Calypso, which started life in the Trinidad carnival
and has never strayed far from it, is in its roots a music of the streets
. Its original setting was the outdoor celebration that lasted from jouvay (Monday morning) through Shrove Tuesday (after which Lent begins). Then, around 1900, pre-Carnival song practices by masquerade bands were formalized in a corner of the yard where a masquerade band was being assembled. That area was sometimes covered with a sail or tarp and was called a "tent." It was there that the chantwells (masquerade-band singers) ran through their Carnival songs, with rank and file band members joining in the chorus.
Belairs, lavways, kalindas, bongos, and African music formed the basis of the 19th-century Carnival music of the streets and this robust grassroots music has continued to the present day though with the development of the steelband the name lavway has given way to the phrase "road march," the street music especially designed to be played by a steelband.
As the middle class took over street Carnival in the 1890s, they gentrified this vigorous musical calaloo (stew or potpourri). Their more formalized songs were sung in the fancy masquerade camps where English was the language of prestige.
At the same time that calypso in English was being developed in the tents, estate owners in their "big houses" and senior government officials hosted masquerade Carnival balls featuring Venezuelan style string bands to accompany traditional quadrilles and Latin pasaos or castillians. (Trinidad had originally been a Spanish colony and there still were remnants of Spanish music in parts of the island). By the 1920s, Venezuelan string bands (along with clarinet or flute, and possibly the piano) and song styles, especially the paseo and the castillian, were pervasive in the middle-class calypso tents, and at least one tent manager-calypsonian did not allow "African" instruments (drums, bamboo stamping tubes, maracas, vera or guira) to be played. Still later, in the 1930s, instruments like those played by U.S. jazz bands -- trumpet, saxophone, trombone plus string bass, guitar and drums -- became popular, and with the important exception of the steelband's development, and the arrival of electric guitars and keyboards via U.S. soul music as calypso transmuted into soca, things have not changed all that much since.
Before World War I, the evolving poetic forms of calypso began to be described as half or semi-tone, single tone, and ballad calypso. Semi-tone was just a reworking of any two-line street Carnival tune with new lyrics. Single tone was a tune ("tone") with four lines. The double tone contained an eight-line verse and a four-line chorus. Double-tone was often used for songs of selfpraise or of ridicule of competing singers that were called oratorical calypsos or war songs (songs of "picong" or insult). Finally, any calypso that told a story was called a calypso ballad.
Published before on allmusic.com. Placed with permission.