guitar, hand drums, banjo and rhumba box ( you can sit on this box and play it with your hands to produce bass). The music was brought to Jamaica by African slaves and was influenced by the European songs slaves were required to play to their masters on European instruments. Usually written in a humorous style, the music often commented on poverty, poor housing and sex. Mento influenced Ska and Reggae. The Jamaican musician Lee Scratch Perry's 1976 Dub album 'Super Ape' includes pure Mento influences
Back in 1957 in Narrabeen (Sydney), my family was visiting a friends place. She lived in a house made of concrete. The rooms had thick, blue painted walls, unadorned, cave-like and in the day full of sunlight. The balcony overlooking Narrabeen Lagoon was also solid concrete. On a warm summers night looking over the water listening to 'Jamaica Farewell', Narrabeen became Jamaica.