The cover of the Calypso Association 50th anniversary magazine on which I had the privilege of working as editor.
As with the playwrights and screenwriters, the listing of
Calypso song writers may will take a good long while, building sloooowly over time as I gather information and as I find time to upload the information I already have. Part of the challenge is that while we know the names of the artistes, the writers often exist somewhere in the wings, out of the spotlight (sometimes deliberately so). Often, even today, there are no liner notes (a pet peeve of mine since well-written liner notes enhance the listening experience for me). So, more than any of my lists, this one promises to be a challenge. In a number of cases, I’m not 100% sure about the songwriting credits (so if anyone knows, for sure – i.e. with proof, please email email@example.com). I think Antigua and Barbuda has produced some classic calypsos (and noteworthy songs in other genres) and they dripped from somebody’s pen; and those guys and gals deserve a bit of the spotlight, wouldn’t you say?
Davidson ‘Bankers’ Benjamin – Bankers’ popular tracks include ‘Me D Ras’ and ‘Fire go bun Dem’ which won him the Antigua Calypso Monarch crown in 1996. He’s also popular for the songs he did with Dread and the Baldhead (‘Motorbike’, ‘Do You wanna rock some more’ etc.) in the 1990s and for songs like ‘Pulling Me’ on the Sweetest Mango [film] soundtrack.
Boasta (Tario Philip) – Old Time Something (2015).
Muerah ‘Mighty Artist’ Bodie His calypsos are known for their double entendre (read: alternate lewd interpretation), earning the most humorous prize in competition a time or two. His songs include ‘Vitamins and Iron’, ‘Tarpan Tone Up’, ‘Woman Working Under Man’, ‘Me Ole Wife’, ‘Pot Hole’, ‘Business Dead’, ‘Clap You Tongue’, and others. He’s been singing since 1972.
Marcus Christopher– over 300 calypsos written: incuding several which won the Calypso Monarch competition like Short Shirt’s Carnival on the Moon (1969), Beatles MBE (1965), No Place Like Home (1964) and Heritage (1964), Technical School (1971), Black Like Me (1971); Zemakai’s Tribute to Radio Antigua and Fidel Castro (1961); King Canary’s Gem of the Caribbean and Slapping Hands (1960) and Island People Names and Immigration Bill (1962). Also many that while not winners are memorable, such as Short Shirt’s Parasites (1963) and Anguilla Crisis (1969) and Sleepy’s Under the Carpet. Christopher died in 2015.
Toriano ‘Onyan’ Edwards – One fourth of the original groundbreaking Antiguan jam/soca band Burning Flames and later a solo act and four time calypso monarch (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000); Onyan has attracted controversy for lyrics deemed offensive by some (I for instance wrote an article critical of 2012’s Kick een she back doh – loved by fans who assured it the road march win, and decried by women’s groups) and not for the first time; anyone remember such classics as Man fu Whorehouse and Baby Food off the Baby Food album? But with songs like Crazy Man, Old Fire Stick, Life in the Ghetto, Nice and Slow and even the named controversial songs he remains a crowd favourite and road march winner.
Mclean ‘Short Shirt’ Emmanuel – The Calypso Hall of Famer is celebrated as The Monarch (subject of the documentary film The Making of the Monarch and of the book Nobody Go Run Me – long-listed for the 2015 Bocas prize) as the 15 time Calypso Monarch (’64, ’65, ’66, ’69, ’70, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’76, ’79, ’80, ’86, ’87, ’88, ’92) of Antigua and Barbuda; in addition to being a multiple title holder in both the Road March and Caribbean Calypso King categories. Check out this article on his 1976 album, Feeling the Ghetto Vibes. Also scroll down for the Shelly Tobitt entry.
Fd – The official pseudonym of a songwriter who provided evidence of his contribution to Antiguan calypso (as I hope other songwriters will do so that I can continue to build this data base). Those contributions include social commentaries – ‘True Antiguan’ (2011), ‘Forward Together’, ‘Share The Honey’ (1992), ‘Heaven Help Mankind’ (1993), ‘How Could I Sit Back’, ‘Tell The Truth’; and party tunes – ‘Push Back You Bam Bam/Jennifer’ (1987), ‘Taste The Honey/Taste It’ (2011), ‘After Midnight’ (1983), ‘Get It Up’, ‘Champion’ (1987) & ‘Angela’ (1987) – all performed by King Short Shirt. Other Fd songs: The Party, Give me a Beer, Rolling Back, That’s How I Like It’, ‘Wire Waist’, ‘Stay out of Politics’, ’25 Years’, ‘Good Advice’, ‘Love Me Up’, ‘Shake de Booty’, ‘Push Wood’, ‘Selfish Man’ (1983), and ‘Rub Your Body (1983)’.
