Ageing with Dignity - No slowing down for Calypso Rose at 78
She might not live in Buckingham palace, but Calypso Rose is a queen. In fact, this royalty of the ‘House of Calypso’ even has a song called Majesty (Queen of the Road). Possessing a personality that thunders through the phone as we spoke, she was as charmingly irrepressible as only a Calypsonian can be. Simply put: Rose is a riot.
A week before her 79th birthday in April, she will be making her Coachella debut with lyrics that are as energising as they were 50 years ago. And just in case you might be thinking that Rose will be expecting any special treatment just because of her age, forget it. Rose is intending to make her debut in fine Tobago style, mesmerising the international artistes and plethora of celebrities who make the annual trek to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California, seen as the premiere music festival.
Speaking toThe Sunday Gleaner from her New York home, Rose’s excitement was palpable as she pledged to do her best for the whole world, especially the Caribbean. She will be performing on the same stage as Childish Gambino, Janelle Monae, Ella Mai, Jaden Smith, and Diplo, among others, on April 12 and 19 in the Colorado Desert.
Age is just a number
In the weeks leading up to the festival, Rose, who took pleasure in giving an impromptu concert during the interview, says she plans to take an extended trip to her native Tobago for a renewal of mind, body, and spirit.
“I will be eating lots of fish and okra and vegetables and cassava. Gimme the yam and the dasheen and the sea. I love the sea. it gives you life and strength, and I will be going there to eat some conch and for a sea bath. It is so therapeutic,” she said, adding with a loud laugh that she might even skinny-dip. “Can you imagine the reaction? People would think they are seeing an angel,” the irrepressible Rose, who, is an ordained minister, said.
Rose says her Coachella debut is a prelude to a hectic 2019 schedule that will see her literally travelling the globe. Her post-show itinerary includes Italy, Sweden, and Germany, and then in May, she will be going to Rouen, Glastonbury in the UK, Vienna, Spain, Ostrava in the Czech Republic, and in July, she will again be in the Czech Republic and also Benicàssim in Spain. Last year, Rose had over 50 sold-out shows in Europe alone.
Of course, this led to the inevitable question about retirement. Rose, when informed that here in Jamaica the conversation is ongoing, especially as it relates to females artistes she exploded.
“Retire! What retire? Tell them to keep on working until God says when. I have a full schedule for 2019, and we are still taking dates. I’m doing Coachella for the first time at my age, and I am still putting out new music and selling records. Who are these people who want to dictate to artistes when to retire?” the sassy platinum-selling Calypsonian demanded to know.
“Tell them (women) to drink ginger with garlic. it is good for their health. When I’m on tour, I’m the only one who doesn’t get sick, so I have to give my team some of my special tonic, and in no time, they are thanking me because they feel better so quickly,” she said.
Rose did point out, however, that over the years, she has had her personal health challenges, which included breast cancer in 1996, stomach cancer in 2009, and then there was an incident in which Rose says she “died and they brought me back to life. I lost four pints of blood and my lungs collapsed, but God had a purpose for me and he spared my life”.
Bringing joy to Thousands
Rose says that her purpose is to bring joy to thousands of people. “I travel all over the world, and I see sometimes up to 40,000 young people dancing in front of me, and I say, ‘thank you Lord for sparing me to bring joy and peace and enjoyment to these people’,” she said.
And to show that she has no intention of slowing down, Rose recently did a collab with Machel Montano, appropriately entitled Young Boy, and Rose is having loads of fun with this one.
“The song was done years ago, and is actually a real story. But now, when people hear it, they say, ‘Whew! Rose looking for a young boy’, and I just smile,” she said. Laughing, she tells of an incident when she was performing the song and a young boy jumped on stage shouting, “Grandma, Grandma, I want to marry you!’ “Thank the Lord that he brought me back to life,” she giggled, adding cheekily, “Anytime yuh husband leave yuh, go look a young boy.”
Calypso Rose, born McCartha Linda Sandy-Lewis, has amassed a mountain of awards during her illustrious career. The holder of her country’s highest award – Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – she received the World Album of the Year award at the Victoire de la Musique award ceremony in France in 2017. Rose’s album, Far from Home, competed against rock group Acid Arab with its album Music of France and Rokia Traore with her album Born So. The Sacem Grands Prix are musical awards given annually to professionals in the world of music by the Society of Authors, Composers, and Music Publishers (Sacem). “I am the only Caribbean national to receive this award. It is considered the French equivalent of a Grammy,” Rose said proudly. Her platinum-selling album –Far From home – was released on the Because Music label in 2016.
That same year, she was was awarded the Artist Award by the World Music Expo (WOMEX). She topped artistes from 95 countries in receiving the prestigious award. WOMEX is an international networking platform for the world music industry. The Artist Award is the top award given out at the WOMEX event. It had never been won by a Trinidad and Tobago citizen before.
Rose, who is the first female calypsonian to win the Road March (Tempo in 1975), told The Sunday Gleaner that all her awards, which are now being curated will be shipped to Tobago to be placed in the Calypso Rose Museum at the Tobago House of Assembly.