Transnationalism and Calypso’s Moving Bodies

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In the Anglophone Caribbean, calypso music is the accompaniment to the dance that defines Caribbean authenticity. Calypso is the Creole child of Caribbean displacement. It is the result of numerous cultures clashing on the shores of Trinidad and Tobago, the home of the form. It is the music of Carnival. A product of the Kalenda and Cariso, its early forms were work songs and commentary of the enslaved. The song lyrics expressed the conditions of their lives, in work, in love, in social or political matters. Calypso has been known to incite rebellion, provoke response to social commentary and sexual innuendo, or simply rouse a party. Calypso has spread through the region (and the world) over a century, and has maintained its grip on the region by an ability to adapt and mutate to contemporary styles and tastes. By its very Creole nature and its history in a syncretized culture, (of African, European, South East Asian, and other groups), the music moves as the body does, in a rhythmic, cyclical manner, adopting the new as it persistently refers to its roots. It has kept in step and chord with contemporary music, producing sounds now called reggae-lypso, soca-lypso, and the like. It is the signature music and dance of the Caribbean region. And wherever Caribbean people locate, its performance remains a sign to be read and understood by other Caribbeans of their regional and social identifications across the globe.This research explores the ways in which West Indian identities are formulated across territories and nations; How Caribbeans maintain identity via a variety of means – food preparation, spiritual practices, language, and social customs which include dancing. These practices all become a patchwork collage of Caribbean-ness and individual island identity appears to become less important than collectivity used to harness political and social presence. I examine how once outside the region, individual nationhood is perhaps eclipsed by a larger notion of Caribbean-ness and the narratives therein. I use these notions to ask questions: Can there be a homogeneous Caribbean Identity? When and where do those exist? If so what are its components? (How is this community made?) And when does this community dissolve and collapse into the more traditional notions of nationhood? How is calypso a part of this equation? Who does this dance? When do they do it? Where? How? I look at Calypso dance practice and discuss the way it moves through Caribbean territories in the region as well as those places where Caribbeans have migrated and created communities in other locations as far reaching as New York, Toronto, London, Atlanta, and Florida. I am interested in detailing what is the “work” that Calypso does? And how does it do it?
Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2005
EventAfrican American Studies Program - University of California Irvine, Irvine, United States
Duration: Jan 1 2005Jan 1 2005


ConferenceAfrican American Studies Program
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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