Censorship in music is nothing new. Whereas nowadays it seems to be limited to the bleeping of swear words (when everyone knows what the word is anyway), back at the beginning of the 20th century, it was also used to suppress political freedom of speech. Calypso began at that time as a way for the citizens of Trinidad to spread news and make political commentary, and was so rife that the British overlords forced the police to scan the songs for political content. The musical format only became popularised during the 1950s, when Harry Belafonte managed to shift over a million copies of the imaginatively titled Calypso, and that annoying Banana Boat Song with its ‘day-o’ refrain was heard all over. Once again, the message of personal hardship was thinly disguised.
With the eventual growth of personal freedom in the 1960s, calypso took its place secondary to reggae and blue beat as times demanded more relevant musical delivery, and its position as a highly danceable beat was eventually supplanted by soca. Antiguan Sir McLean Emmanuel, who has since graduated to singing gospel (he’s knocking music out to this day, as far as I know), was a calypso champion at the carnivals before he started making music (one of his early political comments was ‘The Beatles And The M.B.E.’). under the pseudonym ‘Short Shirt’ (the ‘King’ was appended later as a mark of respect at his stature). Whether he actually wore this apparel I do not know, but certainly songs such as Tourist Leggo are astonishingly adept social commentaries backed by infectious beats years before rap stomped aggressively into the arena.
John Peel obviously recognised his musical importance by making Nobody Go Run Me, the B side of the aforementioned Leggo, an entrant to his 1977 self-compiled chart (FF 1977 #30). The repeated refrain ‘I was born in this land, I will die in this land/Nobody go run me’ is a proud statement of stoic defiance and a blueprint for national identity, To date, it’s the only calypso song to make the Fifty, but on this evidence, many other such candidates could stand tall next to reggae as examples of the Caribbean’s rich musical heritage. His myspace page is an engrossing tribute to a unique musical character.
King Short Shirt, Nobody Go Run Me