ANTIGUA & BARBUDA: Ghetto Vibes - King Short Shirt
Updated: Mar 17
Cricket statistics and anti-colonialist calypso, what more could you want in an album?
White people in the West, with little exposure to Calypso music, might rather naively associate it just with party times. Perhaps the most famous song from the genre that is known across the world is Harry Belafonte’s Jump In The Line – an upbeat dance track that does not reveal too many deep and profound ideas within the lyrics. Whilst it is certainly true to say that calypso music is carnival music and its core a fundamentally fun genre, the roots of the genre were often deeply political. Calypso began as a method to spread news about island life in Trinidad and Tobago, often addressing topics of political corruption. The potency of the genre became such that British colonisers enacted censorship and perused over the music to find hidden meanings.
“...the album balances both a jocular spirit in some of its lyrics and tunes, whilst also including reflective remonstrations about the politics of the day.”
Away from Trinidad the genre was popularised across the Caribbean, and its use of double entendre and satire made it in some respects the ultimate form of free expression. Antigua and Barbuda gained independence as late as 1981 and as such the calypso music that can be heard from the colonial era is rather more cutting than the light-hearted music I am used to hearing at London’s magnificent Notting Hill Carnival. In light of this, it was an incredibly positive surprise to be recommended King Short Shirt’s Ghetto Vibes as the album balances both a jocular spirit in some of its lyrics and tunes, whilst also including reflective remonstrations about the politics of the day.
The cheerier, and less overtly political, first half of the album kicks off with the opening track Tourist Leggo is a rather hilarious song that takes the piss out of white people like myself enamoured by the sound of the music, who no matter how much they wish to embrace the joys of the carnival atmosphere end up “with an ungraceful wobble like if she was spinning, jumping without timing, singing with a strange harmony”. This certainly made me chuckle as I have been that white person who feels so genuinely at one with the beat, yet my two left feet and general ‘uncoolness’ means that to that outsider I have definitely looked like a total prat at Carnival before. The song is immensely fun and has a great story attached to it, proving its quality. The fact that the song placed second at Trinidad and Tobago's Road March carnival competition forced that country's authorities to initiate a ban on all foreign tunes from competition as it created such a public outcry.
The next track not only is great fun and also in some ways really hilarious, but it also serves to venerate arguably Antigua’s greatest ever export. Vivian Richards is an ode to the great cricket batsman who the previous year before the album’s release helped guide the West Indies to win the first ever Cricket World Cup. There are some cracking lines praising Richards, particularly “he don’t give a France when you bowling him” and the song’s endearing nature reminds of when another former West Indies cricket team captain, Dwayne Bravo, tried his hand in the music world with his rather catchy hit Champion. However, whilst the record contains many celebratory tunes, there are a trio of tunes that follow consecutively Power & Authority, my favourite tune Nobody Go Run Me and Inspite of All.
The first addresses issues of corruption and social inequality that blighted the nation at the time. The juxtaposition between the compelling lyrics and the upbeat percussion works tremendously well and forces its listeners to engage. The anti-colonialist tracks Nobody Go Run Me and Inspite of All remind me of the deeply political salsa music of Ruben Blades who would often mix acerbic, proud and heartfelt lyrics that would comment on the pseudo-colonialism that the United States would engage in with incredibly fun music. When meanwhile is a rather introspective track, longing for humankind to change its ways. Ultimately King Short Shirt proves himself, not only as an excellent calypsonian for the immensely upbeat compositions but for evoking a range of emotions and bringing attention to serious issues, unafraid to give a voice to the common man suffering at the hands of the Antiguans’ British colonial overlords.