Muriel's Treasure - An Hour of Calypso and Soca Hosted by Irwin Chusid on WFMU Radio
Hosted by Irwin Chusid on WFMU ~ Wednesday 2:00 - 3:00 pm
NOTE: Muriel is on summer hiatus. She hopes to return in the fall.
- All episodes of Muriel's Treasure are now being podcast.
- You can now listen to every Muriel's hour in the WFMU archives.
- And there's a Muriel's Treasure blog, featuring calypso artifacts.

I started collecting calypso LPs in the mid-'70s. First catch: Duke Errol and the Lords, Island in the Sun, found in a discarded box of otherwise unremarkable LPs left curbside. Errol's recording of "Shame and Scandal" beguiled. (In retro, it's not even calypso; it's ska-inflected.) Began finding vintage calypso LPs in used vinyl shops. Not in the bins, but under them, often for a quarter. Nobody seemed to care about these castoffs.

I'd swallowed a musical drug. This stuff was funny, sexy, saucy and raunchy. The performances were lively and outrageous. Pumping rhythms, driving horns, wise-ass singers, clattering percussion. Songs about places I'd never been, about characters I didn't know, in a dialect I couldn't always comprehend. It was bawdy, and naughty. Often unabashedly macho.

Why were they hiding this stuff? Or throwing it away?

The Mighty Sparrow, late 1950's

Duke Of Iron, 1957

I kept collecting. From time to time I aired these delectables on WFMU. (I joined the staff in 1975.) Learned a bit about the history and culture that spawned the form. But my knowledge is admittedly shallow. I just love the music.

Meanwhile, reggae became hugely popular. I found it a yawn. Still do.

Wondered when the calypso revival would hit the states?

It never did.

But the music's still here. A trove on my shelves. Muriel's Treasure clutters one hour of WFMU broadcast space with it each week.

A catalog of qualities I find endearing about the style (in no particular order): rhythm, humor, rakishness, unpredictability, playfulness, candid observations about humanity, wisdom, variety, songcraft, cleverness. A sense of decency in the lyrics. Calypsonians are likeable. And they seem to have fun in the timeless battle of the sexes.

Categorical note: True "calypsonians" create their own calypsos (topical songs). "Calypso singers" sing others' calypsos. I prefer the former over the latter.

Historical note: Harry Belafonte does not embody the genre. He knows he doesn't, and never claimed to. HB was a popularizer, not an innovator.

In excavating these relics, I generally avoided cruise ship souvenir LPs marked by a preponderance of standards, like "Yellow Bird," "Island in the Sun," "Banana Boat," "Matilda," "Mary Ann," and "Jamaica Farewell." These were calypso singers. But LPs with song titles like "Tie Up Me Dress," "The Walking Department Store," and "Man Is Easy Fish" were snatched up. (All three, in fact, are Duke of Iron tracks.)

The program's title, Muriel's Treasure, derives from a Lord Kitchener song,"Muriel and De Bug." The reference is filthy. Bedbugs are, in fact, a recurring theme in old calypsos. So is filth. A soca tune by Temple about trying to catch escaped chickens includes the incessant refrain, "Hold de cock and poulet." A wackjob named Crazy complained about his wife hanging her oversized underwear on the clothesline, and how it blocked his view of the sun. He was not happy, and swore in the song's chorus, "I'm pullin' down de panty tonight!"

Don't expect many ballads. There are few calypso ballads. Expect a lot of bedbugs. Also boasts, oddly accented syll-AH-bles, dance beats (old and new), incitements to party, topical observations, political incorrectness, fun, mirth, mischief and mayhem.

And S-E-X. This stuff drips.

I'm not from T & T. I don't claim to be an authority on this music or the people who make it. I'm just a fan. You may become one by listening. The show won't be Ken Burns-like in scope, and at least in the early going will focus largely on the vintage vinyl and CDs in my collection. I intend to gather more contemporary recordings. Guests will be invited to share their collections, to rhapsodize about the music, and discuss the colorful history and fanciful lore I can't provide.

And if I start to affect a phony patois, smother me with a chloroform-soaked rag.

email the perp
read Muriel's mailbag
Muriel's playlists (2-3 pm)

* * * *

Trinidad Bill (Trotman), c. 1980

Crazy, 2002

Wilmoth Houdini
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Learn more about the music:

Ah, Frankie Sinatra
Ah, Frank Sinatra
Frankie me boy, you don't know
You have a perfect voice to sing calypso.

Why not make a dish wit' de Houdini?
Singin' de West Indian melody
Frankie me boy I'm sure
We sell two million copies or more.

"Bobby Sox Idol"
Wilmoth Houdini, ca. 1944

Calypso: A World Music - Photos & Illustrations, 1930-1970
The Calypso Archives
CaribPlanet's brief history of the genre
Calypso Dreams (film)
Ice Records
Ray Funk's Kaiso Newsletters
Lord Kitchener Tribute Page
The Mighty Sparrow
Soca News
Wikipedia: "calypso" entry
Carnival in Trinidad: evolution + symbolic meaning
The home of Pan, Sweet Soca, Steel Band, Calypso & Things Caribbean!
The Mighty Sparrow Calypso Catalog
Compiled by Graham Johnstone
Documenting Calypso in New York and the Atlantic World
By Stephen Stuempfle
Institute for Studies In American Music, Brooklyn College of CUNY
Best of Trinidad (Calypso Page)
Purchase CD copies of original Emory Cook and Folkways calypso LPs from the 1950s and '60s
West Indian Rhythm
Bear Family Records 10-cd set with 316-page hardcover book
Peter's Gallery of Rum Labels
The Trinidad Music Store
Rassoodock's Duke of Iron bio and discography
Site devoted to Jamaican Mento Music

recent obits:

Young Tiger
Mighty Terror
Jamaican Calypso
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