Monthly Archives: August 2015

RIP Calypsonian Rootsman (Yafeu Osei)

Rootsman in his element (c) Trinidad Guardian

Rootsman in his element
(c) Trinidad Guardian


By Clevil James

Calypsonian Rootsman (Yafeu Osei) passed away from complications with diabetes on Friday August 20 at his home in Trinidad. Rootsman, born in Tobago 64 year ago, started singing as a student in elementary school, where he won a competition in 1967.  In 1976 he made the decision to fulfil his dreams and become a professional calypsonian. Rootsman, although skilled in calypsoes on social commentary, was better known for his soca numbers like Parkway Rock, Rach Meh-Rack Meh, Soca In The Palace etc. etc.

Rootsman has received numerous honours from all over the world for his contribution to the Calypso art form.
Click on images below for a taste of Rootsman’s versatility.

BDN Ajamu Interview [an update]

BDN Ajamu Interview [an update]

Update: In light of his capturing the Calypso Monarch for an historic 9th times, Big Drum Nation went back to the maestro for an update with the single question: What contributed to your remarkable success in the 2015 Grenada Calypso Monarch competition?

Ajamu [August 12]: What I think contributed to my success in this competition was experience and the will to not disappoint those who put their trust in me that I can get the job done. But most of all was knowing that my kids were really looking at me to be the best I could be so they won’t have to go through the pain of explaining why the result went which ever way. 

February 26th Big Drum Nation interview

Ajamu wGuitar PicAJAMU is one of Grenada’s most accomplished musicians. He holds the unprecedented national honor of seven-time Calypso Monarch, winning in 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, and 2004. A certified sound engineer, AJAMU plays guitar, keyboards, and drums. He has written, arranged, and produced songs for a number of top Grenadian calypsonians.  In 1997 he was crowned “Male Vocalist of the Year” at New York’s “Sunshine Awards”.  Evidence of AJAMU’s recognition by the international music community is his regular entry in Billboard Magazine’s “Bible of the Music Industry”. At ease in both the soca and reggae music genres, Ajamu’s discography spans 21 albums and multiple 12” releases.Ajamu knows too well that celebrating Grenada’s independence is celebrating its people. In his patriotic tribute My Grenada, Ajamu pays homage to the centrality of human capital in building a proud nation “The standard of skills and talents we have down here in this land/it is too much for me to mention…”

Big Drum Nation ‘sat down’ for a cyber-side chat with King Ajamu in the midst of celebrations of Grenada’s 41 anniversary of independence.

Big Drum Nation (BDN): Who is King Ajamu?

Ajamu: Ajamu is Edson Mitchell from Mama Canne in St Andrews. Son of Lyris David and Rudolph Mitch

BDN: “Ajamu”, can you tell the origin and meaning of the name?

Ajamu: The name Ajamu is originated from Africa. It means a man who fights for what he wants.

[Editors’ note: The name Ajamu comes from the Yoruba people of West Africa, chiefly today’s Nigeria. Thousands of Yoruba came to Grenada aboard the slave ships. And many more Yoruba people came to Grenada in the 1840s. Many came from the town of Ijesha. In Grenada there were Yoruba communities at Munich, Rose Hill and Concord. In Munich, Yoruba chiefs were elected until the 1930s. Munich’s Roberts family, of which Lord Kitchener is a member, provided the last of the chiefs. African cultural retention in Grenada such as Esusu (susu), a savings institution, and Shango, the God of Thunder, Drums and Dance, are derived from the Yoruba.]
Yoruba Map

[Map of Africa: Yoruba region]. Scale not given. “Yorùbá“. <> (25 February 2015).
BDN: What is your definition of calypso?

Ajamu: My definition of calypso is story telling in a musical form, entertaining and informative.

BDN: Calypso and soca, are they different things? How?

Ajamu: In my opinion calypso and soca is thing dressed in different outfit. A traditional calypso can be played at a faster tempo and be called soca, so it has much to do with the musical arrangements and the bounce in the beat.
BDN: How has calypso changed since the advent of the Ajamu?

Ajamu: I think calypso is still what it was before Ajamu but I might say my musicality had added something to calypso in my native country if I should say so.
BDN: What brought you calypso singing?

