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
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
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.
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.
read Muriel's mailbag
Muriel's playlists (2-3 pm)
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