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View Full Version : 'Calypso' strum - is it in fact a Mento strum?



redpaul1
03-17-2017, 12:18 PM
I asked this question in the Tips and Tricks subforum, but got no traction, so I'm asking it again here.


Let me be clear from the outset. I'm not interested in a semantic argument. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of what rhythm 'd-d-u-u-d-u' actually replicates.

The reason I ask the question is I've recently learnt that, in the '50s and '60s, Jamaican mento music, Harry Belafonte in particular, was marketed in the US as 'Jamaican calypso' (https://www.thoughtco.com/jamaican-mento-music-3552836).

As an example, checking round the internet, I notice this introduction to the calypso strum illustrated by Harry Belafonte's 'Jamaica Farewell' http://artistworks.com/blog/how-to-play-ukulele-calypso-strum-lesson.

It seems, the more I look, that the so-called calypso strum is marketed (if that's the right term) as a generic 'island strum', when in reality, there is no such thing. Each Caribbean island's folk music developed its own unique rhythms.

When I listen to actual Trinidadian calypso (artists such as Lord Kitchener, or The Mighty Sparrow (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtRE3WUaFU6adrdhNeIwa3gnQ392K4Cec)) , I don't hear the d-d-u-u-d-u of the 'official' calypso strum. Instead I hear more of an u-d-u-d-d. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/music/world_music/music_carribean4.shtml)

On the other hand, this self-declared mento treatment of 'Jamaica Farewell' seems to me to follow the d-d-u-u-d-u of the calypso strum quite clearly:


https://youtu.be/G51MaeeFs-o

So, is the calypso strum in fact a 'Jamaican calypso' i.e., mento strum? Apologies in advance if the question's been asked before.

jimavery
03-17-2017, 01:40 PM
I don't know, but I'm sure the answer is more subtle than that. For example if 'D' is a strong strum and 'd' is a soft one, then I would reckon the likes of Jamaica Farewell and Calypso Carol might be d-Du-uDu, Rock Around the Clock could be D-du-udu, and Blame It On The Bossanova might be D-dU-udu d-du-UDU and so on. For me, any suggested strum is just a jumping off point to discovering the feel for the rhythm of a song. Swing is important too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swing_(jazz_performance_style)

redpaul1
03-17-2017, 09:04 PM
Thanks Jim, but what I really want confirmed is whether the calypso strum is based on mento.

southcoastukes
03-18-2017, 06:56 AM
is ... the calypso strum is based on mento?

That one is. And don't think there is just one "Calypso strum", or "Mento strum". I've never heard what Sarah did, but it's certainly useful. Even she, hwever, mentions it's "another "Calypso strum" (I couldn't find the first).

A lot of your question does involve sematics. Calypso is a specific type of music, but it's also a generic term for Caribbean / American Tropical music in general. Harry Belafonte was as much responsible for this as anyone, as the most popular Caarribean songs were popularized by him; he started with an album called "Calypso", and almost all the songs were technically Mento. It's just that nobody knew that word, while everyone was familiar with the term Calypso, thinking of it in the generic sense.

The easiset way to intuitively understand the difference might be to listen to Calypso itself. There's a ton of it avaialble on the Ukulele (well actually on the Cuatro). Most of it comes from old Spanish Guyana in Venezuela and of course from Trinidad. Especially in Guyana, the Cuatro is the very foundation of Calipso. Here a basic strum:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHqG2MUk9CU

After you get familiar with the sound of Calipso, when you hear something atypical, it's usually because you have another form entirely (like Mento) or a blend of other elements (for example Garifuna).

Hope that helps.

southcoastukes
03-18-2017, 07:10 AM
Can't get the edit feature working today. Should have added that for true Calipso see a lot of Serenata Guyanesa - been around since the '70s. Most songs are in Spanish but as the population there is mixed, some of the most popular classics are in English as well:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw0K1tswkI8

southcoastukes
03-18-2017, 07:59 AM
One more popular tune:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsOH4rtE1lI

redpaul1
03-18-2017, 10:54 PM
The easiest way to intuitively understand the difference might be to listen to Calypso itself. There's a ton of it avaialble on the Ukulele (well actually on the Cuatro). Most of it comes from old Spanish Guyana in Venezuela and of course from Trinidad. Especially in Guyana, the Cuatro is the very foundation of Calipso. Here's a basic strum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHqG2MUk9CU

After you get familiar with the sound of Calipso, when you hear something atypical, it's usually because you have another form entirely (like Mento) or a blend of other elements (for example Garifuna).