Ajamu: My first trip to Trinidad and my experiences in the calypso tent there had a great influence on me getting into calypso singing.

BDN: Is calypso still a story-telling form?

Ajamu: Yes calypso is still a story telling form.

BDN: How would you want us (listeners) to respond to an Ajamu song?

Ajamu: As a lover of humanity and a very passionate musician, I would like responses to both the music and messages in my songs.

BDN: Once again, you are appearing in a calypso tent (Revue): How have you been received by Trini audiences?

Ajamu: My experience at the revue and performing to Trini audiences has always been well received, i am grateful to Trinidadians and the people from all over the world for the support they have been giving me over the years.

BDN: Thank you.

BDN Editorial


Junior Calypso contestant

“Universities are tuning out thousands of reporters. They are quite bright and they don’t have to rhyme.” – Slinger Francisco (Mighty Sparrow).


Blue costumes

Blue Mas

Big Drum Nation wishes to extend congratulations to the thousands of our cultural artists, performers of all stripes, administrators and revelers that have worked assiduously for many months in making a successful Spice Mas 2015. Our heartiest congratulations go out to King Man Ajamu on being our Calypso Monarch for the second consecutive year and for an unprecedented nine times.


Kiddies Carnival

Special recognition also goes out to Rootsman Kelly (first runner up), and Baracka (the youngest participant and second runner up). Congratulations also to Short Pree on winning his third Groovy Monarch, but also to Elimus Gilbert (Inspector), and Jalon Olive (Boyzie), first and second runners up respectively. Very special congratulations to Junior Kaiso Monarch Heidi Charles, and runners up Joliba Regis and Nathan Johnson. In addition, special respect is due to all the artists and musicians that have taken part in the tents, and the various levels of competition.



Congratulations, Synnah! Winner of the 2015 Road March with the vivacious and creative “Jab on Sesame Street”. Hearty congratulations and recognition to all of the bands that took part in Panaroma 2015, but particularly to the champions Rebublic Bank Angel Harps (first place), Lime Commancheros (second place) and Coyaba New Dimension (third place). We also extend our appreciation to the Junior Panorama champions Lime Commancheros, as well as runners up Republic Bank Angel Harps and Suzuki Wiz Kids.

Ajamu - 2015 Calypso Monarch

Ajamu – 2015 Calypso Monarch

We applaud you for your hard work, passion, and dedication to our culture. We wish you success in abundance as you move on to attain even higher heights.







Big Drum Nation Carnival Special

Caribbean Carnival in Costa Brava, Spain

Nation-building and Culture

What is Carnival to Me? (Clevil James)

What is Carnival to Me (CT)

What is Carnival to me? (re Berger)

What is Carnival to me?

What is Carnival to me (Renwick Herry)

From Freedom to Emancipation

Grenada’s Carnival Tradition by Hudson George [parts 1 and 2]

Carnival Shorts (BDN Video #1)


Carnival Proclamations [Mighty Zebra]

Play and Making of National Society

A CARNIVAL STORY by M. Martin Lewis [parts 1 and 2]

On Kingman Ajamu’s “Provocation”

Synnah’s – Road March tune – “Jab on Sesame Street”

Carnival: A Mass Plays Mas’ by Caldwell Taylor [parts 1 and 2]

Carnival: A Mass Plays Mas’  [Caldwell Taylor]

Draft: Not for Quotation, Citation or Distribution

Link to part 1


[Part 2 of 2]


Grenada Jab Jab

“The molasses Negro [Negre Molassi] wears nothing. His whole body and face is smeared with an atrocious mixture of soot and molasses” 

– Lafacdio Hearn, after viewing Martinique’s 1887 Carnival. See Hearn’s “Two Years in the French West Indies” published in 1890.

Jab in Haiti

“A band of bare-chested horned men whose bodies are covered with sugar-cane syrup mixed with soot and charbon [charcoal] In Haiti these Carnival characters are called lanceurs de cord”.

The lanse kod character of Haiti blacken their body as much as possible

The Lanceurs de Cord characters of Haiti blacken their body as much as possible

– Novelist Edwidge Dandicat in “After the Dance: A Walk Through the Carnival of Jacmel”

Frenchman Xavier Marmier [1808-1892] saw the Carnival in Cuba, where blacks smeared the bodies with tar to mark the January 6 Carnival- the Dia de Reyes(Day of Kings).

