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Day-Oh Saving Time

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Flower Steel Drum Song: Legendary performer Calypso Rose melds the musical colors of Africa, Central America and the Caribbean on Sunday at Palookaville.

Calypso's sexy island beat remains one of the sweetest songs on the planet and delights in its place in the sun

By Christina Waters

Students of world beat, Latin rhythms and those who just like to get lost in musical space can plan on an aural orgy this Sunday when Palookaville throbs to the "Best of the Caribbean." Calypso Rose provides earthy vocals from her native Trinidad--maternal home of calypso. Masters of steel pan stylings Pan Ramajay bring their improvisational and jazz riffs from the huge, bodacious world of Brazilian soca. And Len "Boogsie" Sharp shares the spotlight with his world-class steel drums. Wear loose clothes and plan on burning a week's worth of calories at this Soca/Calypso Carnival.

Calypso Rose, a big, vibrant woman with a smile like island sunshine, has been on the Caribbean music map since she wrote the immortal "Fire in Me Wire," calypso's unofficial anthem, in 1966. She's been tearing down the doors of the male-dominated field ever since, producing song after song, album after album, even taking on the agitated rhythms of soca with her 1994 album Soca Diva, which she showcased that year in dozens of countries on a world touring binge.

Back in the mid-'50s, Harry Belafonte brought the sexy street sounds of Trinidad and Tobago's calypso music straight into the hearts and minds of North Americans. They responded by making his Calypso (1956) the first album ever to sell one million copies. The album spent seven months at the top of U.S. charts. "Day-oh, da-aa-aay-oh. Daylight come and me want go home," Harry wailed in a voice dripping irony and sheer animal magnetism. My mother had a Belafonte pin-up over her sewing machine for as long as I can remember.

But calypso really began back in the 18th century, where plantation slaves, forbidden to talk to each other, started chanting their political concerns, jokes and sexual innuendoes into melodic patois. In it, Africa and the West Indies collaborate with island-born folk philosophy, humor and smartass wit. Lyrics are blatantly racy, while the music--still the sound of choice during street festivals, church processions and, most obviously, carnival--reveals its family ties to Latin American samba and Jamaican reggae.

Calypso rose brings memories of all those roving Trini street bands and marching processionals in her great big jammin' songs like "The Action Is Tight." But in the best calypso tradition, much of her music talks politics like in "The Balance Wheel" and current social pressures in "Gun Play on the Parkway." Rose has been given every honor the Caribbean can bestow on its living musical treasures. Spicy and sweet, her music carries forward the island tradition and, most recently marries calypso and soca, for which she won "Best Female Soca Artist" at the 1995 Reggae Soca Awards in Miami.

Top-billed along with Calypso Rose is a Trinidad steel drum prodigy whom many consider the world's master of his percussive instrument. Boogsie Sharp may have been born tapping out a calypso beat on his baby crib, but over the years this gifted stylist has pushed the boundaries of "pan" into jazz and even classical.

As composer and performer, Sharp has played with jazz greats like Wynton Marsalis, and Art Blakey. The folks at the Montreux Jazz Festival have wept over the dazzling range of his talent.

To round out this awesome bill of Caribbean sounds, from the roots up to the contemporary variations, the eclectic Pan Ramajay will be on board to work the edges of steel band repertoire, from Trinidad's mighty 100-player Panorama bands to contemporary soca, Latin pop and Afro-Cuban. Pan Ramajay is five players, an arsenal of nine steel pans and some woodwinds guaranteed to overhaul your ears and liberate your ideas of the steel band concept.

This is potentially a life-altering concert.


Best of the Caribbean Calypso Rose, Len "Boogsie" Sharp and Pan Ramajay play Sunday, (9pm) at Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave., SC (454-0600). The $12.50 advance tickets are available at Palookaville, Cymbaline, Baseline and all BASS outlets (they'll cost $14 at the door).

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From the May 23-29, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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