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World Music Legends

Lord Kitchner

By Chris Nickson
Published October 9, 2005

Calypso

Some people think of calypso as a light musical form. In Trinidad, however, it’s serious business, especially at Carnival time. And they don’t come any bigger than Lord Kitchener.

            Born Aldwyn Roberts on Arima in 1922, he was the son of a blacksmith and a washerwoman, a poor family that could barely afford to feed and clothe themselves. But “Bean,” as the young Roberts was nicknamed, always looked past that, and from an early age had dreams of becoming a recording star. He had a guitar that went everywhere with him, and as a boy he played to tourists for change, composing picong, or improvised calypsos.

            In 1938 he won the Arima Calypso King contest, a title he kept for three consecutive years until he headed off to try his luck in Port-of-Spain in 1942. He’d sing in the rum shops, honing his skills, before he entered the Calypso contest, in Roaring Lion’s Roving Brigade Tent, in 1943 with “Green Fig.” Part of a group of up-and-coming singers, along with Lord Pretender and Lord Destroyer, Kitchener (the name Lord Kitchener was given to him by fellow calypsonian Growling Tiger) had to follow the rules of Lion’s tent, which meant dressing in a suit and tie; however, the newcomers were so broke they had a share a suit between them.

            In 1944, Kitch moved to the Victory Tent, then the House of Lords Tent the following year, although 1946 saw him back in the Victory Tent, continuing with hits like “Tie Tongue Mopsy,” before opening his own tent, the Young Brigade, in 1947. The youngsters were eager to be heard, with a more aggressive style that brought in elements of Latin and swing music, although Kitch also used steel pan bands behind him on many occasions. It was a huge success.

But he had itchy feet; he wanted to see more of the world, and initially moved to Jamaica, intending to get a visa for the United States. When he was turned down, he picked England instead, and sailed there in 1948.

            Part of the first wave of West Indian immigration, he arrived on the Empire Windrush in June, captured by the newsreel cameras singing his latest composition, “London Is The Place For Me.”

            At first, though, it didn’t seem as if London was receptive to his calypsos. Initial pub shows received a terrible response. But an appearance at the West Indian Antilles Club marked a breakthrough, and within six months of his arrival, Kitch had all t

Recommended Recordings

 

Klassic Kitchener, Volume Two (Ice)

Klassic Kitchener, Volume Three (Ice)

London Is The Place For Me: Trinidadian Calypso In London 1950-1956—Various Artists (Honest Jon’s/Astralwerks)