Lord Kitchener ranks among black men of distinction - Among first to take Caribbean calypso across int'l waters
The calypso recording Love in the Cemetery accurately represents the genius of a man, whose wit and humour transcend all musical boundaries. Written and performed by Trinidadian Aldwyn Roberts, better known as Lord Kitchener, it tells the story of romantic lovers, who somehow have a preference to make love in - of all the places - cemeteries, or what some Jamaicans call burial grounds. It's difficult to understand why people would choose such a dull venue to enact such a happy activity, but perhaps being under the moonlight and among the dead gives them an added kick. The practice has become quite commonplace in Jamaica these days, with people even going a step further by living in cemeteries. The fear of 'duppies' is no longer an issue for them, according to one cemetery dweller: "I don't have any problem here, only the gunman dem me 'fraid of".
Kitchener's episode, however, was more frightening, as he began his story in the first stanza of the recording:
It was dark, dark dark
in a big big park.
I felt like a king upon a throne,
me and Imelda lying alone,
when I heard a talk
a creeping walk.
As I look around frightfully,
we were lying in the middle of a cemetery.
You talk about run, I nearly bus' mi head
the living running from the dead.
A ghost say, don't run mi lad
Come let we play a game of card.
Well is now a run in truth.
Mi foot stick in a mango root.
I fall down inside a tomb.
A get up with a zoom zoom zoom.
The drama escalated as the song continued:
What had me sad
and really mad
I was just about to start
a little romance wid mi sweetheart.
I kissed her twice
Just feeling nice
when a voice said, 'Mister yu brave'
to be bringing yu girlfriend on top mi grave.
You talk about run, a nearly bus mi head ...
The scream I make,
I sure the whole world shake
I now in big trouble
This time I sure I see the devil:
I see a tall white horse
on top a big black cross.
As I bawl out 'Oh Lord a dead'
the horse said 'Kitch come go to bed'.
You talk about run, a nearly bus mi head ...
As I reach the street
a tall gentleman I meet
I was feeling so happy
to tell him my plight in the cemetery.
He said 'I can understand
you're a wild young man.
But still you're not to be blamed
when I was alive I was just the same'.
Done in Trinidad to the beat of soaring calypso rhythms laced with rich horns by the Island Record Orchestra, the recording was a big hit right across the length and breadth of Jamaica, after being distributed by West Indies Records Limited and Beverley's Records in Jamaica. It was typical Kitchener, whose wit and humour have done so much to shape the content and form of modern calypso. He played more than a significant role in establishing calypso music as an internationally accepted genre, leading the way by taking calypso to the United Kingdom in 1948. He was in Jamaica the previous year en route to the mother country, answering the call for migrant workers to fill a depleted labour force there. By then, Kitchener had become a household name in Trinidad and Tobago, bolstered by his first hit, Fig Tree, in 1942.
In almost no time after his arrival in the United Kingdom, Kitchener's genius was attracting the appeal of commoners as well as royalties. He had Buckingham Palace's royal toes tapping in approval to his early records. A youthful Princess Margaret was so thrilled by his late 1940s hit, Ah Bernice, that she bought 100 copies of the record. Its risquÈ lyrics, skilfully constructed by Kitchener, seemed particularly appealing:
Kitch, come go to bed,
I have a small comb to scratch your head.
Kitch, don't make me cry.
You know I love you, you're playing shy.
Like Jamaican sound system operators, who used the overseas farm -work programme as a guise to acquire rhythm and blues vinyl records to play on their Sound, Kitchener similarly used the trip to propagate calypso in Europe, while opening new avenues for himself.
Being a man to whom memories were an encumbrance, Kitchener was of the resolve that, once he has made his contribution in a particular area and place, it was time to move on, and so, accordingly, he did, and soon had his first release on English soil - London is the Place for Me. Kitchener perhaps made his greatest impact in England with his penning of The Victory Calypso (Cricket, Lovely Cricket), which was crucial to West Indian post-colonial societies.
Sung by Lord Beginner, it immortalised one of the most defining moments in West Indies cricket, graphically summing up the West Indies' historic first victory over England on English soil, in the second Test match at Lord's from June 24 to 29, 1950. The last stanza ran:
When Washbrook century had ended
West Indies voice all blended.
Hats went into the air
People shout and jump without fear
So at Lord's was the scenery.
It bound to go down in history.
Kitchener ranks alongside Jamaica's Lord Flea, as black men of distinction, who first took Caribbean calypso into international waters. With carnival - one of the offsprings of calypso - just complete here in Jamaica, it is timely that we are paying tribute to a man who has been hailed as a Caribbean institution and genius, who use saucy lyrics to describe events, personal problems, human frailties and political issues, with equal irony and wit. He returned to Trinidad in 1963 and immediately began to dominate the Road March song competition, winning a record 10 times. Some 20 years after his last victory in 1976, Kitchener was still turning out music that was the envy of younger singers.
Born in Arima, Trinidad, in 1922, he died of blood infection and kidney failure in February 2000 at age 77.