See Marmier’s Lettres sur l’ Amerique.

IS True :The Jab Jab [Diable Diable] is the major figure of scatology in the Grenadian Carnival .

It is well worth noting that once upon a time the Catholic church granted what it called “comic licenses” . These licenses excused risque and obscene interludes in the course of the celebration of the Mass. The Church’s risa pasquale  – the so-called “Easter laugh”, was a sexually suggestive act which gave a profane colour to the sacred event.

About the sacred-profane dichotomy poet W. H. Auden [1907-1973] wrote:

The value of a profane thing lies in what it usefully does, the value of a sacred thing is what it is”.

“Of course a sacred thing may also have a function but that not its primary role”, responds Joyce Carol Oates.

Pieter Bruegel [c.1525-1569] brought the sacred and profane to a face-off in a painting entitled The Battle Between Carnival and Lent.
A panel from Bruegel’s “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent”, 1559.

A panel from Bruegel's “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent”, 1559

A panel from Bruegel’s “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent”, 1559

There was also a time in Trinidad when the Carnival “opened” before the altar of the Port-of -Spain Catholic cathedral. Starting in the 1920s , and continuing until the 1950s the Roman Catholic Les Amantes de Jesu Society [ Lovers of Jesus] “gave” the grandest of the pre-carnival balls.

Carnival and Religion make an odd couple: Both seek the extinction of alienation and estrangement ; they both wage real and fanciful wars:he Veillee Croix aka vecco] is the outstanding symbol of Heraclitus’ miracle of the unity of opposites.

Veillee croix = cross wake/ cross vigil.

[End of part 2]

(c) Caldwell Taylor

Caldwell Taylor is  writer and cultural commentator. The former teacher and diplomat is a graduate of Windsor Law School . 

Carnival: A Mass Plays Mas’ [Caldwell Taylor]

Carnival: A Mass Plays Mas’  

[Part 1 of 2]

 ***Draft: Not for Quotation, Citation or Distribution***

Grenada Carnival - a Short Knee Band

Grenada Carnival a Short Knee Band

Carnival seeks to regain a lost Paradise ; it plays to recover the world that predated the Fall.

Carnival reveals the two faces behind a wire-mesh mask :”the Agony of Exile”and the “Joy of a Certain Return”.

Carnival is Wilson Harris‘ “infinite rehearsal”; it is calypsonian Lord Shorty’s “Endless Vibrations.”

Carnival is the surfacing of the submerged!

“Carnival is that time when every joke is allowed,” say the Italians.   “Life is a Carnaval”, sings Celia Cruz [1925-2003] in “La Vida es un Carnaval”.

Cuba's Celia Cruz [1925-2003]

Cuba’s Celia Cruz [1925-2003]

Carnival is life and life is a cosmic theatre; it is also a gestural literature that writhes bodies into tongues after the fashion of St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the saintly preacher who prayed and played his sermons.

Carnival is transmission and transgression. Carnival and the carnivalesque are hugely indebted to the drama of religious worship. In fact, according to Emmanuel Le Roy Ladure [see Carnival in Romans] ,“the Catholic Church was once upon a time a “leading participant in the [ French Carnival] ceremonies”.

Drama springs from religious liturgy”, allowed poet T.S. Eliot. 






[Link to part 2]

(c) Caldwell Taylor

Caldwell Taylor is  writer and cultural commentator. The former teacher and diplomat is a graduate of Windsor Law School .

On Kingman Ajamu’s “Provocation”

Stick Fighting Duel 2015 (T&T)

Stick Fighting Duel 2015 (T&T)

Sun Tzu: “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.
Provocation is a great song, and a rare eloquence of warriorhood. This is a poetic fire that will get Sun Tzu’s approval.
Caldwell Taylor

A Carnival Story by M. Martin Lewis [part 2 of 2]

[Continued: Link to part 1

Like everything Shortknee their songs were just as much a mystery. Unlike Jab Jab songs, they were not created in any village on some moonlight night; no one claimed authorship, heck they were not even in our language. They seemed to have verses where chorus should be and they referenced things, places and people that were outside the known universe.

