You hear a tune, a spicy rhythm, an infectious beat, and you automatically start tapping your foot. In the islands it will be calypso music. It’s real West Indian music, with its roots going back over two centuries.
Calypso is a style of Afro-Caribbean music. Its rhythms can be traced back to West African ‘kaiso’ and the arrival of French planters and their slaves in the 18th century. The slaves were illiterate and not allowed to talk to each other so as well as singing for entertainment, the music was their way to spread news, record events and mock their masters.
The music style known today originated in Trinidad and Tobago, still regarded as the Land of the Calypso, and spread throughout the islands. Much of the international popularity of the music can be attributed to the Mighty Sparrow, a Grenadian-born singer and songwriter who made Trinidad and Tobago his homeland. Sparrow is to Calypso what Bob Marley is to reggae. No wonder that he is known as the King of Calypso.
Calypso is as melodious as it is graphic! The songs relate to the events of everyday life, happy and sad, and are a message from the singer. They often reflect social issues and current affairs, in particular, political events. And if there is any scandal, you can be sure that a calypsonian will pen a song mocking it! The words can be overt and risqué but are not designed to be malicious. The whole point of calypso is to entertain people through song, and if it can be done with wit and irony, so much the better.
The calypso season coincides with carnival celebrations but so enjoyable is the music that it is heard year-round in bars, on the radio, in clubs and at resorts.
Calypso is loved and performed by young and old. The National Schools Calypso Competition takes place this year on 8th June. The Inter Commercial House Calypso Competition is on 10th July and the National Calypso Monarch Competition is on 14th July.
The competitions attract crowds of supporters rooting for their favourite calypsonian. Even if you are a visitor and are new to the scene, and don’t know your ‘Papa Vader’ from your ‘Mighty Pep’, any calypso show would be a worthy outing, guaranteed to give you a taste of local rhythm and humour.
For more information on Saint Lucia
Carnival and calypso competitions, visit