Rochelle Livingstone-Lewis



Chapter 3



(Chap. 1)
Music and Politics 
(Chap. 2)
Out of the Bowels of Calypso
(Chap. 3)
The Spectrum of Dynamisn
(Chap. 4)
The Competition
(Chap. 5)
Gospelypso as Culture
(Chap. 6)  
Uses and Functions &     
Summary of Conclusions

continued from Chapter 2

If we consider Gospelypso as a Sub-Genre of Calypso, we can refer to a phenomenon which Toelken has termed“The Spectrum of Dynamism”. This Spectrum of Dynamism can be used as a model to explore the development of an artform within a given culture over a period of time. It shows Conservatism at the one end and Dynamism on the other of a continuum which is representative of the passing of time.

"Conservatism refers to all those processes and forces that result in the retaining of certain information, belief, styles, customs and the like, and the attempted passing of those materials, intact, through time and space in all the channels of traditional expression. Dynamism at the other extreme comprises all those elements that function to change features, contents, meanings, styles, performance and usage as a particular traditional event takes place repeatedly through space and time."[Toelken: 1970. 34]The emergence of Gospelyso demonstrates this movement from the traditional to the dynamic, with Calypso being considered as the traditional and Gospelypso as the Dynamic.


It is never easy to define a musical phenomenon. However, some attempt at a definition is obligatory as it will facilitate a deeper understanding and a greater understanding of the artform in question.
The term "Gospelypso" was coined more than 21 years ago and represents a fusion of gospel lyrics and calypso rhythm. [Gospelypso: A Profile]
Essentially what this suggests is that any choruses or even hymns which are done with a calypso type beat running throughout the song can, in the strictest sense of the word, be termed a Gospelypso. By extension therefore, the first church to have explored the changing of the beat of the traditional hymns, may be accredited with having introduced Gospelypso.
Due to the fact that we are a Caribbean people, it is not at all surprising that there would be churches which would adapt the music of the traditional churches to the calypso beat. However, as this Spectrum of Dynamism suggests, no artform can stagnate and features must be added and subtracted in time. These added features do not in any way suggest that it is no longer the intended artform. In the development of the artform, and for the purposes of the competition, further restrictions were placed on what really could be considered a Gospelypso. These specifications must also find their place in the definition of Gospelypso. Such restrictions include that the selections must be original compositions. This has to date become an important factor to be considered in the definition of Gospelypso. Another important element is the language of the text.
Through the study of folk etymology we can understand the uniqueness of the language of Trinidad and Tobago. The language is different from what could be considered as the "Queen's English". It carries its own rules of grammar and pronunciation. 


There are many faces which have graced the "hallowed halls" of Gospelypso. Faces which have often gone unrecognized because they have been masked by more prominent figures. Such faces include Larry Harewood, Keith and Merle Telesford, Herman Brown, Vernon Clarke, Mrs. Greaves and George Livingstone. Some of these early pioneers no longer perform Gospelypso, but there are still those who remain to add that touch of "vintage” to the music. One such person is George Livingstone, who has been a member of all of the popular groups in Gospelypso including Caribbean Witness, Charis and The Golden Gates Combo. The Golden Gates Combo must find a special place in this thesis for its "background" work in Gospelypso. Rev. Lealand Henry admitted that he learned much about playing Gospelypso from this group. 
The Golden Gates Combo was a group which came out of the Pentecostal United Holy Church of Nepaul Street, St. James. This was the first recognized Gospelypso group. However, it was an instrumental group, the music which they did therefore was the traditional: hymns in a calypso style. The leader of this group, Mr. George Livingstone, comments that the reason or their unwillingness to compose original songs lay in the simple fact that they were an instrumental group and as such were inhibited by the fact that any songs which they did would have to have a melody which could easily be recognized by the religious public. The songs which they did should not be taken for Calypso. The reluctance of this group to compose original songs can be understood in light of the fact that the only element which separates Calypso from Gospelypso is the text. This group consisted of George Livingstone, Martin Lee, Anderson Collymore, Rudolph Mills, Oliver Cox, Ian Haywood and Carlton Griffith. They were recognized because they performed in local concerts and had even had the opportunity to perform their indigenous music in Barbados. The Golden Gates Combo proved that this music could be enjoyed under the banner of righteousness.


