Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Calypso Dreams

One night only! DC opening and closing June 23 at Visions. Well, actually, I think it showed during the non-hyped DC Filmfest, so this is your chance if you wasn't connected back in the day.

UPDATE: Good flick. Not great, not even necessarily very good, but good. Worth seeing if you can find it somewhere. I had a great time. Very funny - and fun watching it with the Carribean crowd. Reminded me a lot of Buena Vista Social Club.

I should have explained what Calypso is. Wikipedia has a good reference. In general, I think of it as the incredibly energetic and festive music that plays during Carnival celebrations. After seeing this movie, I now know that it is much more.

Apparently, Calypso grew as an art form out of the tradition of story-telling used by the women of West Africa. When Africans were transported to the West Indies during the slave-trading days, men took over the art form exclusively. Women have made many inroads in Calypso in the last twenty years, however. Some would compare the role of women in Calypso to that of women in rap.

The theatre was 2/3 full, most of whom seemed to be very familiar with Calypso/Kaiso/Trinidad & Tobago culture, which made watching the movie much more fun. Many things I thought were kind of funny were easier to laugh at because I could take cues from everyone else in the audience who 'got it'. I suspect it would not be nearly as entertaining watching this film with a non-Carribean crowd.

They had a couple of speakers answer a few questions after the movie. One guy was a professor of Spanish, I think, at Howard University here in DC. He made a comment about 'bourgeois negroes' being responsible for putting a 'proper' name on Caiso music - so they chose the Greek mythological figure, Calypso. The professor is, and admitted to being, very bitter about the word Calypso and every time he hears it, he cringes.

Something that bothered me a *lot* was the crowd's reaction to a couple of Harry Belafonte clips - known in America and possibly other parts of the world as the 'King of Calypso', but Harry himself would say he is no Calypsonian. Actually, I think one of the commentators in the movie, who was critical of Belafonte, was there in the audience.

Basically, it seems that people - Carribean people or fans of Calypso - have a beef with Belafonte because he made money off of Calypsonian-type music tha wasn't the pure Calypso 'art form'. My first thought on that is - 'bullshit - quit being so petty.'

I suspect that Belfonte has done more for popularizing Calypso music, and thereby enriching Calypso musicians/artists worldwide, than has anyone else, ever. That he seemed so humble, honest, and sincere in praising true Calypsonians won my immediate respect. I'd also just heard that he's supposed to be something of a true humanitarian. And *that's* what really got my blood boiling.

It seems that people want to tear him down because when he was first making it in the music biz in America, his recording company decided to crown him the 'King of Calypso', and Belafonte was wrong - apparently in the extreme - for now disavowing the title, and ruining his potential career and livelihood. A black man in America back in the day has a chance at greatness, and he's supposed to throw it all away because the petty Calypsonian fans are purist extremists. Fuck them.

There are not many people in the world who are or were perfect - even Mahatma Ghandi has his detractors. But this hate-on-Belafonte thing seems way over the top to me. It seems as if people are just straight-up jealous that the man made it.

I may find out something that changes my mind about the guy, but right now, I think the haters just need to get over their bitter jealousy and show some respect.

One member of the audience mentioned the Smithsonian Folklife Festival going on down at the mall through this weekend. It's primary Carribean representative is apparently Haiti, which has some Calypso traditions. Official site here.

And the DC Caribbean Carnival is going on through this weekend as well. Official site here.

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