Calypso Rose Gives the NAC a Night to Remember

Photos by Andre Gagne

Calypso Rose overlooked the National Arts Centre floor plan for Southam Hall, where she would be performing. She looked at the auditorium seating and asked the staff: "But where will they dance?"

Before they could answer, she answered her own question. 

"Don’t worry. I’ll have them dancing!"

I was born here in Ottawa but my ‘parts’ come from Trinidad. Both my parents moved here years ago and have lived here ever since. I am extremely proud of my Trinidadian culture so when the NAC reached out and asked me if Ottawa Life wanted to cover Calypso Rose the answer was an enthusiastic Yes!!!!

When you say the word, Calypso, in Ottawa many people will think it’s a water park. Calypso is the music of the Caribbean. It combines many instruments like drums, steel pan, horns and it is a source of entertainment and many times current events, for those who listen to it.

Calypso Rose is a musical icon. Trinidad’s Carnival is well known the world over for it’s vibrant costumes and celebrations. It is the most significant event in the Caribbean. Every year one of the big awards is the ‘Road March’ award. This goes to the most popular song of the year at Carnival. This award started in 1930 and in 1977, Calypso Rose was the first female winner. She won again in 1978.

Her career, which has included over 800 songs and 20 albums, doesn’t seem to be slowing down.  Oh, did I mention she is 77?

Linda McArtha Monica Sandy-Lewis, aka Calypso Rose, emerged onto the NAC stage in a beautiful red outfit and from the moment she stood in front of the crowd she had the near capacity audience on it’s feet.

Performing some of her classic songs like ‘Gimme More Tempo’ and ‘Leave Me Alone’ she would often grind her hips in front of the crowd as she danced and essentially dared the audience to keep up. Some could, most couldn’t.

At the end of songs when people went to sit down she would challenge them ‘Stand up!’

Her set list called for an intermission but she ignored it. ‘Can you guys keep going?’ she asked the band. They said yes and the music went on.

Calypso Rose may not have been running back and forth as a bout with diabetes and a pace maker may have slowed her down a little but she still has tons of energy.

Between songs she should tell stories such as the impact of slavery on her family and how men should never abuse women. She commanded this audience and you couldn’t’ help but fall under her trance.

Like any form of music, Calypsonian artists come and go, but to have a career that has spanned over 50 years is nothing short of phenomenal.

At the end of her performance she stayed on stage and shook hands with enthusiastic audience members and received countless gifts.

Her band, opening act, Kobo Town, was visibly appreciative of performing with this legend as when the show concluded each one of them took a turn to hug this Queen of Calypso.

This wonderful night of Trinidadian culture kicked off with a steel pan performance in the foyer of the NAC.

Kobo Town, opened for Calypso Rose and delivered a very enthusiastic set. This 7 member group is from Toronto and is led by Trinidadian-Canadian singer Drew Gonsalves.

They were also a big hit with the crowd and I can understand why they recently won a Canadian Folk Music Award for World Music Album of the Year.

I have been to many shows at the NAC but it is very rare to see a crowd so engaged from beginning to end. The music may have originated from Trinidad but the audience that appreciated it last night was global.

I went into the NAC with 9,000 steps on my Fitbit. After dancing the night away, I left with 21,000.

Calypso Rose doesn’t need to fret over seating charts. Like she promised, she knows how to keep an audience dancing.

Set Lists:

Kobo Town

In the Dew and the Rain
Mr. Monday
Kaiso Newscast
Half of the Houses
Joe the Paranoiac
Man in the Wardrobe
St. James
King Sugar
Strange Dream
Karachi Burning
Tick Tock Goes the Clock
When Jonas Saw the Light

Calypso Rose

I am African
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Leave Me Alone
No Madam
Back to Africa
Israel by Bus
Far From Home
Calypso Queen
Gimme More Tempo
Fire in Me Wire
Wah Fu Dance