“I’ve opened the doors for many women!”
Calypso Rose or Queen of Calypso is a women’s rights activist who from the age of thirteen composed almost 800 songs, singing on cruise ships for the New York-based company Celebration At Sea, before sharing the legendary stages of the Apollo and Madison Square Garden with two of the greatest calypsonians, Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow. One of her first songs, ‘No Madame’, written in the ‘70s, contributed to changing the laws regarding the treatment of domestic servants in Trinidad.
Linda McCartha, who would later go by Calypso Rose, was born on the Tobago island of the island country Trinidad and Tobago, off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean, where she led a bucolic life among nature and the waves with her twelve sisters until the age of nine. She was then adopted by her childless aunt and forced to confront the challenges of life in the metropolitan city of Port of Spain on the neighboring island of Trinidad. She was subjected to bullying shortly after arriving in Trinidad due to being a ‘small islander’, which took her by surprise because in her mind Trinidad and Tobago were one and the same.
According to her sister, Calypso is one of the foremost elements of African culture as well as a storytelling device, making it the perfect instrument for Rose who had so much to say. She describes how Rose’s music relays the stories of their great grandmother and -father; Back to Africa in particular. Calypso Rose dedicated this song to her great-grandmother, who sits at the center of her earliest memory:
“My great-grandmother was kidnapped, bought and sold, and ended up in Tobago. She never went back to [her home of] French Guinea. Every evening, she would sit by the seaside and would always shake her head and say ‘no man knows their burial ground’.”
Calypso Rose’s songs tell her own story. She grew up in Trinidad as a young middle-class woman, became independent from a very young age, and made sense of life. She was also sexually abused as a teenager, as she bravely confessed in Calypso Rose, Lioness of the Jungle, the 2009 documentary about her. In her songs, she encourages women to resist, to persevere, to say no, and to tell their stories and recount their experiences. In 1963, one year after Trinidad and Tobago declared independency, Calypso Rose released her first record. Rose was the first female calypso star in the male-dominated music industry and her lyrics frequently address the societal inequality, racism, and sexism experienced by many women. In ‘No Madame’, the song she wrote in the ‘70s that helped change the laws regarding the treatment of domestic servants in Trinidad, she puts herself in the shoes of a domestic servant and stands up to the lady of the house. With the refrain, ‘No, Madame!’ she reminds women of their right to say no.
Here is an amazing live performance of the song:
In 1972, Calypso Rose was the first artist to be awarded the title of Calypso Queen and, six years later, the gender-neutral title of Calypso Monarch. Although she lives in New York, each February as the streets of Port of Spain start bustling with carnival fever, she returns to her native country to partake in and facilitate the exuberance. According to Jean Michel Gibert, Rose’s manager, “600 of her 800 songs are about the carnival. It is due to Calypso Rose that today, women comprise 70% of carnival participants. She has encouraged them to maintain control of both the carnival and the city. Her song “Fire in Me Wire” has become a veritable Calypso Anthem.”
“Calypso Rose reigns at Coachella despite fall”
In 2019, Calypso Rose’s magnificent performance at Coachella made headlines with the above words. Rose fell during her performance of ‘Young Boy. While on the ground she continued wining and sang that a young boy threw her down. A group of people eventually helped her up and the crowd roared with delight when she got back on her feet. “Be like Calypso Rose, when life throws you down get back up singing!” was one of many fan tweets after the incident. Since then, Calypso Rose has also won over the hearts of the younger generation.
If you’ve read the lyrics to the song, come right this way for this wonderful video: