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Title: Chantwell  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Calypsonian, Kaiso
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Cariso is a kind of Trinidadian folk music, and an important ancestor of calypso music. The word may come from carieto, a Carib word meaning "joyous song". Cariso used satirical and insulting lyrics, and is related to the picong tradition. Cariso singers, called chantwells, sang primarily in French creole.

Cariso is also Virgin Islander folk song.


The "chantwell" is another incarnation of the African "griot" tradition. On the Caribbean plantations African griots became chantwells, preserving the tribe’s history and traditions orally. They would sing to contemporary and mythical heroes and to the Gods. They would also preserve the complex oral traditions of West Africa with songs of derision, praise, satire, and lament. At first the chantwells were mostly women because the males were targeted for destruction on the plantation. On Emancipation the tradition continued and the chantwells would sing call-and-response chants called lavways lionizing and cheering on champion stickfighters. This form of music gradually evolved into the modern Calypso. As calypso developed, the role of the griot (originally a similar traveling musician in West Africa) became known as a chantwell and eventually, calypsonian. As the country became urbanized chantwells became more and more a male function but the portfolio remains the same. The chantwell is the Call, the tribe and the audience is the Response.

Rapso music in the cariso tradition

Rapso music is itself an evolution of the chantwell or griot tradition of African music in the diaspora. It is called "the poetry of Calypso" and "the Power of the Word in the rhythm of the Word". Rapso is the poetic "rap" form of Trinbagonian music -- the next evolutionary step of Calypso and Soca. It also has origins in the oral tradition elements of the performances of traditional masquerade characters in Trinidad Carnival.

Traditional masquerade characters, such as the Midnight Robber, Pierrot Grenade, and the Wild Indians, each have particular forms of poetic and musical speeches that echoed ancient African masking and poetic traditions. Rapso borrowed many of the rhythmic and performance elements of these forms.

The first wave of Rapso music occurred in the late 1960s with the invention of Rapso by its pioneer Lancelot Kebu Layne. The second wave occurred in the late 1970s and mushroomed in the early '80s with the work of Brother Resistance and the Network Rhythm Band, alongside other artists such as Brother Cetewayo and Brother Book. This wave mainstreamed Rapso music in Trinidad and Tobago and World Music.

The third wave of Rapso occurred with the advent of young groups including Kindred and Homefront in the early 1990s. They were part of a musical movement entitled the "Kiskadee Karavan" that was led by millionaire Robert Amar, who invested his money in the unleashing of the young musical genius of Trinidad and Tobago. The Karavan revolutionised Trinidad’s music by taking "traditional" forms such as the Rapso and giving it modern production and promotional methods to take the music to stadiums in the native Trinidad and Tobago. This opportunity uncovered many talents on the ground, and created a series of anthemic musical singles. The song "This Trini Could Flow" by super-group Kindred took Rapso into the 21st century and firmly entrenched the music as a form comparable to hip-hop and dancehall.

Calypso influence on rap

The basic elements of hip-hop -- boasting raps, rival posses, uptown throwdowns, and political commentary -- were all present in Trinidadian music as long ago as the 1800s, though they did not reach the form of commercial recordings until the 1920s and 30s. Calypso -- like other forms of music -- continued to evolve through the 50s and 60s. When rock steady and reggae bands looked to make their music a form of national and even international Black resistance, they took Calypso's example. Calypso itself, like Jamaican music, moved back and forth between the predominance of boasting and toasting songs packed with 'slackness' and sexual innuendo and a more topical, political, 'conscious' style.

See also


  • ProudFlesh
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