Carnival Book Launch in Brooklyn

JUMP UP by Professor Ray Allen will be launched in Brooklyn, Tuesday, August 27th, 7pm at Greenlight Books (632 Flatbush Ave)  just in time for Carnival 2019.

Jump Up! Caribbean Carnival Music in New York City is the first comprehensive history of Trinidadian calypso and steelband music in the diaspora. Blending oral history, archival research, and ethnography, ethnomusicologist Ray Allen examines how members of New York’s diverse Anglophile-Caribbean communities forged transnational identities through the self-conscious embrace and transformation of Carnival music. The work fills a significant void in our understanding of how calypso, soca (soul/calypso), and steelband evolved in the second half of the twentieth century as it flowed between its Island homeland and its bourgeoning New York migrant communities. Grenadian-born journalist and editor of Everybody’s Caribbean Magazine Herman Hall joins Allen in conversation in this special event leading up to Carnival 2019. Trinidadian-born pan player Garvin Blake also helps celebrate the launch with a musical performance.


I should not be reviewing Professor Ray Allen’s Jump Up because my name and EVERYBODY’S, the Caribbean-American magazine, are mentioned multiple times. Positively, I may add. The introduction of Jump Up begins with a quote from the September, 1982 edition of EVERYBODY’S. As a result, some readers may say this review is not objective; it’s flattering Professor Allen. That’s a reasonable assumption but not correct.

The truth is I read various chapters several times hoping to find something to nitpick, a statistic that is wrong or a crucial point Allen omitted. I found none. Every time I say, “gotcha, you left out this person!” Low and behold the person’s name pops up. And this is what makes Jump Up impressive and appreciative. Professor Allen informs the reader of many unsung heroes who contributed to the development of masquerade bands-costume making, calypso/soca and steelband in New York and indirectly across the U.S.

Randolph Hilaire, steelband and calypso icon, is an example. He has contributed immensely in promoting all aspects of Trinidad and Eastern Caribbean musical and carnival phenomena in America. Hilaire established Sonatas Steel Orchestra in 1971. The band had many preteenagers and teenagers. That was the beauty of Sonatas. The youths were nurtured and disciplined by the elders. Many children became model citizens and earned college degrees. In 2019 their grandchildren are members of Sonatas.

The heyday of calypso tents in Brooklyn was the 1980s. Hilaire using his sobriquet as Count Robin was the prime mover of the Rainbow Terrace Calypso Tent. The aging Count Robin is an organizer in 2019 of a calypso tents on Utica Avenue.

These days, on carnival weekend in Brooklyn, the multitalented Hilaire assists the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association adjudicates masquerade bands and individual costume pieces.

Another unsung hero Professor Allen is reminding us about is Caldera Carabello. After his family Caldera’s next love is the steelband. He was part of steel orchestras when the home of the steelband, calypso and carnival in the diaspora was Harlem. He toured with Harry Belafonte and played at the White House for President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration. During the 1970s, Caldera’s friend Carlos Lezama grabbed him from retirement to be an integral part of WIADCA and to coordinate panoramas. Long before, The New York Daily News and Donald Trump brought Trinidad & Tobago leading orchestras to entertain at socialite dinners, Caldera brought orchestras to perform at Avery Hall-Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Winston Munroe, Kim Loy-wong, Ruddie King, Michael Scanterbury, Clyde Henry, Clyde Durrant, Emmanuel “Cobo Jack” Riley and dozens of others have not been recognized for the sacrifices they made to promote Caribbean Culture in New York, especially steelband music. Fortunately, they did not escape the research net of Professor Allen.

That’s one reason Jump Up is easy and enjoyable is reading.

Apart from recognition of committed individuals, Jump Up summarizes the history of carnival in New York City. “Carnival, transplanted from Trinidad to Harlem in the 1930s, and to Brooklyn in the 1960s …The story begins in the New York recording in the late 1920s, when Trinidad calypsonians and dance orchestras arrived to make records,” Professor Allen states. I do not know if immigrants of the early 20th century, if they were alive, would validate “The story begins in the New York recording in the late 1920s, when Trinidad calypsonians and dance orchestras arrived to make records.” Before the Roaring Twenties, West Indian immigrants from the then carnival islands – St. Vincent, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and Trinidad – celebrated carnival the weekend before the Lenten season in their apartments and basements in wintry New York. They designed costumes and played mas. On canboulay night, the night before carnival Monday, they cooked dumplings, rice and peas and played music.

Although Jump Up is a narrative of carnival, steelband and calypso/soca in New York and to a certain extent the diaspora, the book is scholarly. (Be aware, it is published by Oxford University Press.) As the author says Jump Up digs “deeper into this phenomenon of deterritorialization seeking to elucidate how, in the context of Labor Day Carnival, the performance of calypso/soca and steelband music contributed to an emergent sense of transnation among Caribbean New Yorkers.” He is absolutely correct.

Professor Allen leaves no stone unturned. His analysis of the future of carnival in New York City ought to make everyone read Jump Up. This masterpiece belongs in every Caribbean-American home.

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