Thursday, January 12, 2017

The NRR Project #31: Lovey’s Trinidad String Band

Lovey’s Trinidad String Band
Recordings for Columbia, Victor Records
Recorded June-July 1912
24 takes

What makes a music catch the ear of the public? Why this and not that, then but not now? Four years before jazz exploded onto the American scene, calypso came ashore.

It came in the persons of the uniformed members of Lovey’s Trinidad String Band, wielding waltzes and syncopated, swaying paseos. Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean was a hotbed of music generation in the 20th century, and calypso was one of the genres. It was a full-bodied, orchestral kind of Afro-Hispanic dance music, based on violins and guitars, with some percussion and a few wind instruments thrown in for accents.

What makes calypso unique is its lyrics, none of which hare found on the Lovey (aka George R. Baillie) recordings. The rhythm in most calypso songs serve as a backdrop for freewheeling, improvised verse – extempo --, usually about sex, politics, or some other controversy. Sounds like rap? It’s a distant progenitor, whose offspring and relatives include The Dozens, toasting, and sanankuya. Calypso spread the news, lyrics were debated and records were banned. Without that edgy, alive word-battling aspect, these first known recordings of calypso are intriguing, but not riveting.

Lovey’s toured New York in the summer of 1912, and made exactly two dozen recordings, which can be heard on a finely curated compilation by Bear Family Records. Calypso’s singers would begin to record bodies of work in the 1930s, and in 1956 Harry Belafonte would spark a worldwide (and extremely sanitized) calypso craze with his recording of “The Banana Boat Song.”

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Castles in Europe One-Step.

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