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Brigo: Keep calypso relevant

Published: 
Thursday, May 18, 2017
PHOTO: ROBERTO CODALLO

Samuel “Brigo” Abraham who died on Tuesday, was one of this country’s most memorable calypsonians. He never won a Calypso Monarch title, but won the audience with the way used his facial features to great comic effect.

Today we reproduce his last interview with the T&T Guardian which took place in September 2014, when he spoke to Bobie Lee Dixon as part of Look Who?, a series about cultural icons

You must have seen the bug spray advertisement with the catchy song, “Det to the flies, Det to the roaches, Death to the mosquitoes.”

The advertisement starts with a man with big eyes, contorting and spraying insecticide as if it’s air freshener. For those old enough to remember the original ad which aired about 30 years ago, it was the man with the jokey facial expressions who made the advertisement a hit. He’s Samuel Abraham, better known as calypsonian Brigo.

Abraham became famous for the contortions he made to emphasise the funny stories he told in his calypsoes. Some of his humorous pieces included, Doh Beat Mama Popo, Limbo Break, Do So Ent Like So, Obey, Walking in the Dark, Voodoo Man and Shake Up Your Bum Bum—for which he is currently doing a reggae/dancehall remix.

Born in Chaguanas in 1940 to Agatha Sheppard, Abraham recalls enjoying calypso as young as three. He used to hear the music on a gramophone at the house where his mother was employed as a domestic servant. He particularly remembers songs like Boo Boo Man from the late Fitzroy “Lord Melody” Alexander, whom he would later have the opportunity of meeting and working with in the 1960s.

“I would hear the music and would learn the lyrics. I could not pronounce every word, but I would just sing what I heard,” Abraham told the T&T Guardian.

His mother, who was an aspiring singer, would take singing gigs as a “side hustle” and she would take Abraham along with her. This was a joyous time for the young man as he experienced the excitement of the live performances.

By 19, Abraham was performing at small calypso venues when he was discovered by a talent agent whom he could only recall as Mr Fraser. The agent took Abraham and other budding calypsonians up the islands to perform in places like Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, Dominica and St Martin, to name a few. This brought Abraham much exposure and when he returned to Trinidad he was performing regularly at calypso tents like Young Brigade, Victory 70, Jazzy Tent, and Spektakula Forum on Henry Street Port-of-Spain, which hosted other acts like the Mighty Shadow, Maestro, Brother Valentino and Black Stalin.

“At that time, and I suppose it’s still somewhat the same, a calypsonian would only perform regularly at home for Carnival. I made most of my money outside and performed more outside than I did here,” said Abraham.

In a 2006 interview with trinisoca.com, Abraham said he was known anywhere he travelled. And calypso did that for him.

“Calypso made me know the world. It is my profession from which I make a living and it has taken me all over the world where I am an artiste that people know. Any part of the world you go and you say ‘Brigo’, the people know who you are talking about and that means a lot for T&T.

“I am not thinking about myself alone, I am thinking about T&T and the rest of the world. This is how I look at the whole thing and I am proud,” he told the online culture magazine.

The 74-year-old was also keen to speak about the major impact the late Aldwyn “Kitchener” Roberts had on his life and his calypso career.

“Kitch used to live in a house in Diego Martin not too far away from where Rainorama is now and he took singers like me, Valentino, Stalin and Lord Melody under his wing; training us to write and sing calypso.

“We used to stay at his house, it was like what we call workshops today. The only thing is that Kitch used to wake us up as early as 2 am to begin writing. He used to say your brain works at its best in the wee hours of the morning,” Abraham recollected.

Brigo on soca

When asked about soca and calypso, Abraham said he knows evolution is inevitable but calypso cannot die.

“Calypso will move on from generation to generation because it is what all other forms of calypso came from,” he said.

He however stressed it is important for the older generation to do all that’s necessary to keep calypso alive and to encourage the younger generation to appreciate the art form.

“They must understand how calypso came to be and why it is a part of our heritage and culture. We must never become so modern that we think we do not need it anymore,” Abraham said.

Pointing out the impact reggae music made on the world through major artistes like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs, Abraham said no matter how many other genres evolved from reggae, it has remained unshakeable because of the strong foundation on which it was built and its continuing relevance as a musical genre.

“That is what we need to do with calypso, keep it alive…relevant. One or two young artistes have been trying to keep it alive but they cannot do it alone. It is incumbent upon all calypsonians, soca and rapso artistes to make it a duty to keep calypso relevant,” said Abraham.

The father of 36 said he was currently working on staging an event unlike any other that has been done before, that will feature all calypso veterans who are still alive.

“Listen I don’t have a bag of money you know, but I will do it because I really want to do something for calypso music, because it has done so much for me,” said Abraham.

He said he will continue to do his part, educating the youths on the calypso art form through his cultural theater which he intends to reopen once he raises enough funds to do so.

The theatre he said would serve two purposes; a Sunday school to educate the youth on the proper values, ideals and behaviours they should adopt. And they will also be educated on the length and breath of what is calypso because it educates and informs.

“This generation of singers and musicians must know from whence they came in order to know who they are and where they’re going,” said Abraham.