by Curlan Campbell
- Historical significance of calypso’s origin during enslavement era cannot be overstated
- Rootsman Kelly used recordings of his stage performances during his presentation
- TAMCC Writing Portfolio Practice Course structure ensures well-rounded academic and creative experience
Reigning Calypso Monarch Kelly Clyne known as “Rootsman Kelly,” used his extensive knowledge to impart the skills of calypso music composition and songwriting to younger generations at the T A Marryshow Community College (TAMCC). His presentation is an integral component of the second year of the Writing Portfolio Practice Course within the English programme offered by TAMCC’s Arts, Humanities, and General Studies Department.
Mostly known for his political and social commentary, Rootsman Kelly has made a name for himself within the art form. To preserve the craft for future generations, Kelly believes that calypso’s relevance to the fabric of Caribbean society and its economic potential to sustain livelihood must be exposed since the art form has been heavily challenged by its up-tempo descendant soca, which is proving more appealing to the younger generation. “It’s so important to pass on the knowledge that we acquire now to the upcoming generation. That’s the only way the art form would survive. So the more people that could pass on my knowledge to you, the more satisfied I would feel,” he said.
Rootsman Kelly asserts that the historical significance of calypso’s origin during the enslavement era cannot be overstated. “Calypso is an integral part of our culture in the Caribbean, especially as black people because calypso came here with our foreparents from West Africa. I wanted them to realise that there is a future for them in calypso. Calypso could become a livelihood for them. They can make a lot of money from it because, in the past years, I’ve been successful. So my focus was really to teach them some of the fundamental techniques of composing a good calypso,” he said.
According to Kimberley Watson, a scholar in ethnomusicology, the origins of calypso can be traced back to the West African jeli, or griot, people who preserved historical narratives of their communities through song accompanied by a stringed instrument, usually the kora. Their storytelling skill and musical abilities were brought over during the transatlantic slave trade and developed into what we today call calypso.
The Calypsonian used audio and visual recordings of his performance on stage during his presentation to further enhance the learning experience. He also gave practical examples of exploring rhythm, lyrical content, melody, rhyme scheme and other songwriting techniques, such as call and response, when composing to master their craft. “It is important to select your topic and themes very carefully and to know how to develop these topics and themes. One of the things that I focused on a lot in my lectures is the techniques [of] composing calypso. So take, for instance, your rhyme scheme because when your lines rhyme perfectly well, it adds to the song. One of the other things is that finding a hook line is so important because it’s always easier to start composing from the chorus. When you have a hook line, and you incorporate it into the chorus, then writing the verse becomes easy,” he explained.
Rootsman Kelly also shared some techniques he uses in writing for competition, particularly his utilisation of picong or ex-tempo, which is a verbal duel that requires calypsonians competing to lyrically improvise or freestyle. “The picong lines have become a trend in Grenada. It is very important to know how to compose on the spot and once you develop that skill, you will then be able to put a few lines together right there and then to perform. This is the technique I used when competing against Scholar last year,” he said.
According to college lecturer Shani Sylvester, the course culminates the skills and knowledge that students have acquired over their 2-year academic journey. This includes student proficiency in areas such as advanced academic composition, where students get the opportunity to contribute to academic discourse, which can potentially lead to publication and further research opportunities and
“The course’s structure ensures a well-rounded academic and creative experience. It prepares students for diverse paths, whether in academic pursuits, literary contributions, or creative expressions, thereby contributing significantly to both their personal growth and the broader societal and cultural enrichment,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester indicated that the course also allows students to acquire knowledge and appreciation of Caribbean culture and heritage through storytelling and songwriting, as well as foster the development of creative expression, listening abilities, coordination skills, and language proficiency.
“Inviting the reigning Calypso Monarch Kelly Clyne to facilitate a calypso writing workshop is a strategic and culturally significant decision. Calypso music, being a vibrant part of Caribbean cultural heritage, especially in Grenada, offers a unique medium for storytelling, social commentary, and historical documentation. The reigning Calypso Monarch, as a recognised expert and practitioner in the field, brings strong insights, experience, and authenticity to the learning process,” she explained.
Students Tevin Daniel and Alyssa Baptiste shared their experience of being introduced to the concept of composing calypso music.
“What stood out to me was when he spoke about the different rhyming schemes and how using different rhyming schemes could change the mood and bring the song in a different direction. That stood out to me because I’m a composer myself. I go by the name of ‘Knock Boss’ so that helped me even though there are some things that I knew. You realise how much you don’t know when someone who is experienced, comes and teaches you,” Daniel said.
“His discussion about the rhyming scheme and keeping your theme throughout the song was very helpful because despite having to write a calypso for this course. We don’t have a lot of experience making music. It’s very important to get some guidance on how to compose and keep our music within the theme of the songs that we are doing was very helpful, especially for me who prefers specific instructions on work,” Baptiste said.
As part of their final portfolio, students must compose their calypso in keeping with their acquired techniques.