Poor But Ambitious: Calypso Classics

Poor But Ambitious: Calypso Classics

by Wilmoth Houdini
     
 

Anyone even remotely interested in the taproots of rap and reggae ought to track down the recordings of Wilmoth Houdini, known in his day as the Calypso King of the West Indies. His most famous composition, "Stone Cold Dead in the Market (He Had It Coming)" was a major hit for Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald<See more details below

Overview

Anyone even remotely interested in the taproots of rap and reggae ought to track down the recordings of Wilmoth Houdini, known in his day as the Calypso King of the West Indies. His most famous composition, "Stone Cold Dead in the Market (He Had It Coming)" was a major hit for Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald in 1946. Although Houdini cut no less than 136 sides during the years 1927-1940, a relatively small portion of his work has been posthumously reissued. Sixteen tracks were compiled onto an LP by Arhoolie Folklyric in 1984, and a 1993 CD expanded the menu to 24 titles, yet his legacy remains one of the best-kept cultural secrets of the entire western hemisphere. Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks, born at Port of Spain in Trinidad on November 25, 1895, named himself after magician Harry Houdini after seeing the master at work in a cinema in 1926. The first four tracks on this precious collection were recorded in 1928 and 1929 with backing by guitar and cuatro player Gerald Clark's Iere String Band. "Sweet Like a Honey Bee" is a distinctive tribute to the beauty and worthiness of African women. It stands out in dramatic contrast to just about any other recording of similar vintage, as women of color were almost invariably ridiculed and shamed during live or recorded entertainments. During much of the year 1931, Houdini recorded with Gerald Clark's Night Owls, and in 1934, his group was sometimes identified as the Humming Birds. Note the participation of Walter Bennett, a cornetist capable of growling like Bubber Miley, Cootie Williams, or Herman Autrey; Walter Edwards playing clarinet and tenor sax, and violinist Cyril Montrose. Real calypso almost always reads like a musical newspaper. "Glorious Centenary" celebrates the Trinidadian population's first 100 years of freedom from slavery; "Bandsman Shooting Case" describes trouble stemming from racial discrimination among professional musicians, and "African Love Call" is a set of reflections on the doubts and concerns of Marcus Garvey supporters. "Arima Tonight..." names several towns as likely locations for Carnival celebrations, "No Mo' Bench and Board" seems to touch upon the topic of prostitution, and "The Cooks in Trinidad" (in which the term "La Trinity" is used: a local name for the island) begins with a bluntly stated demand that "The white folks...should treat their cooks with more courtesy." "Stop Coming and Come," which could be misinterpreted as some sort of bizarrely worded sexual joke, is a straightforward request for an end to procrastination. "Sweet Papa Willie" is one of Houdini's many songs about marital discord and domestic violence, and stands as a prelude to "Stone Cold Dead in the Market.." "The Devil Behind Me, Leggo" is the most authentic folk song on this collection. Performed by Houdini's Calvary Bamboo Band (five voices, two bamboo men, two gin bottle players, string bass, and maracas), this is a beautiful example of pre-calypso Tahitian music. The words refer to necromancy and other tenebrous tendencies apparently cast aside in favor of Christianity. As Houdini once explained: "I am favorably known for suggestive Calypso but I am a true Catholic and I have made many shouting Calypsos of a religious nature." The powerful and moving "Poor But Ambitious" is, without exception, the most politically astute recording this artist ever made, and should be regarded as the best example of his work, a song for which he should be remembered throughout history. With disarmingly emotive precision he portrays a West Indian immigrant searching for work and feeling at times overwhelmed to the point of considering suicide. After he has carefully differentiated himself from white entertainers like Rudy Vallée, Guy Lombardo, and Bing Crosby, Houdini concludes with the words: "Every man was born to be free and to be happy from suppression and misery."

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Product Details

Release Date:
12/02/1993
Label:
Arhoolie Records
UPC:
0096297701027
Rank:
143453

Tracks

  1. Sweet Like a Honey Bee
  2. Song No. 99
  3. Uncle Jo' Gimme Mo'!
  4. Trifling Men
  5. No Mo' Bench and Board
  6. Sweet Papa Willie
  7. Honey I'm Bound to Go
  8. The Cooks in Trinidad
  9. Arima Tonight, Sangre Grande Tomorrow Night
  10. Black But Sweet
  11. I Need a Man
  12. Stop Coming and Come
  13. Tiger Tom Kill Tiger Cat
  14. That Big Black Woman
  15. West Indian Sugar Crop
  16. Unfortunate Milley
  17. Teacher Nose Gay the Shouter
  18. Mickey Cipriani's Career (Sports Car)
  19. Glorius Centenary
  20. Cipriani's and Bradshaw's Death
  21. Bandsman Shooting Case
  22. African Love Call
  23. The Devil Behind Me
  24. Poor But Ambitious

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