There are Shortknee Q & A’s that have troubled me all my life. Why their sleeves were so big? And was there any significance to the colors of their costumes? Who made those masks? I once heard of an Hermitage boy that lost his arm mysteriously while following a Shortknee band. Some say he tried to point out a school mate.jouvert2

Shortknees gave new meaning to “having something up your sleeve,” they added “sharp.” I once saw a policeman try to drive some on. They went into that prancing overdrive and started a hissing song, kicking up their feet as they, contrary to his orders, came closer. As you know policemen don’t actually run unless they’re in Iraq. That officer suddenly found someone across the street that suddenly needed his urgent and undivided attention. Even the marauding Jabs kept their distance. Ever wonder why Shortknee is the only mas that can use their uniform year after year. Have you ever heard of a Jab Shortknee fight or for that matter a Jab Jab dirtying a Shortknee? I have seen Jab bands part to allow a Shortknee troop through and you know Jabs don’t part for just anybody. As a matter of fact Jabs hardly played past 11 am. Yeah they say its because they’re now tired. This just happens to be the time Shortknee come out to start their eight (8) hour time managed run: Coincidence? I think not.Traditional Mas Shortknee

That’s another thing about the scariest mas; they played in the hottest sun, fully clothed, yet still moved as though they were on nuclear fuel. Have you ever wondered the temperature inside a Shortknee suit? I’ve never heard a Shortknee cry for tired, never.

They never appeared to be moving fast, but the group the bus passed in Grenville was already in Tivoli Junction, identical colors, mirrors and evil masks, all by the time we got there. The small eerie wire mask that never fully fit a human face, the clothes that stayed new even on a Tuesday afternoon and, so rumor says, got newer the more they played. They all looked uniform yet were very different as you got closer, the circles and the diamonds, the mirrors with no reflection.

That’s why years later, the Exorcist made me to yawn. That’s why when they tell me Jab Jab is Devil Mas, I just laugh; someone got too much powder in their face some carnival way back then. Was it really powder?

M. Martin Lewis is a political science professor and former Grenadian calpysonian. He currently resides in New York City.

A CARNIVAL STORY by M. Martin Lewis [part 1 of 2]


By M. Martin Lewis

Note well: I’m not talking about this lovable cuddly Shortknee in New York that Val and company play every year, advertising in Carib News and lifting their masks to peer into NBC cameras on Eastern Parkway. As anything in New York, that’s the watered down version of my earliest fears. A real Shortknee’s face was never exposed; you guessed at who it was.carnival-1

Exposing the identity of the Shortknee was a no no. Not one part of a Shortknee body’s could ever be exposed, and therein lay the evil; how do you know anything human occupied those clothes?

Gouyave and Victoria or Victoria and Gouyave, in one of their scarce displays of unity, did bring a Vecco band one year. They violated some sacred Shortknee laws and the rest was history. For one they violated the upper limit rule of no more than 20, they were too much, hundreds. They used capes, with heavy clogged boots with nails, mauve and black overcoats and black painted “swords” that only the foolish would believe were made of wood, all wrong. True, they did look like death itself, but that was their error. Death is too human, death can be defined. To be really scary, no one must define you, as Mamymaladee, that Shortknee edge the Veckos failed to capture.

Some say they intended to show up Shortknees as being soft, I think it was just another attempt by Gouyave to become Grenada’s capital. Well they came down, they trampled and Carnival was never the same again. History notes a sailor band from the Wharf met them on the Esplanade, no man blinked, two freight trains collided and the street sweepers washed away the red. I know however them conniving Shortknee was behind the whole set up. Historians still have some pictures of the small Shortknee band that went up St.John’s street minutes before the big clash took place. Yes, they led them in and escaped in the melee.


Unlike other mas in small bands, a Shortknee never asked for anything, they would just stop and keep singing. The little wire masks just kept looking in your direction no matter how you turned, in the end you had to fork over money; your Pageant money, your Tuesday money, any money that you had.   They needed no chain or rope to keep order or block cars. If you didn’t give money you knew you risked a contract being accepted on your life or on a limb. I remember digging in the crease of my father’s passenger car seat to pay a group that stopped us in Upper Capital one year. My father had answered sheepishly that he had no money. Yes, I saved the family that day. [Link to part 2]

M. Martin Lewis is a political science professor and former Grenadian calpysonian. He currently resides in New York City.