I occasionally hear the complaint that prewar calypsos all sound the same. While I'll concede that some melodies were recycled with a certain degree of frequency, every performance that I've ever heard has always been lyrically unique. In contrast to their blues and jazz counterparts in the United States, only a relatively small number of calypsonians from Trinidad had 78s released during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. When this did occur, there were significantly fewer labels that sold this kind of music. Recording sessions almost always took place in New York City, and it is likely that the producers often used the same backing instrumentalists while in the studio. These factors may partially explain the musical sameness that pops up on particular calypso performances.
With this in mind, several of the tracks on Fall of Man: Calypsos on the Human Condition 1935-1941 may sound similar to those already compiled on previously-reviewed collections of Trinidadian music, including Calypso Breakaway 1927-1941, Roosevelt in Trinidad: Calypsos of Events, Places, and Personalities 1933-1939, Calypsos from Trinidad: Politics, Intrigue & Violence in the 1930s, Calypso Pioneers 1912-1937, and Calypso Calaloo. As its title suggests, however, this CD features performances that, according to John H. Cowley's booklet notes, focus on "philosophical observations, the role of superstition, life, death, money, status and the eternal theme of male-female relations." Consequently, many of these tracks deal with the same thematic territory that is often covered in blues recordings from the same era, even if the arrangements and the calypso singers' generally more sophisticated vocabulary render them musically and lyrically distinct.
The most common subject addressed in these songs is intergender affairs, with some lyrics being sympathetic to women and others downright hostile. In a nod to Trinidad's ethnic Indian population, "Sadhu Man" by the Tiger (Neville Marcano) describes using Hindu ascetism as a remedy to black magic practiced by unfaithful women. Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore) and Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo) blame rhumba records sold by retailer-promoter Eduardo Sa Gomes for causing their women to lose interest in them as detailed in "Young Girl's Touch." Despite their seemingly complimentary titles, several performances warn male listeners about the dangers of increased female power and autonomy, among them Atilla's "Women Will Rule the World" and "Woman Is Not the Weaker Sex" in addition to "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" by King Radio (Norman Span). The names of other songs are more blatant statements of misogyny as demonstrated by Atilla's "Vagaries of Women" and "Not Me with Matrimony." King Radio and the Lion (Rafael de Leon) respectively utilize Biblical allegories to provide commentary on the battle of the sexes in "Ribs" and "Fall of Man," while Beginner and Atilla's "Women Are Good and Women Bad" and the Lion and Atilla's "I Will String Along with You" offer a more balanced view of things. Calypso lyrics often concern themselves with polyamory and infidelity. In the case of "Radio Fifty Wives," King Radio boasts of his multiple lovers, whereas the Growler (Errol Duke) condemns his lady for her involvement with other men in "Don't Hide Him Behind the Door." Atilla continues with his gripes about the opposite sex on "Martiniquen," in which he details the treacherous ways of a wanton girl from Martinique but also acknowledges her superb romantic skills. In "Calypso Behind the Wall," the Growler cautions men about the dangers of relationships with women who would give birth to children out of wedlock, or as he simply puts it, "Try an' keep away from bastardy." "Only Foreigners" gives the singer an opportunity to fantasize about women (from Trinidad and elsewhere) of non-African heritage who were off-limits to the lowborn calypsonians. Of course, even the most hardened womanizers and battle-scarred veterans of the dating game have a soft spot for Mom in their hearts, a sentiment touchingly reflected in "Warning the Children Towards Mother" by King Radio and "Mother's Love" by the Mighty Destroyer (Clifford Morris).
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The subject matter of the remaining tracks on Fall of Man centers on other elements of human existence expressed in a uniquely Trinidadian fashion. The imitative primate portrayed in "Monkey" - a musical observation on peoples' behavior by King Radio, the Lion, and the Tiger - allows the singers to comment on "their own activities," while "rivalry between the monkey and singers provides comic tension," according to Cowley. Wealth, or lack thereof, was another subject that lent itself well to calypsos. The Executor (Philip Garcia) stresses the importance of education in escaping poverty in "Hold Up Black Bird Hold Up," while Atilla exhorts his listeners to beware duplicitous associates attracted only to money in "Friends." In "Exploiting," the Caresser (Rufus Callender) holds the objects that one can acquire with wealth in high regard but also condemns the means by which various opportunists achieved their affluence. Atilla's "If I Won a Sweepstake," a musical daydream about winning the lottery to which we all can probably relate, closes out the list of money-related songs. Finally, we have the Lion's insightful meditations on gossip, as articulated in "Malicious Neighbours," in addition to the fate that awaits us all, better known as "Death."
1. Sadu Man - The Tiger
2. Young Girl's Touch - Lord Beginner with Atilla the Hun
3. Women Will Rule the World - Atilla the Hun
4. Vagaries of Women - Atilla the Hun
5. Ribs - King Radio
6. Women Are Good and Women Are Bad - Lord Beginner with Atilla the Hun
7. Fall of Man - The Lion
8. Monkey - King Radio, The Lion, The Tiger
9. Radio Fifty Wives - King Radio
10. Warning the Children Towards Mother - King Radio
11. Hold Up Black Bird Hold Up - The Executor
12. Friends - The Atilla
13. Martiniquen - The Atilla
14. I Will String Along with You - The Lion and Atilla
15. Exploiting - The Caresser
16. Calypso Behind the Wall - The Growler
17. Not Me with Matrimony - Atilla the Hun
18. Only Foreigners - The Growler
19. Malicious Neighbours - The Lion
20. Woman Is Not the Weaker Sex - Atilla the Hun
21. Death - The Lion
22. Don't Hide Him Behind the Door - The Growler
23. If I Won a Sweepstake - Atilla the Hun
24. Mother's Love - Mighty Destroyer
25. Man Smart, Woman Smarter - King Radio