Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Growling Tiger : Knockdown Calypsos
Growling Tiger - Money Is King (1979) (buy)
Growling Tiger - The Train Blow (1979) (buy)
First of all, I am deeply sorry for not posting those past weeks, I was too much busy with the Acclaimed music poll, which is now over.
Just after submitting my list of favorite albums, I found this gem, that I would heve included if I could. I knew one track already, the first one I posted, the delicious "Money Is King", on a great box set called Musica Negra In the Americas.
The album is a great surprise, even if "Money Is King" remains, IMO, the highlight of the lot. Neville Marcano, aka The Growling Tiger (1915-1993) was a calypsonian from Trinidad, an ex-boxer who became a star in the 1930s, when calypsonians started exporting their music overseas, and big names emerged like Lord Kitchener, Lord Invader or Roaring Lion (I don't know which one of Roaring Lion or Growling Tiger earnt his nickname first).
Check ou his bio here (Wikipedia) and here (Acousticmusic.com)
After a semi retirement, Growling Tiger was recorded by Alan Lomax in Trinidad in 1962 with an acoustic band, playing a traditional form of Calypso and even older styles. You can find these recordings on the Alan Lomax Series under the name The Growling Tiger Of Calypso.
Then 15 years later American enthousiast Steve Shapiro rediscovered a 64 year-old Tiger and recorded him again, this time with a more "modern" band featuring horns. These sessions gave birth to Knock Down Calypsos.
It is difficult to resist the Tiger's charms. His music, a sum of various influences from French, Spanish, English and African traditions, ranges from old-school minor-key calypso ("Money Is king") to derivations from more ancient styles like kalinda (a stick-fighting dance popular in Trinidad carnivals) or songs with a strong African heritage like "Youruba Shango".
A common trait in calypso, the lyrics and the singer's personality are very important. The singer must forge himself a strong identity in order to outshine the competition. Growling Tiger, with his deep barytone voice, was famous for his political and social lyrics, and never ceased to mock the rulers and the system, in pure carnaval tradition.
"Money Is King", both funny and serious, is a great example of his consciousness. The album also features bawdy songs like "The Train Blow". I couldn't understand the whole thing but it looks like the story of a romance on a passenger train. If somebody could help me with the lyrics exact meaning, that would be great (same goes for "Money is King") !
As Robert Leaver says, "A master of improvisation (extempo) and the competitive Calypsonian duel, Tiger could rhyme on diverse subjects with intelligence and wit. Rappers take heed -- Growling Tiger could school you".