Some people think of calypso as a light musical form. In Trinidad, however, it’s serious business, especially at Carnival time. It’s a musical style that boasts its own great names, and they don’t come any bigger than Lord Kitchener.
Born Aldwyn Roberts on Arima in 1922, he was the son of a blacksmith and a washerwoman, a poor family that could barely afford to feed and clothe itself. But ‘Bean,’ as the young Roberts was nicknamed, always looked past that, and from an early age had dreams of becoming a recording star. He had a guitar that went everywhere with him, and as a boy he played to tourists for change, composing picong, or improvised calypsos.
In 1938 he won the Arima Calypso King contest, a title he kept for three consecutive years until he headed off to try his luck in Port-of-Spain in 1942. He’d sing in the rum shops, honing his skills, before he entered the calypso contest, in Roaring Lion’s Roving Brigade Tent, in 1943 with “Green Fig.” Part of a group of up-and-coming singers, along with Lord Pretender and Lord Destroyer, Kitchener (the name Lord Kitchener was given to him by fellow calypsonian Growling Tiger) had to follow the rules of Lion’s tent, which meant dressing in a suit and tie; however, the newcomers were so broke they had a share a suit between them.
In 1944, Kitch moved to the Victory Tent, then the House of Lords Tent the following year, although 1946 saw him back in the Victory Tent, continuing with hits like “Tie Tongue Mopsy,” before opening his own tent, the Young Brigade, in 1947. The youngsters were eager to be heard, with a more aggressive style that brought in elements of Latin and swing music, although Kitch also used steel pan bands behind him on many occasions. It was a huge success.
“It was 8:00 p.m.,” he recalled, “the first opening night of both tents. We were all nervous, fearing that we may begin with an empty tent, but it was just the opposite. Lion and Attilla’s tent was empty, and we were sold out.”
But he had itchy feet; he wanted to see more of the world, and initially moved to Jamaica, intending to get a visa for the United States. When he was turned down, he picked England instead, and sailed there in 1948.
Part of the first wave of West<
Klassic Kitchener, Volume One (Ice): With some early hits, such as “Chinese Never Had A VJ Day,” plus tracks like “Trouble In Arima” that he recorded in England, this is good, although far from perfect.
Klassic Kitchener, Volume Two (Ice): Lots of Road March winners help make this a must-have for anyone wanting to discover Lord Kitchener. Just check out “My Pussin” and “The Road” to understand his particular genius.
Klassic Kitchener, Volume Three (Ice): This one definitely does the business, containing the wonderful “Sugar Bum Bum,” Kitchener’s biggest hit, the wonderful “Tribute To Simon Spree,” “Symphony In ‘G’” and others.
London Is The Place For Me: Trinidadian Calypso In London 1950-1956—Various Artists (Honest Jon’s/Astralwerks): Kitch has nine of the 20 tracks here, all recorded in England. There’s the classic “London Is The Place For Me,” the celebratory cricket-themed “Victory Test Match,” and “Kitch’s Bebop Calypso,” which is exactly what it claims to be, an illustration of the breadth of his calypso in England.
Longevity (JW): Hardly essential, being later tracks, including remixes. But all Kitch is good Kitch, even his soca.