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‘Rapso’ sustaining oral tradition

‘Rapso’ sustaining oral tradition
BY Andre Haynes

The weapon of choice for the region’s cultural revolutionaries, ‘Rapso’ flies in the face of those all too eager to proclaim the oral tradition dead.
Brother Resistance

Brother Resistance

‘Rapso’ is the name given to the unique blend of rhyme and rhythm that has developed in Trinidad, where artists like Brother Resistance and Emortal have made it their mission to reeducate and liberate the people. It combines spoken word compositions or raps delivered over kaiso rhythms, and more recently spare drum beats. It often features scathing critiques and social commentary, in much the same way as calypso has traditionally done. “The art of storytelling is still powerful, whether it is spoken word or calypso or soca and artists still have something to say,” explains Brother Resistance, the man credited with naming the form. “When people say that [the oral tradition is dying] they don’t know what they are talking about,” he adds.

Indeed, Brother Resistance situates Rapso in the family of performance poetry, including Jamaica’s dub poetry, Dominica’s Zouk, and Barbados’ Rhythm Poetry, which he says are extending the oral tradition. According to him, ‘Rapso’ is the voice of the people, representing an expression of their dreams and aspirations, while undressing the issues that affect their lives in a direct way.

A true product of the Caribbean’s earliest struggle to define itself, ‘Rapso’ was developed in Trinidad in the 1970s by Lancelot Layne, and later Cheryl Byron, who are considered the father and mother of the movement. By the next decade Brother Resistance became the torch bearer and he has inspired a new generation of ‘Rapso’ artists who have been sustaining the form while making their own innovations. Like 3-Canal and Kindred. Emortal, of the group Rhythmic Roots, says he has his “own sound,” emphasizing racial harmony as well as environmental and social peace. He called it Caribbean togetherness:

All brothers and sisters come/
Come and feel de vibes/
O’ de breath and de drum/
We must play it from now till thy kingdom come/
So stand firm for your culture/
(from “Rapsolid” by Emortal)

He says the main goal is a cultural revolution, to change the mind, the body and soul of the people. “It’s about reminding them who they are, and where they come from,” he explains, while echoing Marcus Garvey’s famous words, “A man without history is like a tree without roots.”

In many ways, ‘Rapso’ is a way of preserving the region’s cultural heritage-and in short, its history. But like cultural forms in the region, it has been overshadowed by the airplay given to American hip-hip and R&B, as well as Jamaican dancehall that currently combine to dominate the airwaves in the region. “The music being played now is all about sex, and we know that sex sells,” Emortal tells. “The real music hardly gets the airplay because sex is in demand,” he adds. He thinks there needs to be more emphasis on cultural history on radio and television, especially since he believes these mediums are being used to sustain colonialism. “The holocaust still continues,” he says. And like a true revolutionary, he is optimistic: “Wherever evil is, you still have good; bad could never conquer good.”


Another challenge facing ‘Rapso’ is making use of new technological platforms to deliver its message. “We have yet to capture the possibilities that the electronic media has produced in today’s society,” Brother Resistance says, pointing out how cable TV is being used as an immediate and direct form to transmit to people. “We still have to find a way to bring what we do into the living rooms of everyday people. It is difficult but not impossible,” he adds. At the same time, he cautions that the artists have to ensure that they maintain their relationships with their audiences, through live performances, no matter the size.

Trinidad and Tobago News

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