"Come, Mr. Tally Man, tally me banana. Daylight come and me wanna go home." Remember Harry Belafonte and the Banana Boat Song? Mr. Belafonte, the undisputed, yet reluctant King of Calypso, is credited for popularizing the Caribbean musical style internationally in the 50s.
The Banana Boat Song, also known more popularly as Day-O, is one of the best recorded examples of Calypso music. It tells of dockworkers loading bananas on boats on the night shift. As daybreak approached and their shift ended, all they wanted was that their work was counted so they could finally go home.
Calypso music, an African-Caribbean style, found its roots in Trinidad and Tobago. The African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean islands used Calypso as a means of communicating with each other and as a vehicle for mocking their masters. Since the slaves were not allowed to talk to each other, they sang songs as a means of communication. When the slave trade ended, Caribbean natives continued to sing Calypso songs to spread news and gossip. It was also their vehicle for expressing their political discontent. Even with censorship by the Imperial rulers, Calypso music found a way to prosper and evolve.
Calypso music is part and parcel of the Carnival, an event celebrated in the different Caribbean nations. These two go hand-in-hand, with danceable Calypso music being the background of the Carnival. There are different competitions during the Carnival including costume contests, steel drum band competitions and Calypso singing events.
During the Carnival, you will see all manner of clothing. What is distinct about Calypso fashion is its use of ruffles, ruffles and more ruffles. It looks similar to the Rhumba outfit or what the Spanish matadors wear during a bullfight.
Calypso men outfits include a ruffled shirt which is worn lazily, or unbuttoned up to a certain point. The sleeves do not go down to the wrist. Instead, they are about three quarters down. The ruffles are less stiff to the point of appearing droopier. Calypso ruffles can be sown anywhere on the clothing—from the top of the shoulder seams, going down. They can also be found on the scoop of the neckline. The only requirement is that ruffles prominently adorn the outfit. When you rent Calypso costumes for men, they usually come with black trousers with colorful ruffles at the hem. The shirt is usually an open-front shirt with a series of tiered ruffles for sleeves.
Calypso inspired outfits for women are also adorned with ruffles. Some female versions are midriff tops with bell shaped sleeves and lots of ruffles. This is matched with ruffled skirts with a slit. It can come with or without a turban or headpiece with fruits attached. Couples can choose to rent color-coordinated clothing. The costumes for both genders are always very colorful and fun.
Calypso wear or costumes definitely signify that the party’s on! That’s probably why Whirlpool named one of its washing machines Calypso, to make doing the laundry sound fun. If you find yourself in the Caribbean during the Carnival season, and would want to wear a Calypso costume, you can check with your hotel and inquire where you can find Calypso outfits. The city will surely have many costume rental shops.
Next time you get invited to a Caribbean- themed party, wear a Calypso outfit! Grab your maracas and memorize Day-O; it’s time to get your Calypso moves on!