Calypso Rose aging well like old wine
February 1, 2018
Twenty five years after receiving the key to St. Catharines, Calypso Rose will express her gratitude in a tangible way with her first stage performance in Niagara region’s largest city later this year.
On a visit to Tobago in 1993, then Mayor Joseph Reid -- who died a decade ago -- made the presentation.
“I figured he was aware of my music that included a calypso I composed about Quebec Frenchmen loving to ‘wine’,” she recounted. “It was quite the honour to be recognized with the key to a Canadian city. At the time, it was the biggest recognition that I had received.”
The date for the St. Catharines show will be released shortly.
“I am looking forward to seeing the place and giving the people a dynamic performance,” said Rose who was born McCartha Sandy-Lewis.
In the meantime, the 77-year-old cancer survivor maintains a busy performance schedule despite overcoming diabetes and wearing a pacemaker regulating her heart after a couple of heart attacks.
Calypso Rose was in Toronto last Friday for her Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) debut at Koerner Hall.
“This is one of my favourite cities because I have a lot of family and friends here,” she said. “Audiences in Toronto have responded very well to my presence on stage and my compositions every time I have performed here.”
Last Friday night was no different as Calypso Rose continues to command significant attention with her powerful voice, dynamic stage presence and social and political commentary laced with satire.
She whipped the packed hall into a frenzy with several of her hits, including her signature song, ‘Fire in Meh Wire’, which has been recorded in nine languages.
Calypso Rose collaborated with Kobo Town, a Canadian band that blends calypso music with a diverse mix of Caribbean and other musical influences, as part of the RCM ‘s ‘Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage’ concert series.
Trinidad-born singer/songwriter Drew Gonsalves founded the Juno Award nominated band and co-wrote the songs on Rose’s album, ‘Far From Home’, recorded in Belize five years ago by producer Ivan Duran.
“I met Drew for the first time in 2013 when we worked on that album," said Calypso Rose who is an honourary Belizean citizen. “He also worked on my second album to be released next month. He is a very dynamic composer and arranger and I love working with him.”
Released on the Because Music label in June 2016, ‘Far from Home’ went platinum seven months later, selling more than 100,000 copies.
Last year, Calypso Rose – the first artist from Trinidad and Tobago to have an album go gold or higher -- made over 100 appearances in Europe and her album won the Best Album in the World award at the Victoires de La Musique which is France’s equivalent of the Grammys.
With French citizens gravitating to her music, she’s scheduled to make 10 appearances in that country in March.
“I love France,” said Calypso Rose who left T & T for the first time in 1963 to perform in Grenada and St. Thomas where she became the first woman to win the Calypso crown with her first recording, ‘Cooperation’. “The other reason why I do so many shows there is because the record label and my agent is in France and my manager (Jean Michel Gilbert) is from France.”
A resident of T & T for the last 28 years, Gilbert also produced ‘Calypso Rose: The Lioness of the Jungle’ that was screened at the 2011 Caribbean Tales Film Festival in Toronto. The documentary was shot over four years in Paris, New York where she has resided since 1983, Tobago where she was born, Trinidad where she was raised from age nine and Ouidah in Benin where thousands of Africans were forced into slave ships.
Since meeting Gonsalves five years ago, Calypso Rose has toured several Canadian, American and European cities with the septet.
“It’s a great group of guys playing good music,” she said.
There is another reason why the band appeals to her.
“They have two ex-police officers in the group and I am a former New York Police auxiliary officer,” she said. “I like being around cops.”
Trombonist Terence Woode and trumpeter Jan Morgan were members of the Guyana Police Force before migrating to Canada.
“The first time I worked with Rose was in the 1980s for a show at the Pegasus Hotel when I was still a policeman,” recounted Morgan. “She is one of the easiest persons to work with.”
Two days ago, Calypso Rose visited the Trinidad & Tobago consulate in New York to have her photo taken for a diplomatic passport. A Caribbean Airlines plane also bears her name.”
The success she enjoys didn’t come easily.
Calypso Rose overcame a speech impediment to become the first woman to win the T & T Road March title in 1977 with her song, ‘Gimme More Tempo’. She defended the crown the following year and captured the first of five straight Calypso titles, forcing the organizers to change to the competition name from Calypso King to Calypso Monarch.
The entertainer also carried a dark secret for several decades and endured a painful and highly publicized family loss
As an 18-year-old, she was beaten and raped by three men in Barataria while returning from a People National Movement party political rally in 1958. A junior party member at the time, she suffered a broken right arm and three fractured ribs.
In 2005, Calypso Rose’s gay nephew – Michael Sandy – succumbed to head injuries after being badly beaten and run over run over by a vehicle in a hate crime in Brooklyn. He never regained consciousness and was taken off a respirator a day after his 29th birthday.
One of 13 children born to a Grenadian mother and a Barbadian Spiritual Baptist Minister and fisherman, Calypso Rose wrote her first calypso, ‘Glass Thief’, at age 15 after she witnessed a bandit snatch a pair of eye glasses from a woman in a market.
Castigated by women parishioners who objected to a woman singing calypso, she gained their acceptance and respect after Hurricane Flora left 18 people dead and inflicted considerable crop and property damage in Tobago in 1963.
She composed a song about the hurricane for the calypso tent in 1964 and inserted ‘Abide with Me’ after every verse.
Three years later, Calypso Rose shared the stage with Bob Marley and the Wailers at a New Year’s Eve concert and the Grand Concourse grand ballroom in New York. Marley passed away in 1981.
“Bob is the vocalist I love listening to the most,” she said. “Before going on stage with his guitar for that memorable show, he went into a corner, leaned his head against a wall and prayed. He was so spiritual and dynamic.”
Calypso Rose – who has composed nearly 800 songs and spent 17 years singing on cruise ships before playing at the Apollo and Madison Square Garden with the late 11-time Road March champion Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow who has won the Calypso Monarch and Road March titles eight times -- is in fairly good health despite a frenetic schedule.
“I eat a lot of fish and use garlic and ginger,” she said. “The energy I get from fans, though, is the thing that really keeps me going.”
The septuagenarian is the only performer to win the T & & Road March, National Calypso Queen and Calypso Monarch crowns in the same year.