Hope that helps.

Can't get the edit feature working today. Should have added that for true Calipso see a lot of Serenata Guyanesa - been around since the '70s. Most songs are in Spanish but as the population there is mixed, some of the most popular classics are in English as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw0K1tswkI8

One more popular tune:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsOH4rtE1lI

Thanks for these links, Dirk. They certainly do help. There's some fantastic music there. I'd no idea that calypso was anything other than a Trinidadian artform before. I've obviously got a lot of exploring to do!

However to get back to the d-d-u-u-d-u pattern:


That one is. And don't think there is just one "Calypso strum", or "Mento strum". I've never heard what Sarah did, but it's certainly useful. Even she, however, mentions it's "another "Calypso strum" (I couldn't find the first).

When the video begins, a graphic flashes up Calypso Lesson 2, so I guess the 'other' strum was in (a possibly now deleted/possibly hidden behind a paywall) Calypso Lesson 1; and, I'm also guessing, from the description on the Artistworks.com website (http://artistworks.com/blog/how-to-play-ukulele-calypso-strum-lesson), that the difference between lesson 1 & lesson 2 is that lesson 1 didn't involve the thumb roll following the first downstroke:

Sarah Maisel demonstrates how to play this classic strumming pattern in the video below. This just a sample from the ukulele lessons at ArtistWorks (which you can find more info about here (http://artistworks.com/ukulele)):

Calypso Lesson 2 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zj4WYGaDJiM)

Here’s how it goes: down, down, up…. up, down, up. That's the strumming pattern. You start with a Down Strum using your index finger, and then follow it with another down stroke using your thumb. As Sarah says, “it’s almost as if the strum last twice as long.” So remember:

Down Down Up... Up Down Up

Some other 'Down Down Up... Up Down Up' calypso strum tutorials, :
Brett McQueen (Ukulele Tricks): https://youtu.be/gAScCO3Mb-w?t=6m33s (1.5 million views)
defynityOrg: https://youtu.be/rN7jTWKIVd4?t=38s (64,700 views)
Ukulele Mike Lynch: https://youtu.be/ECowNNGjXF4?t=1m20s (26,000 views)
Ukulele Mike Lynch again: https://youtu.be/PWYm4u1YcR4?t=2m29s (34,800 views).

I cite the viewing figures, not because 'might makes right' as it were, but just to illustrate how well-established is "Down Down Up... Up Down Up" as the calypso strum in ukulele-playing.


A lot of your question does involve sematics. Calypso is a specific type of music, but it's also a generic term for Caribbean / American Tropical music in general. Harry Belafonte was as much responsible for this as anyone, as the most popular Caribbean songs were popularized by him; he started with an album called "Calypso", and almost all the songs were technically Mento. It's just that nobody knew that word, while everyone was familiar with the term Calypso, thinking of it in the generic sense.

Thanks for this also, which confirms my own hunches. You could be right about the 'semantics' too - what prompted my OP was that I've been asked to present a reggae strumming workshop at a major UK uke festival, and I wanted to begin by presenting a brief history of the evolution of Jamaican music from mento to reggae. If I do, I need to be sure that if I get up in front of all these paying customers and tell them "You know that calypso strum you've all learnt? In fact, it's a mento strum from Jamaica", I'm not going be left with egg all over my face when someone at the back gets up and says "actually, you can hear this strum all over Trinidad - it is a calypso!"

Incidentally, as I think this may be the first time we've corresponded on the forum, may I then just briefly express my appreciation for your guide to tuning (http://www.southcoastukes.com/stringuide.htm). I learnt so much from it, I'm always recommending other people to go take a look, most recently only about 2 days ago! http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?125601-The-Art-of-the-Soprano&p=1950639#post1950639

zztush
03-19-2017, 04:52 PM
Hi, Paul!