Stanley Humphreys – a frequent Short Shirt collaborator beginning with 1980s Summer Festival album, continuing wtih 1981’s Dance with Me Album including songs like Nationalism and We have got to Change, and ongoing; also in 1981 Pledge (as confirmed by the artiste himself).
Joseph ‘Calypso Joe’ Hunte – His classic “Bum Bum” became, in 1970, the first homegrown winner of the Antigua and Barbuda calypso road march title. Other well known tracks composed and (I believe) written by Joe include: 1971’s ‘Educate the Youths’ and ‘Recorded in History’ with which he won the Calypso Monarch crown; ‘War’, ‘A Nation to Build, A Country to Mould’, and 1972’s ‘Life of a Negro Boy’.
Tameka Jarvis-George is a novelist and poet who continues to cross boundaries by mixing genres such as when she converted her poem Dinner into a short film of the same name. Her lyrics for Naki’s Talking in Tongues on the Tin Pan Riddim is another example.
Oglivier ‘Destroyer’ Jacobs has written for both himself and his son Leston ‘Young Destroyer’ Jacobs. Destroyer Sr. has never won the crown, though he came close in 1971 and 1989 winning the first runner-up spot. His written songs include 1967’s ‘Bring Back the Cat-o-Nine’, 1989’s ‘Discrimination’ and ‘Message from Gorkie’, ‘Back of de Bus’ (sung by his son and winner of best social commentary in 2006),
Accepting a National Vibes Star Project Award
‘Woodpecker Sarah’, ‘Jail Cart’, ‘Country Running Good’, ‘All Fool’s Day’, ‘Beg Georgie Pardon’, ‘Ah Wha Me Do You’, ‘Can’t Smile ‘Bout That’, ‘Ah Wonder Who Do Dis’, and many others.
Trevor ‘King Zacari’ King (pictured above, performing)- The 1991 and 2001 monarch began writing for juniors in the early 1990s (e.g. The Zulu Will Rise Again performed by Pepperseed) before entering the arena with his own tracks among which can be counted Black Rights, Guilty of Being Black, Fine Ants (2001), Guilty as Charged etc.
Logiq (Vincent Pryce) – A rapper whose discography includes tracks like Sometimes, Intimidation, and All 4 Love.
Menace (Dennis Roberts) – Old Time Something and Sand to the Beach (2015).
Kobla ‘Promise No Promises’ Mentor – This Guyana born singer-songwriter broke through in Antigua with his behind the scenes contributions (as co-writer) on the 2003 Wanski hit (More Gyal) before claiming the so/calypso spotlight the following year with hits like Can’t Stop My Carnival and Pon de Move; 2010’s Do Good, 2011’s Her Drums , and 2014’s Draw we out are among his more recent offerings.
Lesroy Merchant – His songwriting is referenced in this obituary/tribute but details of the specific songs remain elusive. RIP. ETA: “Lesie wrote mainly for Franco, as a matter of fact, it was Lesie who introduced me to Franco and tried to get me to write songs for him. I was very busy at that time hence Lesie wrote the songs for Franco and many times he would have me look at them and asked for my input. May he rest in peace.” – William Shelly Tobitt in the comments below the post ‘Press On’
Justin ‘JusBus’ Nation – He’s written and produced songs and remixes for many artistes including himself with his 2015 J. Nation CD (Vertigo, Hard Work, Sometimes I, Blasting Away etc.)
Dorbrene O’Marde – song listing requested. Dorbrene is also the publisher of Calypso Talk magazine and the author of the Short Shirt biography Nobody Go Run Me.
The Mighty Bottle (Percival Watts) – Fungi, Dive Dung Low, 10 Bag a Sugar.
Rupert ‘Littleman’ Pelle – Song listing requested but it is well known that he has been a prolific writer for artists like Lady Challenger (pictured).
Rupert ‘Swallow’ Philo – ‘Raphael Trujillo‘ (1961), Party in Space, Man to Man, Dawn of a New Day, We Marching, Subway Jam, One Hope One Love One Destiny, Don’t Stop this Party, Fire in De Backseat, and more as chronicled here. With Short Shirt and Obstinate, he is considered one of the big three of Antiguan calypso and a legend in his own right.
