Girl Goes Calypso, a 1957 US movie, one of three major
calypso movies made in the 1950s.
Maharaj with some of his calypso artefacts.
The kinky afro he sports isnt natural but his love
for calypso and all things Carnival is.
Hes 100 per cent East Indian and 150 per cent
Trinidadian, says George D Maharaj, the calypso-phile
whose collection of calypso artefacts and trivia is legendary.
Hes put some of that info together in a book, The
Roots of Calypso, launched in November at the National Library.
His hair, he admits, is permed. What can you expect from
the son of a beauty maven? Madam Maharaj, souths late
famous beautician, was his mother. Her picture, garlanded,
is prominently displayed in his family home in San Fernando.
His 92-year-old father still lives there and Maharaj, after
living in Canada since 1969, is once more calling it home.
Hes here in Trinidadon one years sabbatical
from his computer operator job in Canadafor a tour
not only to promote the book but to share with young people
his passion for the art form.
When he goes to lecture to schools he takes a CD he burned
from his collection of vintage and current music. Scrunters
Jumbie is on ithe says its his favourite calypso,
everand so is a version of Brown Skin Girl recorded
by the Charmer. (Back in the 50s that was the sobriquet
used by a young man who would, in time, grow up to be US
Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan.)
Part of his 5,000-artefact collection is here with him,
including the cover of the first record of any kind to sell
over 1,000,000 copiesCalypso, an album by US star
all came out in the mid-50s, he says of three Hollywood
movies on calypso, thats when the big calypso
craze was. In the background, a scratchy version of
Nat King Coles Calypso Blues is playing.
He started this monumental collection with one record, Sparrows
More, Sparrow, More, in 1969.
Thats when he left Trinidad to study computers abroad.
Out there, he found that his roots as a Trini were in pan
had to show off to the other races I was in school with,
he said in his quick, lightly accented Trini English. We
hold on to the red, white and black.
More, Sparrow, More, is probably the best calypso album
ever, he said. With hits like Sa Sa Ay, 60 Million Frenchmen
and The Lizard, it set the bar high. Maharaj was well hooked.
He started seriously collecting in 1980, he said, and began
making trips to T&T to interview calypsonians.
They remain his major local source; theres precious
little about calypso in the land of its birth. He can get
more about it in the Smithsonian than the National Library.
Now hes a walking encyclopaedia on the art form. For
instance, he could tell you that one Morey Amsterdam came
to Trinidad in the 1940s and recorded Invaders 1943
road march, Rum and Coca Cola, then sold it to the Andrews
Sisters, who made it a big hit. It sold seven million. In
1947 Invader won a US court judgment against them and damages
His book is volume one of a series, he said. It includes
the stage and true names of most calypsonians;
a list of road marches from 1897 to now (and second place
winners from 1948); and calypso monarchs from 1929 to now.
As Rawle Gibbons said in his remarks at the book launch,
It is not an academic book
it is not a book
that looks at calypso as literature
nor is it a book
that looks at the music of calypso
. But it is a handbook
that puts a lot of information together between two covers.
Gibbons called on Government to acquire Maharajs collection
and use it as the base of a calypso institute. Right now
most of it is housed in George basement in Toronto.
That basement is not only a one-stop-shop for calypso researchers;
it begat a Web site (www.rootsofcalypso.com) and a monthly
kaiso breakfast that for two years was a hotspot in black
The breakfasts ended in 2002 and Maharaj thinks he may bring
them back, someday. But for now, hell continue researching,
collecting, lecturing. And loving calypso.
Maharaj is available until Carnival to give free lectures
to schools on the importance of calypso and calypsonians.
For information, call him at 657-7484 or e-mail [email protected]
or [email protected].