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TRINIDAD & tobago

The Mighty Duke

Kelvin Pope, the Mighty Duke, is the only person in the history of Trinidad and Tobago calypso to ever win the calypso monarch title four consecutive times. No one has ever seriously challenged his calypso record.s

Duke wrote his first calypso in the 1950's. From early in his career, he sang in "bacchanal" calypsos side by side with his serious messages. Duke, who was once a school teacher, says his social conscience was forged from his childhood days in the oil town of Point Fortin in southern Trinidad. Here, Trinidad conservative, country values collided with the foreign values of the expatriates who settled in this remote area to work in the oil industry. This was also a place where many "small" island people had migrated carrying their own cultural and religious values which were often shaped by their African heritage. Duke's own family was originally from St. Vincent.

And so, Point Fortin, a deeply religious community known for its extraordinary number of entertainers, became the springboard for Duke's career in calypso. Growing up there assured Duke of having all the humour all Trini's are noted for, but gave him that haunting social conscience that could only come from witnessing the merging of foreign cultures. Point Fortin afforded a singer the opportunity of being an outsider looking in and an insider looking out. Duke stood on the cutting edge of the social strata in this community with a keen sense of observation which he translated into his songs.

In 1964, Duke left his Point Fortin home to come to the capital city of Port of Spain to sing professionally. In his career, which has spanned three decades, he became the epitome of conventional calypso. He kept humour and double entendre alive in calypso long after Spoiler and Cypher had died. He proved that well constructed suggestive lyrics that dealt with social issues could make the masses laugh, as well as catch the nod of the calypso judges in competition. No artist has matched his style and grace in making people take humourous calypsos seriously. While other calypsonians used exaggerated antics to capture the audience's attention, Duke remained regal and dignified in his presentation.

Duke kept humour, the dying branch of the artform, alive and he gave humourous calypsos a dignity that few other calypsonians could match. While other calypsonian's themes always dealt with sex, Duke's often dealt with general social condition and position.

Duke has become one of a handful of calypsonians who is equally able to make calypso fans laugh and cry. He has created serious social messages including classics like "How Many More Must Die," a haunting question address to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Duke's classic hits over the years include "Social Bacchanal," "Black is Beautiful," "Brotherhood of Man," "Black Skin," "White Mask," and "Melvie and Yvonne."

To this day, no calypso connoisseur can forget those four consecutive calypso crowns duke earned. The first was in 1968 when he emerged victorious with "What is Calypso" and "Social Bacchanal." The following year, he turned back all challengers with "Black is Beautiful" and "One Foot Visina." In 1970, when Trinidad and Tobago was immersed in black consciousness, Duke beat back his competitors with "Brotherhood of Man" and "See Through." His fourth victory came in 1971 with "Mathematical Formula" and "Melvie and Yvonne." It took the Might Sparrow to stop him in 1972 with "Drunk and Disorderly." Even after his noble defeat in the calypso arena, Duke remained a force to be reckoned with on the calypso scene. He loyal fans return perennially to see him perform in the calypso tents and to sigh over his keen sense of fashion. In 1987, he proved his power in the Soca scene with the Roach March, "Thunder."

Kelvin Pope is one of those few entertainers who has managed to stick loyally to the roots of the music while adapting to the nuances of the changing time. He has reminded everyone, through his vast collection of work, that in the lineage of royalty, which we all admire, there is something beyond the power and grace of a king and queen, prince and princess. There is a Duke.


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