Born out of a desire to communicate the gospel to an indigenous Calypso- loving people through a music naturally their own, Gospelypso comes forth to make its voice heard amidst the din of the contemporary American-styled gospel music. Popularized by Youth For Christ [a body of Christians concerned with spreading the gospel, their main targets being the youth]. Gospelypso has been the heart-beat of an indigenous Calypso loving people, the way in which they can express themselves in their own style. John Blacking, in his book “How Musical Is Man” speaks about this link between music and culture: "We must recognize that no musical style has "its own terms”: its terms are the terms of its society and culture, and of the bodies of the human beings who listen to it and create it and perform it.” (Blacking: 1973.25)
Youth For Christ was heavily dependent on music in those early days, hence the great desire to include a musical package which would be an extension of their mission.

The first Gospelypso Rally was held in Greyfriar's Hall on Frederick Street, on February 5th, 1972, at 6:59 p.m. Youth For Christ there presented a package of local people singing gospel songs. According to Rev. Lealand Henry, who at that time was the choir director of the Youth For Christ, this was the first time that such a presentation of the gospel in Calypso style was done. (Personal interview with Rev. Lealand Henry, 21st February 1995). This first presentation was not competitive, but rather it was simply a presentation of the gospel by people whose only gains were seeing persons converted to Christianity and seeing them appreciate a style which was typicallyRev. Lealand Henry Trinbagonian. 
At this time, the only show which features Gospelypso alone, [as did this early show in Greyfriar's Hall] is the annual Gospelypso competition which is sponsored by Youth For Christ.) The 1972 show featured completely original songs primarily along the theme of Salvation.

It is only in recent times that experimentation has been done outside of the direct line of Salvation. Some songs which were presented there for the first time were "We shall walk the streets of gold" and "Saved from the Great Fire". Rev. Henry attests to the fact that the response to this initial event was very good. He also claims that Christians were in the minority in this gathering [Personal interview with Rev. Lealand Henry, 21 February 1995]. As such, the people who were there did not have the biases and the traditional mind-sets which were and are so common in some societies today, and they were very open to accept this music which they thought to be Calypso but which revealed itself upon further examination to be Gospelypso.

Unfortunately, this was not the case in the early days as far as the Christian community was concerned.
Pioneers such as Francis Warner admit that while singing in a particular church, there was a disturbing "exodus" of the congregation. People left because they did not agree with calypso being used in a sacred setting. As is to be expected, the artform wasn't as developed as it is today and this is evident even in the instruments which were used in that first show. Only the basic instruments, such as a keyboard, a bass and a drum-set were used. The recent shows have included on their list of instruments, a live brass section and many electronically programmed instruments, including a drum machine. Unfortunately, the compositions were not recorded, so there is no source by which we can verify the texts or the melodies but by the recollection of the participants themselves. 


The gospel in kaiso form had its opportunity to be heard in other Caribbean islands when members of Youth For Christ such as Lealand Henry and Keith Telesford began traveling to other islands to bring the good news of the gospel in a Caribbean way to a Caribbean people. People in islands such as Antigua, Barbados and Jamaica related this type of music to what they had heard from artistes such as Joseph Niles, who did not sing Gospelypso as it is known today, but rather sang a form of music which is known as "spooge". However, the major difference which should be noted is that Joseph Niles, for the most part, simply adapted the traditional hymns to this genre of music, whereas what the islanders were hearing was completely original songs done with a Calypso beat, with a Gospel message. To date, this has remained one of the major factors in the Gospelypso competition. 

Earl Phillips testifies of his tour to the United States which was made with a musical ensemble known as the Gems. He recalls that the group had gone with a repertoire of Dallas Holmes’ songs and one Gospelypso, composed by the Panther. The title of this song was "Give me water Jesus I'm thirsty" . The reaction of the crowd to this selection was such that it encouraged the group to stay on longer than had been planned formerly. The American audience was very appreciative of the new genre of music known as Gospelypso. 

End of Chapter 3.

Chapter 4. The Competition

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