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Calypso Fantasies: Beyond Island Shores

The "King of Calypso," Harry Belafonte.
Keystone/Getty Images
The "King of Calypso," Harry Belafonte.

The calypsonian of old combined the bawdy wit of a lovelorn English bard with the improvisatory praise instincts of an African griot. For me, the concept was driven home when my father took me to Trinidad as a 10-year-old, and I watched a roadside calypsonian whip up a rhyming verse comparing Dad to John F. Kennedy, whom he remotely resembled.

This was not long after the era in which Harry Belafonte introduced his stylized take on calypso into millions of American households. The music's friendly syncopations and playful, romantic lyrics presented an inviting Caribbean aura that has endured remarkably well.

Calypso is still big in Trinidad, although nowadays it takes a back seat to the more hyperactive soca style (short for soul-calypso). These five songs survey the way Trinidad's signature music style has been adapted, reshaped, packaged and marketed around the world.

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Banning Eyre