A fond Calypso farewell

Calypso music could have replaced rock and roll - if it weren't for Elvis

Let me run something by you.

“Day-O.  Me say day, me say day, me say day-o.”

I imagine half the people reading this heard some distant bells when they read that.  The other half wonders if I’ve mixed up my meds and I’m freaking out.

At ease, everybody.  That was just a half-remembered remnant of an old folk song that swept the English speaking world a little over half a century ago when a young singer named Harry Belafonte sang those words into a microphone for the first time.

It was a simple folk tale, the story of a night shift worker who stacks bananas.  He’s been working all night.  After a little partying.

I work all night on a drink of rum.

His work is hard.  And repetitive.

I stack banana till de mornin’ come

Packing bananas is not pleasant work and it’s not easy.

Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch.

And, it can be dangerous work.

A beautiful bunch of ripe banana . . .

Hide the deadly black tarantula…

As with most jobs, there’s a foreman, an inspector, a head honcho to be reckoned with.  In this case, it’s the tally man.  In the banana business, everybody has to reckon with the tallyman.

Come Mister Tallyman, tally me banana.

Our man is tired. And hung over. And the sun’s coming up.

Daylight come and me wan go home.

It’s a simple song.  A simple folk tale, really.

Nobody expected much of it when, almost exactly 57 years ago, on September 8th, 1956, Harry Belafonte  recorded that song, called variously Day-O, The Banana Boat Song or, in Jamaica, Hill and Gully Rider.  It was just a filler song for the B side of an album called Calypso. The album had Jamaica Farewell and Matilda — and Belafonte’s people knew those songs were bound to be hits.

But the Banana Boat song surprised everyone.  It was a smash; a number one single. It propelled the whole album to number one on the Billboard Charts where it remained for 31 weeks – which was unheard of at the time.

Not only that, the album stayed on the charts for the next 99 weeks — almost two years.  That was a feat that would not be repeated until Michael Jackson recorded Thriller, forty years later.

So if the song was such a mega event, how come half the people reading this column never heard of it?

That’s because of another musical phenomenon that burst onto the world stage in 1956.  It arrived in the form of a hillbilly truck driver from Tennessee.

Belafonte’s Calypso album surfaced precisely when a revolutionary force that came to be known as Rock and Roll coalesced into an unstoppable force named Elvis.

Without Elvis, no Rolling Stones, Beatles, Springsteen, Rush … all that might have been buried in a tsunami of Calypso music.

But it didn’t happen.  History, as history often does, did a little hop, skip and a jump and Calypso music, which looked to dominate the musical scene, became a musical footnote instead.

History does that sort of thing from time to time.  Ask the dinosaurs. Ask Neanderthals.

Oh, right.  We can’t.

 

Arthur Black is a regular columnist. He lives on Salt Spring Island.

 

 

Just Posted

The proposed running track upgrade at Ballenas Secondary is now on course. (PQB News file photo)
RDN: Parksville track upgrade project gains some traction

Staff recommends board approve $204,000 funding

The total earnings of Town of Qualicum Beach council and mayor amounted to $186,649 in 2020, including expenses. (Town of Qualicum Beach photo)
Nine Qualicum Beach town employees earned more than $100K in 2020

Mayor and council received earnings totalling $186,649

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Terry Mazzei next to a truck after it was struck by lightning, with him inside, on Wednesday afternoon, June 9. He walked away from the incident without injury and the truck sustained only mild damage; a blown front tire and newly broken gas gauge. (Wendy Mazzei photo)
Nanoose Bay man walks away unscathed after lightning strike

VIDEO: ‘We like to think that his dad was watching over him’

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read