Before reggae, before ska, before soca, there was calypso.
Calypso directly descends from the musical styles brought over from African due to slavery. It blends many different styles – it sounds much closer to the music of the Spanish and French Caribbean.
Lord Kitchener, born in Trinidad in 1922, was a leading figure in the development of modern, popular calypso from the traditional folk styles.
This song shows how Calypso was often used to circumvent the moralistic censorship of the day. Double meanings had been used to allow criticism of whites, but soon grew to encompass all kinds of topics. Baudy innuendos being one!
I won’t tell you what the song is about. You’ll probably figure it out soon enough. And if you can’t, then good for you!
Amadou & Mariam are a couple from Mali, both blind, both excellent musicians.
A lot of their music is lighter than this track, which leans into its danceable bass and kick with vigour.
It’s the vocals which provide the most interest, although the instrumental is littered with brilliant flourishes, such as the electric piano part. The percussion is varied and vibrant too! It’s a busy track, but not overcrowded.
Loosely speaking, the song is about the virtues of not being lazy.
Malian music reflects the diversity of the country. This more modern song retains that energy, to a degree, but is easy to listen too.
“Bofou Safou” was released in 2017, as a single from La Confusion.
I first found out about Danitse through one of my favourite artists, Mala. He used her vocals for “Cunumicita”.
Her voice is like a beautifully carved wooden mantelpiece – majestic, homely, and comforting.
“Cuando Ya No Estes” was released on Viaje, in 2012.
It’s a wonderful song. The melody, outside of that fantastic voice, is provided by guitars. The soft bass plucks add that warm depth, and then halfway through, the song intensifies. The tempo increases, a trumpet kicks in, the bass speeds up, she’s louder, the drums pick up, it’s fast!
Then, right at the end… it relaxes. Peace, tranquility, quiet.
For an artist specialising in flamenco, this kind of music is a big step away from tradition. So much so, that the album this is drawn from has since been viewed as a key milestone in the development of ‘new flamenco’.
However, as an English speaker, I have to say that I’m not too fussed – ‘real’ flamenco is still out there!
What this is, though, is fun. Camaron’s intensely performed vocals swell with passion, and rip through the song with gusto. There are naturally a few flamenco based elements, with a speedily picked guitar, and an array of clapping.
The rhythm section is energetic, with a bass part careering up and down, while the drums rattle out a military-esque beat.
The song was released in 1979, on an album of the same name.
‘Martha’ is taken from Waits’ 1973 debut album, Closing Time. If you’re a Tom Waits fan, you’ll notice immediately that his voice, by his standards, is clear as a bell.
In fact, on a scale from butter and silk to gravel and whiskey, this only comes in at dust and wine. There’s some light distortion but otherwise, he sounds fine.
The song is otherwise laid out very simply. The main accompaniment to Wait’s inimitable vocals is a piano. Later, a delicate string arrangement comes in to add another layer of depth. No drums. Just harmony.
The lyrics are poignant – it’s about an man reminiscing about a woman he was going out with, and still loves. The sad part is that they are both married, adding a heavy cloak of wistfulness to proceedings.
Madredeus could loosely be said to be a Portuguese folk band. They come from a tradition of fado music, which is a distinctive style of mixed guitar/stringed instruments, and depressing/beautiful female vocals. Take your pick.
The style is incredibly old, soaked through with centuries worth of tear-soaked tradition.
This one has a xylophone or marimba of some kind, adding further notes of pleasant but haunting contemplation.
The song has a soothing quality that is reminiscent of Muzak, or elevator music. Which isn’t to say that this song is bland – quite the contrary. It’s a very rich, full and deep song.