We need to understand basic structure of Clypso strum first. Then we can compare both Calypso and Mento strum.

We have stress on down beats (red circles on top figure below). And we don't have stress on up beats (green crosses). This is basic Rhythm pattern. When we've got stress on upbeat (middle figure below) it sounds bit of ethnic and cool.

What we have to do is two things (bottom figure below).
1) Shift the beat from D (small green cross) to U (red circle).
2) Remove next down beat (large green cross).
Removing next down beat makes longer and stressed up beat (red circle).

https://s3.postimg.org/4sx1zyueb/combine_images.png (https://postimg.org/image/hx2mcnmfz/)picture upload sites (https://postimage.org/)

I think both Calypso and Mentro strums have this structure and they are same as you indicated.

southcoastukes
03-20-2017, 04:58 PM
Incidentally, as I think this may be the first time we've corresponded on the forum, may I then just briefly express my appreciation for your guide to tuning. I learnt so much from it, I'm always recommending other people to go take a look

Thanks for the kind words on the guide. Just finished a reformatting of the instrument site and we're working on reformatting the Stinguide now. As with the new instrument site, it will be a lot more mobile-friendly. We should be able to make the navigation a lot more intuitive. But in addition, the Info and Tips were wrtitten in an overlapping sort of helter-skelter form over a decade. We'll see if we can combine them all in a more logical way. Look for newsletters to start coming out with links to the updated pages before too much longer.

I should have thought to give you a link to a really great site before. Great site, incredible resources, but very old format (have anything that will play .rar files?). At any rate, Mento Mike gave us a fabulous resource, and since Mento has been so intertwined with Calypso, there's a lot on that and the diffrences as well:

http://www.mentomusic.com/

And here's another example of "Generic Calypso" from the Caribbean mainland. Between the Garifunas and the Cartagines are the Limonenses. They use Cuatros from time to time, but the instrumental line-up is more typical of Mento, with emphasis on Banjo & Guitar. The music called "Calypso" can be like that of Trinidad or the Guyanas, but probably the majority is more Mento; you'll hear Salsa and even an occasional Samba as well in this loose group of "Calypso" music.

Here's a documentary, and even though a majority of the music is English, it was made for a Spanish audience, so the bilingual musicians speak Spanish in the dialogues. Still the music gives you a real flavour of "Country Music" down south:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qIOs65liZs

southcoastukes
03-20-2017, 05:01 PM
And ZZ, here's something I think you'll find of interest:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv0bbJ33o5c

redpaul1
04-03-2017, 09:40 PM
Thanks for the kind words on the guide. Just finished a reformatting of the instrument site and we're working on reformatting the Stinguide now. As with the new instrument site, it will be a lot more mobile-friendly. We should be able to make the navigation a lot more intuitive. But in addition, the Info and Tips were wrtitten in an overlapping sort of helter-skelter form over a decade. We'll see if we can combine them all in a more logical way. Look for newsletters to start coming out with links to the updated pages before too much longer.

I should have thought to give you a link to a really great site before. Great site, incredible resources, but very old format (have anything that will play .rar files?). At any rate, Mento Mike gave us a fabulous resource, and since Mento has been so intertwined with Calypso, there's a lot on that and the diffrences as well:

http://www.mentomusic.com/

And here's another example of "Generic Calypso" from the Caribbean mainland. Between the Garifunas and the Cartagines are the Limonenses. They use Cuatros from time to time, but the instrumental line-up is more typical of Mento, with emphasis on Banjo & Guitar. The music called "Calypso" can be like that of Trinidad or the Guyanas, but probably the majority is more Mento; you'll hear Salsa and even an occasional Samba as well in this loose group of "Calypso" music.

Here's a documentary, and even though a majority of the music is English, it was made for a Spanish audience, so the bilingual musicians speak Spanish in the dialogues. Still the music gives you a real flavour of "Country Music" down south:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qIOs65liZs


And ZZ, here's something I think you'll find of interest:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv0bbJ33o5c

Another fantastic resource from you, Dirk. Thank you, and apologies for not responding to express my appreciation earlier.