Quarkoo, circa 1942. (Museum of Antigua and Barbuda archival photo)
“The dominant form of popular music in Antigua [up to arouund 1950] was ‘Benna’. The main proponent at the time was a strolling minstrel John ‘Quarkoo’ Thomas.” – P. 20, King Short Shirt: Nobody Go Run Me by Dorbrene O’Marde. Listed among his songs – Maude Smell Donkey and 1924’s Man Mongoose, dog know your ways; 1943’s Yes, it is more than tongue can tell…
Sir Prince Ramsey is a family physician by profession, an HIV/AIDS activist by choosing, a calypso lyricist and producer by calling. He has produced more than 45 calypso albums and written over 100 songs since 1979 for artistes like King Obstinate, Rupert ‘Baba’ Blaize (‘In Antigua’), Onyan (‘Stand up for Antigua’ – 1998 Calypso Monarch winner), De Bear (‘My Allegiance’ – 2003 Calypso crown winner; and ‘Man is Nothing but Dust’ – 2007 Leeward Islands calypso competition winner), Zero (‘Protect Yourself’ – 2002 Calypso Monarch winner), De Empress (‘We don’t want it here’ and ‘Power of a Woman’ – 2000 Queen of Calypso crown winner), Blade (‘The Brink’ – 2008 Carnival Development Committee winner for best writer and best calypso), and others (about 50 artistes in all).
Paul ‘King Obstinate’ Richards – The Undefeated is the creator of such classic gems as 1980’s Believe, Children Melee, Always come back to You, Antigua’s True Heroes, Got a little Something for You, Coming down to Talk to You (1982), Hungry, Shiny Eyes, Who kill me Sister? (1985), I already Talk to you (1992), All of Self (1993), Ready to Go (1996), as well as Wet You Hand, Gold Rush, and Is Love a Love You.
Shelly Tobitt – Arguably Antigua and Barbuda’s best songwriter in the calypso arena, especially at his height in the 1970s during his winning partnership with the country’s most lauded calypso icon The Monarch King Short Shirt. It’s important to define Shelly’s partnership with his cousin and frequent collaborator Short Shirt. “Shelly wrote, virtually everything. He also provided ‘base’ melodies. Short Shirt either fine-tuned the melodies or created new ones based on his singing abilities or his own melodic instincts and he helped shape musical arrangements. He also provided a grounding of Shelly’s lyrics. Shelly was the poet, prone to flights of fancy and fantasy. Short Shirt pulled him back, opting for the ghetto slang or the dialect expression in phrase or sentence.” – p. 81 – 82, Nobody Go Run Me by Dorbrene O’Marde. Among the songs they did together are Lamentation in 1973, Lucinda in 1974, Carnival ’76, Inspite of All, When, Tourist Leggo, Nobody Go Run Me (in fact the whole 1976 Ghetto Vibes album), Rock and Prance in 1977, Jammin and Gently on my Mind in 1978, Press on the title track for an album that included songs like Viva Grenada and What You Going to do in 1979, and HIV/AIDS and Fyah in 1988. Tobitt’s discography in progress, also, includes: Latumba’s Culture Must be Free and Liberate Your Mind in 1979, Chalice’s Show Me Your Motion (1981), King Progress’ You getting it (1984), Figgy’s Look what they’ve done to my song (1998), Benna (2011). ETA: “I am the writer and arranger of my works and provide everything needed to realize a complete production. Back then, before I could write the musical parts for the musicians I needed an arranger to do so, but it was my arrangements that they wrote. I sat with and instructed every arranger I worked with how I wanted the songs, and what rifts and motifs to write.” – William Shelly Tobitt in the comments section below the post ‘Press On’
Cuthbert ‘Best’ Williams
Cuthbert ‘Best’ Williams with Queen Ivena
has written winning tunes for Antiguan monarchs Smarty Jr. (who won the crown in 1993, 1994, 1995 with ‘Never Again’, ‘Role of the Calypsonians’, ‘What Black Power Means’, ‘Cry for Change’, ‘Draw the Line’ and ‘Follow the Leader’) and Ivena (who won the monarch crown 2003, 2004, 2005 with ‘Robin Hood in Reverse’, ‘Ivena’s Agenda’, ‘After Lester’, ‘Reparation for Africa’, ‘What Did Castro Say’, and ‘Don’t Pressure Me’; and the Queen of Calypso crown in 2001 – 2005 with ‘Old Road Fight’, ‘Save Ms. Calypso’, ‘I’m Angry’, ‘Remember the Pledg’e, and the other named songs).
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