Rap battles:Trinidad had the old school,back in Calypso days

Reply Mon 29 Jan, 2007 07:15 pm
So I'm listening to this mellow CD I got, Calypso Awakening, and instead of just nodding and jigging along like usually, I was actually listening for a bit. And so I finally noticed the to-and-fro on track 11 and 12, Cowboy Sparrow and Reply to Melody.

These are perhaps the two single most major calypso singers of the time, or ever: Lord Melody and the Mighty Sparrow.

Lord Melody started off. The Mighty Sparrow, he casually sings, is one crazy madman. "Attention, listen everyone - Sparrow has a gun - Shooting like a madman all over town - Look out, Sparrow has a gun."

Sparrow you should use your head ..
Sparrow you should be ashamed
From now on do not call my name
Our friendship has finally end
Criminal dont call me no friend

But the Mighty Sparrow is not impressed. A madman, he? Well, he'll show the guy what he thinks of him.. well.. fast forward to, I'm guessing, a round or two later, and we have Sparrow, still sounding mellifluously relaxed, sounding off like this:

You are a very good Calypso singer
That we all know and we'll remember
But you face like a crocodile
And you looking so fierce and wild
I know you well and I tell no lie
Your mouth always wide open catchin fly
Try some deodorant it wouldnt hurt
Melody you smelling like a [sth]

"Do what you want, but dont get me sore / Provocation is against the law," he sings his refrain admonishingly, but not wholly persuasively, before he goes on:

You should really be in the circus
You ugly hippopotamus
Never yet in life have I seen
Such a hideous looking human being
Sometime your face like a gorilla
Sometime again it just like alligator
If I should open a human zoo
The first man I'm coming to hold is you

In this answer, the Mighty Sparrow goes riffing on - I'm guessing, not sure about the timeline - that genius ska song of Derrick Harriott's, one of my all time faves: "Monkey Ska". Monkey Ska has the following unforgettable lyrics:

One Sat'day morning I woke up late
I found a little monkey outside me gate
I went outside to investigate
The monkey was doing the latest dance craze

The returning line in that song is "I don't know what to say the monkey won't do", and Mighty Sparrow here turns it against Lord Melody, recounting how:

Anything I do you're following me
Behave your ugly self Melody ..
I married a wife and you married too
But your wife aint have eyes of blue
We buy a little car you buy one too
Anything I do this monkey does too

He aint finished yet, either:

And another thing I notice bout you
You never never will wear socks with your shoe
In fact you dont wear no underclothes
You hate them like poison everyone knows
You want try some toothpaste once in a while
To whiten your teeth and brighten your smile
So when you say you have nice girl that aint true
Its only gateway eleven then for you*

*(no i dont get that one either)

Ha! This stuff is just delightful. They were battlin' just like the rappers now do - except with this old time innocence and whimsical charm, it just sounds like a fairytale..

Now I wanna go to Trinidad.
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Reply Mon 29 Jan, 2007 07:42 pm
Here, I found some background.

First couple of paragraphs below show that Sparrow and Melody were merely continuing a tradition that went all the way back to the turn of the century; and that then, already, lead to (or came with) fightin' gang turf wars ("contests which sometimes escalated into physical battles with fighting sticks"). Plus ca change..

Second half is specifically about the Sparrow / Melody battle. Hilarious stuff Smile

Calypso - Message In The Music (Part 3 of 3): PICONG

Picong is a Trinidadian patois (broken French) term for "friendly teasing."What we know as calypso today has its roots in the older tradition of the chantwel, who, in addition to invigorating the music for carnival street processions, took the lead in confrontations with other neighborhood bands.

Opposing chantwels traded boasts and insults in song, contests which sometimes escalated into physical battles with fighting sticks. This kind of verbal rivalry, referred to as calypso picong, continued even when chantwels began to sing on stage before seated audiences in the 1910s.

Calypso tents from then, through the 1930s, commonly featured "picong wars" between individual singers or among opposing groups. During that time, calypsonians often composed songs that attacked other calypsonians, for example, initiating a battle that was waged over different venues and over several Carnival seasons.

A picong calypso is also one in which the singer makes up rude comments about public figures, or annoying patrons in the audience. Two of Trinidad's famous calypsonians, the Mighty Sparrow and the late Lord Melody, have on record some of their favourite picong barbs.

It was Melody who initiated the verbal wars . At the time, Sparrow had been defending himself against various scurrilous rumours saying he was a hotheaded gunslinger, so Melody went on record with the tune, "Cowboy Sparrow, Son of a Catarrh-Nosed Grenadian," which contained lyrics suggesting that Sparrow was a crazy man. With an irresistible rhythm, a beautiful horn section and chorus singers repeatedly intoning "Beware! Sparrow has a gun!" Melody laid on the invective.

Sparrow formulated his own response. His Cowboy Melo ("Shame on you, Mel!") and "Madame Dracula (Wife of Melo)", are five smooth, danceable vignettes, which are as complimentary about Melo's missus (Lady Melody) as the title suggests.

Sparrow sang that Melody's wedding was a rum-soaked disaster in which the groom wore an ill-fitting jacket. As for the bride, Sparrow implied that Frank Sinatra had her in mind when he sang, "The Lady is a Tramp". "That's why everyone call she Madame Dracula".

Sadly, this aspect of the art form is no longer practiced, except when singers engage in extemporaneous singing (extempo). Even then, insults traded tend to be more crude than artful in content.

Writer: Dave Cuffy
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Reply Mon 29 Jan, 2007 07:47 pm
"Playing the dozens" is an old old American tradition with African roots -- way older than rap, for sure.


Zora Neale Hurston recorded a bunch of old (in her time) Southern guys doing it, I love that stuff, that's what this reminds me of.

Fun to read, thanks.
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Reply Mon 29 Jan, 2007 07:59 pm
The Night Time Is The Right Time...Ray Charles vs Margie Hendricks.

Not so much a "battle", but a simple back-n-forth....from the 50s.
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