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In the Caribbean, calypso is going the cricket way

cricket Updated: Jun 10, 2011 01:05 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times
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For decades, the marauding West Indies cricketers were known as the Calypsos. Their natural aggression on the field, athleticism, their sense of fair play and flair, not to speak of the romance of fierce individuals coming through from distinctly different islands, had the world spellbound.

But the cricket has been on a downward spiral. Visiting batsmen no longer fear their opening bowlers, leave aside their batsmen. Former Caribbean cricketing greats recount tales of their playing days from a lofty pedestal, but one worries what the narrative would be from the current generation of players.

The music is also changing fast, and there are fears the proud Calypso tradition for which Trinidad in particular is famous for worldwide is going the cricket way. As play stopped in Wednesday's second one-dayer, it was the popular soca (or soul calypso --- a faster and trendier fusion version) that was being belted out to the joy of the boisterous revellers in the stand.

A visit to one of the famous Calypsonians when the music ruled the roost was pretty much a journey into the past when the joy, rather than the gain, propelled these musicians at the annual Trinidad carnival that celebrates the end of slavery and draws visitors from all around the world.

The cab winds its way past the busy Brian Lara promenade and climbs the hills, into the tough neighbourhood of Laventille, past bare-bodied boys playing soccer on the streets after sunset.

The 83-year-old Clifton Ryan, known by his Calypso name "The Mighty Bomber" welcomes you warmly into his simple office room.

Two guitars are kept in a corner and trophies are neatly displayed. Two wooden plaques, one in the shape of his native Grenada, and the other in the shape of St. Vincent, are further reminders of the much-travelled Bomber's peak.

The Giant Sparrow is the most famous Calypso singer, and Lord Relator is best known in India for his famous cricket Calypso on India, celebrating Sunil Gavaskar's debut series in the West Indies in 1971.

The part eulogising the batting legend reads: "It was Gavaskar; De real master; Just like a wall; We couldn't out Gavaskar at all, not at all; You know the West Indies couldn't out Gavaskar at all!"

But times are rapidly changing, and Ryan --- winner of the prestigious "Calypso King" crown at the carnival --- attributes the decline of calypso music as well as cricket to a lack of rigour. He believes there is a marked disrespect to the trade that is bringing down calypso music and cricket.

"In those days, it used to take two weeks to make a song. Today, average calypso songs are written up in under two hours," he bemoans, sitting in a room offering a picturesque view of a sprawling Port of Spain below. "It does not have the strength; just like cricket, not putting in your all."

"In Calypso, people do it for money rather than the love of it," he says. "In cricket, the fellow, even before he learns to strike the ball, thinks how to make money."

One wonders, can the Caribbean revel without the soul in its music, or cricket without the Caribbean in it?