A Journey into Rapso- 02. 04 .01

A Journey into RAPSO


Visiting Trinidad had been a great advantage to me, since I had chose to visit the Country around the Carnival period. I was open to a whole showcase of culture that I would have been unlikely to experience if I had travelled at another period. The regular sessional events I benefited from were as follows:

1. The Steel Band movement
2. Calanda
3. Calypso Tents
4. Mass Camps
5. Soca fete
6. Rapso

Of all the above mentioned, I will attempt to discuss the importance of Calypso as the oral tradition and the popularity of Rapso which fuses itself with Afro beat, Calypso, Reggae rhythms and the spoken word.
In Port of Spain (Capital of Trinidad) there were three main Calypso tents namely:

1. The Specatiula
2. The Calypso Review
3. Kalso Hous

With the Calypso tents opened throughout the carnival session affecting visitors both Nationally and Internationally, the research that I did previous to my journey had enhanced my understanding of this tradition and the depth of Rhythm and Rhyme, exploring ideas and idioms with local, regional and global subjects.

I also had a chance to visit other related Calypso venues that was born out of it's artform. Not only had I been able to visit various venues where the exibition of the word was very prominent, I was able to have meaningful conversations with a number of artists that I had admired because of their lifelong commitment to Calypso / the poetry of Calypso.

Brother Resistance was one such artist, I had a chance to see him perform at the Calypso Review. Resistance are often accompanied by the Network Riddum Band who are rooted in the Steelband Yards, the Drum Collective and the Orisha Yards. Resistance had defined his work as 'The Rhythm of the Word in the Power of the Word'. As a Rapso artist he immediately recognised Rapso as an oral tradition that stem from the African Griots where the historians and counselors were the poets of the people, that has journeyed through the middle passage to the sugar cane plantations and now to the urban setting. The word power motivation also existed in other characters of the Trinidad Carnival Street Theatre. The "Midnight Robber" in particular is credited with being the originator of the speed Rap styles.

In terms of the Calypso artists they also see their artform as one that stems from Africa, With the oral tradition that survived the experience of plantation slavery and manifest in the personality of the "Chantuelle". The Chantuelle is the griot, the chant leader in the call and response tradition who later evolved to be Calypsonians. Hence there are very close similarities between Reggae and dub poetry in Jamaica.

However, the Rapso artform that has been now spearheaded by Brother Resistance had been inspired some 30 years ago when the late Lancelot Layne successfuly challenged the musical and literacy status quo of the Caribbean. He was also able to re-create the carnival characters. During this era in the early seventies there was also the social uprising of the grassroot people towards liberation and self determination. Lanclot was able to draw on the politics and radical sentiments of the time. The same that was later done by the Dubpoets in the late seventies when the Rastfari movement bloomed in Jamaica.

Also on my travels and research of the Rapso tradition I was able to purchase a number of CDs. from various Rapso artists. However, all the Rapso recordings I had that were well produced and packaged were mostly on the Ritual label. One CD in particular was "De Power of Resistance" by Brother Resistance, which captivates some of his early Rapso compositions that were first recorded between 1982 to 1989. I was also able to visit the Ritual complex and meet a number of artists that were signed to the label, which includes 3-Canal, General Grant, Black Lyrics and Kindred (who are all Rapso artists). What was striking about the Ritual complex was that there was such a warm and friendly environment but at the same time there was a professional approach by the administration and artists. Ritual has been instrumental in imposing a structure on a chaotic local recording industry. Since most of the Trinidad artists release records on their own label during the Carnival session and as a result little of the island's music is heard beyond its borders (the same goes for Calypso, Soca and Steelband recordings). It is fitting that Ritual applies the principal of professionalism in marketing their products. I was able to see that Ritual had boast a catalogue of more than 40 CD albums since they first made an album release in 1995.

So as you can truley see, there's some movement on the ground where Rapso is concerned. I happened to spend a lot of time with 3-Canal, Its members comes from a background in theatre and Mass (costume making for the carnival session) they are not only involved in th Rapso movement but are the largest producers of the jouvay (dju-vay) band in Trinidad's carnival. Jouvay morning approx 2am thousands of revellers take to the streets rubbing themselves with mud and oil-based paints dancing to the sound of Rapso on a moving sound system. Jouvay is rooted in Cambulary (burning of the cane) which was the symbol of the African emancipation in Trinidad.

3-Canal has recently taken their Jouvay Mass (moving rave) to other carnivals abroad namely:

1. Labour day carnival (new York)
2. Nottinghill carnival (London)
3. Jamaica carnival (Caribbean)

The carnival session is the most hectic time for the Trinidad artists because it is at this time they all showcase their offerings for the year.

You can Vibes some more and so can we.

Word Out

Yours in the musical struggle

Yussef Ahmed.

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