Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Shango, Shouter and Obeah: Supernatural Calypso From Trinidad 1934-1940 [Rounder, 2001]
Yoruba rites, Holiness Christianity, and witchcraft were all banned by the British, and compiler Dick Spottswood is probably right to insist that calypsonians who mined them masked their commitments--that concealed beneath satire and critique were sympathy and support. But even when Lion or Caresser sings in Yoruba, the camouflage starts with the music, the formulaic charm of which depends on stock melodies and well-rehearsed orchestras. As un-African as any contemporary black Caribbean style save the politest danzón, calypso exemplified what the old ways resisted. Artists may have been attracted to those ways, but not like they were to calypso's urban airs. A concept that subsumes such mixed motives is exploitation, which I mean unpejoratively, although a religious person might demur. Why not play to the rustics who guarded tradition as you exoticized them for your core audience? Why not hot up your formula with the spice of their lives--a gospel chorus, a little Yoruba? What a great idea for a novelty record. B+