Sometimes music finds a home in the most unlikely of places. Who could guess calypso would find an audience in Berlin? The sound of Trinidad during the mid-twentieth century is thriving in a city known for its diverse party scene. “The calypsonian vibe gets to everyone and anyone,” exclaims American-born Lord Mouse, leader of Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz, Europe’s only big band calypso outfit. After years of performing, the 17-piece ensemble has finally released their debut album, Go Calypsonian.
How did calypso make its way east to Germany? According to Lord Mouse, he sang on cruise ships in the Caribbean years ago. One night in Port of Spain, Mouse and several musicians were served some alcohol so strong the local drunks wouldn’t even touch it. Needless to say it caught the group by surprise and they accidently missed their ship that night. They awoke the next morning and realized they’d left most of their supplies on the boat and shared pocket change between them. The stranded passengers began performing calypso on street corners and in cafes to earn enough money to travel home. Five months later they returned to Europe and decided to continue performing the music they’d fallen in love with.
A few listeners may experience a knee-jerk reaction when they hear about a mostly Caucasian band playing the music of people directly descended from slaves. This is addressed on the up-tempo “White Boy Calypso,” a standout track on Go Calypsonian. “We don’t get to play in Caribbean festivals because of our skin color,” explains Mouse. “The theme of this song reiterates what Stevie Wonder sings about in ‘Sir Duke:’ music is an equal-opportunity venture and should always remain that way.” While the band may not be from Trinidad, the members are multinational and dedicated to preserving and promoting a style of music that’s mostly unfamiliar in Europe.
The large ensemble (4 horns, 2 percussionists, double bass, ukulele, guitar, piano, and a female vocal sextet) achieves a mighty sound, full of humorous commentary and sensual lyrics. The charismatic Lord Mouse leads the group with pizzazz, guiding them through a strong set of mostly original compositions. “Edward the VIII” borrows from the classic calypso song “Love, Love Alone” and alters the lyrics to pay homage to the abdication of King Edward. “Chunga Changa,” is a wild Soviet cartoon track, which comes courtesy of Russian bassist General Confusion. “The Goombay Drum” pays tribute to the instrument which has become synonymous with calypso. Throughout Go Calypsonian Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz put on a show complete with charming female harmonies, bold horns and hip-shaking grooves. As the album states, this is urban calypso for the 21st century and it’s hard to resist the temptation to slide under the limbo stick.
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.