Lord Invader and His Calypso Group Go On 'Calypso Travels'

Photo: Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways

Classic calypso from Lord Invader brings us incisive historical commentary with a new reissue of 1960's Calypso Travels.

Calypso Travels
Lord Invader and His Calypso Group

Smithsonian Folkways

31 January 2020

The history of 20th century calypso music is one strikingly well-recorded and analyzed, owing much to both its explicit sociopolitical nature and its global popularity. Calypsonian Lord Invader embodies both of these qualities. Coming from a rural background and therefore seen as less sophisticated than many of his contemporary, his lyrics nevertheless pull no punches, cutting and incisive even today. Smithsonian Folkways' new vinyl reissue of his 1960 album Calypso Travels reminds us of that clearly.

Lord Invader (né Rupert Westmore Grant) has plenty to say on Calypso Travels, commenting on colonialism in his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, local Trinidadian culture and cultural shifts, global politics, and his travels in Europe. While his point of view doesn't always age well, he certainly makes himself clear. His gender politics, in particular, are a little difficult to listen to here in 2020. "My Experience on the Reeperbahn" relays the story of a night spent with a person Lord Invader describes as a feminine-presenting man, and while it's played off as a harmless comic encounter, the language used is more than a little dehumanizing. Later, he balks at his wife's sense of independence -- as well as that of Queen Elizabeth - in "Women Trying to Rule".

"As Long As It Born in My House (Lieutenant Joe)", on the other hand, is refreshingly opposed to any shame linked to children born out of wedlock, with each verse telling a different story of a man who graciously accepts paternity of a child that's not his. Inspired by the events surrounding the Little Rock Nine, "Crisis in Arkansas" takes a stand against racial segregation in the American education system. "Cat-O-Nine Tails" and "Steel Band War" are bold statements on crime and war. It's an impressive assortment of subjects. The tracklist is filled out with Lord Invader's experiences at the World's Fair ("Beautiful Belgic" and "Auf Wiedersehen") and songs touting his skill, status, and calypso traditions in general ("Me One Alone", "Carnival", "Te We", and "Beway").

Unlike the other albums coming out in this round of the Smithsonian Folkways Vinyl Reissue series (Tuareg Music of the Southern Sahara and Gambian Griot Kora Duets), the liner notes here are not ethnographic descriptions of setting and context, nor even of the artist himself. That is fitting enough; Calypso Travels is a popular music album rather than one of Folkways' field recordings. Given that this is such a topical reissue, though, an addendum to the original liner notes would have been particularly helpful. Lord Invader's perspective on current events of his time is so strong and so integral to his music that to neglect its context even half a century later does him a disservice.

With that said, his messages are not exactly coded, and that's what makes Lord Invader and his calypsonian contemporaries so important. There's no centrism here, and, at a time when black voices were finally beginning to gain ground amid ferocious oppression, particularly in the Americas, calypso was a form of social commentary that was not only direct but easy on the ears for all audiences. It was a way to spread important messages accompanied by a memorable groove. Few calypsonians then or now have managed to make waves quite as monumentally as Lord Invader. Calypso Travels serves as a testament to his no-holds-barred politics.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.