Over the Boundary: the High Flying Swallow, King of the Road

This is a throwback to an article I did for the Calypso Association 50th anniversary magazine in 2007. In the interest of increasing awareness of the accomplishments of some of Antigua and Barbuda’s iconic calypsonians and increasing appreciation for the art form, I figured I would share some of that issue with you. This particular article looked at a quartet of repeat-repeat-repeat winners. in this post, I’ll share the section of that article focused on Swallow (as it ran, so some of the info will be dated). The first excerpt from this article focused on Queen Ivena and the second excerpt was King Onyan’s. DO NOT repost without permission or credit.

Listing his ‘Subway Jam’ (1981), among “5 More Small Island Classics” insultingly lumped together – with Short Shirt’s ‘Tourist Leggo’ and Burning Flames’ ‘Workey Workey’ – for a passing mention in its 2004 countdown of the region’s 250 best songs, Caribbean Beat magazine wrote: “(Swallow is) best known for his infectious melodies and catchy hooks.” This combination, married to a flashy onstage persona, energy-cyarn-done, and a mellifluous voice have yielded party classics like Road March titleholders ‘Pow Pow’ (1972), ‘Push Ya Push Dey’ (1973), ‘Shake and Break You Bam Bam’ (1975), ‘Party in Space’ (1983), and ‘Satan’ (1984). Not to mention the likes of crowd pleasers ‘Rude Bwoy Jam’ and ‘Fire in de Back Seat’.

Nineteen seventy-three was a particularly stellar year for Rupert Philo, with Monarch, Road March, and Caribbean King victories.

With collaborations like ‘Higher’ with Dread and the Baldhead and the remake of ‘Don’ Stop Dis Party’ with King Edimelo, Swallow hasn’t missed a dance step since his competition days.

He’s worn the Monarch crown four times – 1973, 1977, 1978, and 1985 – a figure that perhaps fails to capture the excitement of the intense rivalry between he and Short Shirt, and later Obstinate between the 1970s and early 1980s. But tunes like  his ‘The King Can Go’ bear witness:

“Since ah put the beating on yuh Shorty boy yuh shrink
Yuh pants can’t fit you
And now yuh eyeballs sink
Soon from now Dr. Weisenger or Straffie
Go get yuh case
So, man, Shorty, keep yuhself in yuh place.”

Of course, the rivalry only made the victories sweeter, as he told the Antigua Sun in 1998. “Whenever I win is a joy, because is a battle well fought,” he said. “I used to like the rivalry. As I always say, Short Shirt is one of the persons responsible for my elevation in Calypso.”

That elevation is not only local, as Swallow not only has Sunshine Awards wins and various other international accolades to his credit, he’s also made history as the first Calypsonian to sing at New York’s famed Apollo and at Radio City Music Hall. A stellar year, among his various years as a nominee at New York-based Sunshine Awards, meanwhile, is 1989. That year, he was adjudged winner in three of four nominated categories – including best Calypso of the year.

Though Swallow always knows how to get the party started, undeniable is the impact of more sober tunes like his 1973 winner ‘March for Freedom’ about the Liberation Day Parade and ‘Man to Man’, which he once described as his best crafted Calypso.  “Just saying it, I get goosebumps,” he was quoted as saying in the Sun in 1998. “I feel into ‘Man to Man’ so much because it was facts.”

“If we see we brother falling in de gutter
We find the meanest way to push him further
Instead of lend a hand help we brother man
We left him dey to die in suffocation…”

This, and songs like ‘Dawn of a New Day’ and ‘Children of a Universe’ have helped cement him in the national psyche; and elevated the high flying Swallow among the greats of the art form. The most recent recognition of this came in 2007 when he was honoured by the National Action Cultural Committee of Trinidad for his contribution to the development of the art form. He’s earned the right to affirm, as he did in the article announcing this latest accolade, that “I’m the baddest thing since the wheel when it comes to Calypso and don’t talk about soca”.  He’s after all a charter member among The Big Three of Antiguan Calypso.

FYI, here’s a short cut to some other calypso related links on the site: this is a report from the launch of the book on the Monarch King Short Shirt by veteran calypso writer – Dorbrene O’Marde; an article on that book being short listed for the regional Bocas prize and why it matters; an article on Antigua’s King of the Road – Swallow; an article on Marcus Christopher – the late great calypso writer and key figure in the development of the art form and of Carnival locally; a piece on pre calypso pioneer Quarko; an article on Short Shirt’s documentarian and the birth of his film; a piece on Short Shirt’s 50th; the site’s evolving songwriters’ data base – dominated by, you guessed it, calypso writers; an article on King Obstinate; a reflection on Latumba; a review of Dorbrene’s book by D. Gisele Isaac; a video retrospective – King Obstinate; an article on bandleader and key figure in the development of the art form – Oscar Mason; Lesroy Merchant was, among other things, a calypso writer – we remembered him here on the site when he passed; Short Shirt article; my review of his classic Ghetto Vibes album

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,  Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad!, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. And using any creative work without crediting the creator will open you up to legal action. Respect copyright.

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