The undisputed queen of calypso, and perhaps one of the most prolific artists ever from Trinidad & Tobago, Calypso Rose to this day continues to break new ground for herself and the genre from which she takes her name. With over 800 songs under her belt, she is credited with many firsts: the writer and performer of the first calypso to be sung two years running at Trinidad Carnival, 1966 and 1967; the first woman to win the Trinidad Road March, with “Gimme More Tempo”; and the first woman to win the Calypso Monarch with “Come Leh We Jam.” The event was forced to change its name to accommodate her success, as it was previously called the Calypso King Competition.
Beyond just Trinidad and her native Tobago, Rose is an undeniably recognizable face in the world music stage. Her success can be attributed in part to a charismatic stage persona; she’s never been the type to shy away from busting a wine on stage. After 40 years, she can still be found traveling and touring, carrying the flag for calypso veterans. What sets Rose apart from the rest of her competitors is her unique fusion of the rhythms and melodies of Africa and Central America, into something that carries the West Indian Spirit.
Now, Rose is preparing for the release of her 21st album, set for June 3rd. Far From Home is a unique revival of calypso, which taps heavily into its roots in kaiso, leveraging international musical talent courtesy of France’s Manu Chao. Rose pays particular homage to her African ancestry (specifically Guinean and West African), not just instrumentally but also lyrically. The second single off Far from Home, “I am African” is a proud declaration of her identity as an Afro-West Indian, a heritage to which she attributes much of her youthful spirit, charm and charisma. Major Lazer’s Jillionaire has taken to the single, releasing a remix that that does not add a lot of frills to the original but perhaps makes it more accessible to those who align themselves with the Carnival season and soca.
Calypso Rose is nothing short of a legend and a Caribbean icon. However, what warrants her popularity, in our opinion, is her continued commitment to reinventing herself and her sound while being inclusive of the many cultures and ideas that constitute what it means to be West Indian. With her new music, she’s showing she can reinvent herself, while simultaneously preserving our musical culture, maintaining a level of authenticity and integrity. Her nuanced but solidly rooted approach to calypso is really a fundamental key to ensuring the longevity of calypso music, beyond kaiso and calypso tents, but in the mainstream as well. Rose is a revolutionary and, as far as we can tell, she is not finished breaking new ground just yet.