Tag Archives: calypso music

World Music Teaches You Everything

April 3rd, 2014

Music tells the stories of our world

I majored in Humanities as an undergraduate because it was broad-based and I could take many courses, from California Geography to Entomology to history, philosophy, languages and literature. Later, I took an MA in Comparative Literature for similar reasons: I could read the great writers from around the world, learning from epistolary novels (novels of letters e.g. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther). Historical novels, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and a lot of French writers (favorites were Balzac, Stendhal, and Flaubert). You learn about 19th century Paris from reading Balzac. You learn about Napoleon from reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, 19th century England from Dickens, psychology from Flaubert. You learn so many things about history, sociology, and especially psychology, human behavior, dreams, our collective aspirations, longing, the whole panoply of human existence.

The same holds true for world music. You learn about geography, something Americans could use more knowledge about. I am quite knowledgeable about African history because of my fondness for its huge variety of music. Additionally, I know all about Cape Verde, for instance, because I love its music and met and interviewed Cesaria Evora many times. Now I can tell anybody about where it is–300 miles off the coast of Senegal. In 2 weeks, I’m actually going to Cape Verde for the Atlantic Music Expo and Kriol Jazz Festival. I’m really looking forward to it.

Because music is such a basic expression in all cultures, it necessarily teaches us about those cultures: again, history, psychology, anthropology, geography, customs, mores, everything.

I say don’t confine yourself to just one kind of music. Like all the varieties of food we can now enjoy, why just eat one kind? World music is about exploration, finding joy and delight. Why deprive ourselves of such valuable lessons? For me it has enriched my life beyond measure, which is why I’ve been a world music cheerleader for the past 30 years.


Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Filed under Arts, Creativity, Education, History, Human Interest, Language, Music, Travel

Calypso Gets Muzzled in Guyana

January 16th, 2014


Q: Why is it that music always gets banned in totalitarian regimes?
A: Because music is a human expression of freedom.
Q: Why did the Vatican try to suppress music that had any rhythm to it?
A: Because rhythm is dangerous and might make people want to get down, shake some booty, even fornicate.

In Germany and the Soviet Union, jazz was banned because it was considered decadent and bourgeois. Way too much freedom there.

In Iran, even a woman’s voice wasn’t allowed on the radio; it might enflame men’s baser instincts.

In the case of Guyana, it’s more like Fela Kuti in Nigeria or maybe South Africa under apartheid. Especially Fela, calling taking names in songs like, “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)” and “Coffin for Head of State” and “Army Arrangement”.

Calypso in Trinidad and Tobago (calypso’s capital) has always been the mouthpiece of the people. It’s a great topical music. Great Calypso artists like Young Tiger, Lord Kitchner, and others sang about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1952, the growing popularity of bebop music (for and against), and for people whose reading skills were limited, calypso classics filled the void. There were songs about Kennedy facing down Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis.  Calypso lyrics told the truth, giving the people straight talk on current events.

Now the Guyanese government is trying to quash calypso music in Guyana. Why? Because calypsonians there are writing songs about the endemic corruption that has plagued the South American nation. Radio stations are getting calls “suggesting” that the DJs not play certain hit songs. A top singer, De Professor (né Lester Charles), after winning a big song contest with the song, “God Nah Sleep” that a local radio station got stormed when it put the song into heavy rotation and tried to ban the song from airplay. Some of the lyrics went like this:

“While dem a thief, thief, thief,

we just sit down like if we lame”

Guyana, though known to many Americans from the hideous Jonestown Massacre of 1978, has known corruption, assassinations, election fraud and violence since independence from Britain in 1966. Repression continues with this latest ban on musical freedom.

Here is De Professor’s song that so upset the government ministers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVpnPnnfchQ


Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythmpalent
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Filed under Arts, Creativity, Education, Human Interest, Music