Harry Belafonte, although born in New York City, is credited for popularizing calypso music in this country, and I say: good job. I'm not a fan; Belafonte seems to be unable to let go of any of the resentments or angers of his youth, and seems to hate everything about his native country except its money. Then again, he did appear on The Muppet Show, so that's something.
In the postwar era, Americans fell in love with calypso music, and perhaps that can be seen as patronizing, but I think it ties in with a longstanding love for foreign and exotic places, for music that takes us away from our humdrum duties. The Tin Pan Alley days were full of phony-baloney exotica like that. The stuff we were getting from Belafonte and others was the real thing.
Or was it? The most well known song may not even be calypso -- "Yellow Bird," or "Choucoune" in its original, was Haitian Creole, says Wikipedia; does that count? Calypso music is associated with Trinidad and Tobago. Belafonte covered "Yellow Bird," so maybe the song is okay. Probably for the majority of Americans it is music from someplace sunny off the coast, so it could be Polynesian for all we know. I said that we love exotic music, not that we're knowledgeable about it.
"Yellow Bird," of course, always makes me think of a scene from A. C. Weisbecker's novel Cosmic Banditos. In the book, one of the drug-smuggling bandits, Robert, is known to fall into a rage anytime he hears that song. One day in a bar the steel drum band starts playing it, and he loses his mind:
Suddenly a grenade appeared in Robert's hand. He pulled the pin with his teeth and lobbed it toward the band. It was a good throw. The grenade clattered around in one drum, bounced into another, rolled around the rim like a roulette ball, then came to rest in the bottom of the instrument....
The explosion was in B-flat.I do not, fortunately, share the low opinion of "Yellow Bird," alienated though I am by temperament from the music of the islands. Despite this, however, one morning I was inspired to write a calypso song, even though I am so white I am nearly transparent. You might say that me writing a calypso song is cultural appropriation, but let's be honest: no culture would want it. Anyway, anyone who wants to appropriate my culture is more than welcome.
I call my song: "Gnarly Banana":
by Freddie Keys
Once we all grow fruit variety
Now Musa balbisiana is all you see
Everybody grow it as fast as he can
The only exception is the gnarly man
Chiquita guy say to the gnarly man
Dump your banana in the garbage can
American prefer banana soft and sweet
But gnarly banana taste like sweaty feet
The gnarly banana come from gnarly man
The gnarly banana it is artisan
The gnarly banana it is soft as rocks
The gnarly banana taste like dirty socks
Gnarly man say you can go to hell
I think all me gnarly fruit is really swell
Me grandfather raise it from seed to bloom
Until we have to send him to the rubber room
Many years later there's a Bezos guy
Seeking weird produce that he can buy
He ask, is organic? and gnarly say sure
He say we will sell it in the Whole Foods store
Now Brooklyn hipsters chew the gnarly treat
Gnarly man gets richer every time they eat
They force banana down with a gnarly grin
Then they go out riding on a vintage Schwinn
Chorus, repeat until someone throws a grenade.