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A century of vocal calypso recording

By Deborah John Publications Editor News/Features

Tomorrow,  at Jaffa restaurant, Queen’s Park Oval, the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) will celebrate “100 Years of Vocal Calypso Recordings. TUCO is also celebrating 100 years since the first recording of East Indian music, the work of early musical pioneers SM Akberali and Gellum Hossein which took place at the same time in Trinidad.

According to information provided by Ronnie Joseph, PRO at the Carnival  Institute:

In 1914 technicians from the Victor recording company visited Trinidad and were given the mandate to record a complete repertoire of Trinidad’s local music including calypsoes. Two of those who were recorded were Jules Sims a stick fighter who was recorded live doing a Kalenda song. He was one of the first to be recorded live. There was also Julian Whiterose who was a chantwel. He was one of the first chantwels whose work was recorded and the first vocalist to be recorded. In recognition of the anniversary of these milestones in our recording industry the Institute will again be partnering with TUCO to facilitate workshops, lectures and an exhibition.

According to John Cowley in his Carnival, Canboulay and Calypso — Traditions in the Making, the chantwel Julian Whiterose, was really Henry Julian who sang as Iron Duke and Julian White Rose. Julian was the leader of the White Rose masquerade band. A feature of the Carnival bands of the early 20th century was that they had their own chantwels and they composed their own songs. According to Cowley’s research, Henry Julian was regularly written about in the local newspapers from as early as 1900.

The Mirror newspaper had gone to listen to the band White Rose practise and reported “judging by the manner in which they are trained and conducted by their leader Mr Henry Julian, one should predict for them great success.” He was also described as “a singer of the most intellectual songs”.

So it was no surprise that in 1914, the Victor Talking Machine Company sent Theodore Terry to organise sessions in Trinidad. He was followed by the engineers for the company, George K Cheney and Charles Althouse who followed up on the arrangements made by Terry with several performers, among them Henry Julian.

The Port of Spain Gazette on August 28, 1914 described this as a ‘special trip to Trinidad for the purpose of recording a complete repertoire of Trinidadian music, including the Pasillos Spanish Waltz, and Two Steps by well known bands, also Carnival and patois songs and East Indian selections by local talent.’ Cowley tells us that The Mirror also reported ‘we understand that Mr Henry Julian, formerly of White Rose’ has been practising assiduously for the above purpose and that several other bands and performers have been engaged.’ Cowley further tells us that “Victor’s principal artist was the pianist and well-known string band leader, Lionel Belasco, Henry Julian (Iron Duke/Julian White Rose) who recorded under the sobriquet J Resigna. The other participants were were Jules Sims whose kalendas were sung in French Creole, S M Akberali and Gellum Hossein of East Indian ancestry, and the Orquestra de Venezolana de Chargo probably made up of Trinidad Creoles and some of Venezuelan origin.”

From Cowley’s research it is clear Henry Julian’s contribution to these early recordings is prolific. Many of the titles have not survived because the Victor Company’s engineers did not take down titles of these early vocal performances. Cowley states that “only descriptions of the kinds of music were printed on record labels or in company catalogues. There were was described as “Single Tone Calipsos (sic)” performed by J Resigna, one of Julian’s sobriquets. One “Double Tone Calipso” by J Resigna is also catalogued. The “Single Tone Calipsos” by J Resigna are listed as “Belle Marie Coolie” (Beautiful Marie, the East Indian), “Hooray Jubal Jay”, “Iron Duke In The Land” and “Ringing A Bell”. The double tone was named “Bayonet Charge By The Laws of Iron Duke”. Cowley also tells us that “Iron Duke In The Land” was a song  in which Julian listed some of the positions he held in the White Rose band, before he became the leader with the title Lord of Resigna, the Iron Duke. Cowley also tells us that Belle Marie Coolie concerned “black-East Indian male-female relations” which of course we know today as douglarisation. These early recordings were already paying attention to the diversity of T&T. When the first batch of these recordings arrived in Trinidad in 1915, the public was ready for them. The quality of Belasco’s work was praised as was the work of Henry Julian, The Mirror of February 8, 1915 noted.

“A novelty in creole music is afforded in calypsos (sic) after the rendering of ‘Julian 

White Rose’, the celebrated chantrel (sic), whose voice has lost none of its sweetness. His compositions on “Belle Marie Coolie”, “Carupano Rum”, etc, are good, while the Bamboo Band ‘Kalendar” is a new feature which will appeal to lovers of originality.”...the article in The Mirror noted that a large supply of records was “expected soon.”

Five days later, The Mirror of February 13, 1915 published the press notice from the Victor recording company of the official release of the records. Three of these were of SM Akberali chanting verses from the Koran, and it noted...”the popular singers Jules Sims and J Resigna contribute with some typical melodies of Trinidad which are sure to please all people who are fond of this class of music. An important addition to the collection is a small number of sacred Mohammedan chants by the eminent artist SM Akberali.”

 

Thanks to the work of Cowley and so many others who have taken the time to research and document the activity of the early days of T&T’s musical history, we can appreciate rich legacy from those early days and we salute those early pioneers.

 
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