Saturday, January 20, 2018

A tribute to greatness



Mark Fraser

Reigning National Calypso Monarch, Eric “Pink Panther” Taylor will grace the stage at Queen’s Hall tonight for the Holy Name Convent Past Pupils Association’s (HNPPA) 2014 presentation of “Vintage Fuh So”. Taylor will pay tribute to and perform classic calypsoes as composed, sung and recorded by the Roaring Lion, as part of this year’s theme which highlights hits from the “Golden Age of calypso”.

The ‘Golden Age of calypso’ is described as the period during the 1930s and 40s when acts such as: Lord Executor, Atilla the Hun, The Growling Tiger, Lord Beginner, King Radio and The Roaring Lion — to name a few — were all in their prime.

Born Rafael de Leon in Aroquita, in the Caura Hills of northern Trinidad, the Roaring Lion spent some of his earliest years in two orphanages. He was eventually taken in, following his mother’s illness, by an elderly woman named Miss Charles who lived on Coffee Street in San Fernando. Finally, he was presented by Charles to a Muslim Indian family in San Fernando who wanted him and he was later officially adopted by Najeeran Khan. As a result of these circumstances, de Leon would champion orphanages throughout his career with songs such as 1940s “Orphan home”, for example.

From a young age, de Leon became known for his skill in creating calypsoes and in particular his ability to extemporise lyrics on any subject. Contrary to his humble origins, he cultivated a refined stage persona and always appeared sharply dressed. His career officially began in 1924, as he cut his first sides in his late teens. He recorded extensively between the 1930s and 1950s, and was one of the calypsonians who deserves a great deal of credit for the increasing international popularity of the genre during this period.

In March 1934, the Trinidadian phonograph merchant Eduardo Sa Gomes sent Roaring Lion and Attila The Hun (Raymond Quevedo) to New York to record — the pair became the first calypsonians to record abroad. De Leon was also the only calypsonian vocalist of his generation who could read and write musical notation.

Roaring Lion achieved fame for his linguistic prowess as much as for his catchy tunes. His lyrics were delivered in rapid-fire style and showed an impressive and impeccable command of the English language (as well as Trinidadian slang), in addition to being replete with witty turns of phrase, humorous metaphors, clever alliteration and internal rhymes. Of all the early calypsonians, he was by far the most scandalous: with the most banned songs by a large margin. His “Netty Netty”, which is still played today is actually a song about a prostitute who left town to have an abortion. This song shocked not only Trinidad and Tobago, but also neighbouring countries such as Grenada, where he was banned for a while (as his song “Excursion to Grenada” relates).

Additionally, the lyrics of many of his “war calypsoes” (essentially insult songs) presage those of similar hip-hop battle rap songs by over 50 years. An extract from his lyrics to “War” (which was recorded during the 1930s by Roaring Lion along with Executor, Caresser, and Attila and directed against their fellow calypsonian, Wilmoth Houdini is a particularly good example of such lyrics:

The earth is a trembling and a tumbling

And the heavens are falling and all

Because the lion is roaring.

My tongue is like the blast of a gunman...

Destruction, desolation and damnation –

All these I’ll inflict on insubordination,

Roaring Lion continued recording through the 1990s and his later recordings feature electronic and soca music backgrounds, although he continued to sing in the classic early calypso style. He was regarded as an elder statesman and historian of calypso music and frequently appeared in the Trinidadian media in this role. In 1986, he self-published a book entitled Calypso From France to Trinidad: 800 Years of History and in it, he claims that calypso is of French rather than African origin, and also shares many reminiscences about his career.

Roaring Lion died on July 11, 1999 at the age of 91 in Mt Lambert, Trinidad. Reports claim that he had ten children and he is the grandfather of Fresh Prince of Bel Air star, Alfonso Ribeiro.

During his performance at “Vintage Fuh So”, National Calypso Monarch, Eric “Pink Panther” Taylor will perform specially selected works from the Roaring Lion, including, but not limited to: the ever popular singles, “Netty Netty”, “Papa Chunks”, “Dorothy went to Bathe” and his early classic, “Ugly Woman” – which inspired the Jimmy Soul (James McCleese) hit “If You Wanna Be Happy” that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Singles charts on May 18, 1963.

Along with Taylor’s presentation of some of de Leon’s work will be renditions of the music of calypso greats such as: Lord Melody as sung by Black Sage, Lord Kitchener as sung by his son, Kernal Roberts and The Mighty Sparrow as sung by 2011 Groovy Soca Monarch, Kees Dieffenthaller.

Tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime, one night only event are available at the Queen’s Hall box office, as well as from the Past Pupils’ Association members with part proceeds going toward their Scholarship Trust Fund as well. Interested persons can e-mail: