Sailing Away With Songs Of The Caribbean

Harry Belafonte - Calypso.jpg
A couple of years ago She Said was in Oslo, Norway, where she saw an exhibit by artist Tacita Dean chronicling the mysterious voyage of Donald Crowhurst. Dean found and photographed the Teignmouth Electron, the boat Crowhurst apparently abandoned, and collected newspaper articles from the circumnavigation sailing race in which Crowhurst attempted to falsify his results.

Following Crowhurst's disappearance, the sailboat was sold many times, and its history was lost until 1989, when it was was found off the coast of Cayman Brac in the Caribbean amongst the wreckage of Hurricane Gilbert. That's where Dean found it. It's still there, rotting in the sun and sand, and you can apparently even find it on Google Earth, at 19°41'10.40" N by 79°52'37.83" W.

What does Donald Crowhurst have to do with iFest, which starts this weekend? Not much, really. But just like Tacita Dean, She Said became spellbound by the tale of the Teignmouth Electron from the moment she read the story. And now, every time she hears the Beach Boys sing "Sloop John B" she thinks of that boat, decaying in the middle of the Caribbean.

Seeing as how iFest's theme this year is in honor of that very island group, She Said presents five songs inspired by the music of the archipelago.

"John B. Sails"

beach-boys-sloopjohnb.jpg
The most famous version of this song is undoubtedly the Beach Boys'. She Said likes Johnny Cash's version, but there's also a bevy of folk versions and this ragtime version from Blind Blake. The song goes all the way back to 1916, when it was included in an article in Harper's Magazine. Poet Carl Sandburg and musicologist Alan Lomax traced the song back to the West Indies.

This annoying YouTube video of drunken expats signing the song is valuable only thanks to the historical notes written by the poster. He quotes Sandburg, saying:

"The weathered ribs of the historic craft lie imbedded in the sand at Governor's Harbor [Bahamas], whence an expedition, especially sent up for the purpose in 1926, extracted a knee of horseflesh & a ring-bolt. These relics are now preserved & built into the Watch Tower."

As I mentioned last time I put up a video of the song, it is possible that the sloop's bad luck was due to its name. "John B" in Afro-Carribean culture, sounds like "jumby" -- a West African term referring to the undead creature that has been anglicized to "zombie."

"Man Smart, Woman Smarter", Harry Belafonte

Lords knows Harry Belafonte could eat crackers in She Said's bed any day. His 1959 Carnegie Hall album is one of her all-time favorite live albums -- his rapport with the audience is palpable. The King of Calypso is controversial (see his performance with Petula Clark), drop-dead gorgeous and has a voice like a dinner bell (Daaaay-O!). Best of all, he really knows how to win a woman over.

"Rum and Coca-Cola," The Andrews Sisters

If She Said ever goes down to Trinidad she'll spend 99% of her time on the beach drinking Angostura and cane sugar Coca Cola and dreaming this song in her head. It's such a charming little calypso ditty about the oldest profession in the world, even if it was stolen. Hey, it's the Yankee way!

"Yellow Bird," Arthur Lyman

arthurlyman yellowbird.jpg
The man who basically invented exotica music took this traditional Calypso song and turned it into something truly magical. Belafonte does a version, and so does the Kingston Trio, but the version with the vibes is by far the best. Pro tip: Houston lap steel performer Herb Remington also loves to play this song, if you request it.

"Hot Hot Hot," Buster Poindexter

Perhaps the lamest song ever to float off the sea breezes of the islands (though "Kokomo" is a heavy contender). It's almost like David Johansen was trying to recapture the magic of Belafonte's "Jump in The Line" with this delightfully dated '80s soca song. Johansen later told NPR's Terry Gross that the song was "the bane of my existence." Funny story -- it was years before She Said realized Buster Poindexter = David Johansen. That's what MTV does to a young brain. She Said is sorry if this song is stuck in your head for the remainder of the week.

My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest

Now Trending

Houston Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...