CREATIVE SPACE #21  of 2020 (uploaded December 2nd 2020)

CREATIVE SPACE is a series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and ran to 2019 on Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. There are plans for its continued evolution across multiple media platforms. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean authorjournalist, and freelancer.

Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared on December 2nd 2020  in the Daily Observer: DO A Brief History

Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with extras.

If you would like to be featured or to sponsor (i.e. advertise with) a future installment of the online edition of CREATIVE SPACE, BOOSTing your BRAND while boosting Antigua-Barbuda Art and Culture, contact Joanne.

CREATIVE SPACE:  A Brief History of Calypso in Antigua

A doc entitled A Brief History of Calypso in Antigua has been sitting in draft on my hard drive for a while. The recent passing of Calypso Joe moved me to return to it, reflecting on where Joe, enduring and yet overshadowed, fits in to that history.

Calypso Joe tells the stories behind the stories during the one and only (so far) Antigua and Barbuda TEDx event in 2015. (This is a screen grab)

One story that speaks to me as an artist and arts advocate is that Joe, born 1948 in Johnsons Point, had the good fortune to have a principal, Cuthbert Philip, who saw potential and nurtured it. He bought three guitars for the village primary school and put Joe in charge of them, and the rest is history. There’s a lot more that would have shaped Joe as an artist – things he spoke of in his TEDx Talk in 2015 – Calypso Joe TedX 3but sustained exposure to the arts in school cannot be undervalued. And yet somehow we manage to undervalue it.

From this root, Joe, writer and composer of all his songs, debuted in the calypso arena in 1969 with ‘We shall overcome’, inspired by the Black Power struggle and having to report on the news of the day in school, and ‘Antigua on Fire’. The following year, 1970, Calypso Joe snatched the Road March title (Antigua’s first, official, non-imported Road March) with the classic ‘Bum Bum’. A lesser known fact is that he placed second that year in the Monarch competition with ‘Review’. And then came the breakthrough year, 1971, when he claimed the crown with ‘Educate the Youths’ and ‘Recorded in History’ before going on to place third in the Caribbean Calypso Monarch competition.

Vintage Calypso Joe album cover.

As quoted in the news from Wadadli Pen, Joe became “the only individual not named Swallow or Short Shirt” to win the crown in the 1970s. Swallow became a giant of the art form after his breakthrough in 1973 with ‘March for Freedom’ and ‘Push Ya Push Dey’. He is one third of the Big Three (arguably the king of the road, while Short Shirt, a 15 time King beginning with his first win in 1964 with ‘No Place Like Home’ and ‘Heritage’, is nicknamed The Monarch, while Obstinate, became The Undefeated after pulling off a hat trick – 1981 ‘Independence’ and ‘Fat Man Dance’, 1982 ‘Coming down to talk to you’ and ‘Elephant Walk’, and 1983 ‘Antigua’s True Heroes’ and ‘Children Melee’ – before retiring on top). It wasn’t easy for even stellar artists with classic tunes of their own – e.g. Franco, Destroyer, and personal favourite Latuma. Yet, for one year, Calypso Joe punched through, writing his name into the annals.

And so we come to the annals. I watched a Comedy Hype doc on comedy legend Redd Foxx recently in which he was quoted as saying he dreamed of establishing a museum dedicated to Black achievement so that the children to come would see and never again doubt their greatness, their record of accomplishment. More personally, he was quoted as saying, “When 20 years from now they mention the Emmys, my name won’t be (there)…it means that I’m eliminated from the history of my profession…it’s like I wasn’t here.”

Look up the annals of Antiguan calypso, you’ll see that Styler was the first King in 1957 (with ‘Water Wet Me Bed’ and ‘Don’t Back Back on Me’), and Obsti won his first crown in ‘58 (with ‘Dance Dance Dance’ and ‘Obsti will sing Again’). But will you find early stalwarts like Bottle?Exif JPEG

RIP, Bottle.

Or Chalice’s ‘Nightmare Party’, which was a social studies primer for primary school students of the early 80s? Will anyone not around during the 70s know Shelly Tobitt to be one of Antigua and Barbuda’s greatest writers, calypso or otherwise? What of Marcus Christopher, what of Prince Ramsey? Okay, maybe you know the names now; but what isn’t recorded in history may well be forgotten with time.

What you know about Quarko who was pre-Carnival? or Blue Shirt? Zebeeda, the first calypso association president in 79, on an executive that included Wizzard, Stinger, and Solo, the only name that might ring a bell if you’re a casual fan of the art form? Jim and Scorpion in the 80s?

Calypso Jim

All with classics but not written (with the exception of Jim’s 2000 Road March win with ‘Exercise’) in to the annals alongside Zacari, Onyan, Smarty Jr., Zero, and lone female Ivena.

Joe’s now classic ‘Life of a Negro Boy’ did not win him the crown in 1972 but it was a crowd favourite and for him, as a result, a favourite Carnival memory. But memories are fickle and for this reason that years ago I met with a minister responsible to propose a virtual hall of fame, since the resources didn’t seem to be there to do a physical one, but the resources or the will didn’t seem to be there for what I was proposing either. The Carnival site exists and keeps some of the record, of course, though it could be more organized and regularly updated, and seemed to be down on the day that I wrote this.

I’ve done what I can to document some of our literary culture on the Wadadli Pen site. Among the databases in development on the site are song lyrics and songwriters. I believe this record matters, so I add to it incrementally as I pick up bits of information here and there. In that time, only two songwriters have volunteered verifiable evidence that they wrote a song, submitted lyrics, or claimed a song I might have credited to someone else. I work with them (and encourage submissions of this kind) because I believe the record matters.


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