Brother Valentino

Brother Valentino: Life is a stage

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Staff Article
Interview Recorded: June 12, 2005
Posted: July 07, 2005

This kaiso thing was not an easy thing

A view of Carenage from Fort George Grenada
I was born in Grenada in a little place called Cherry Hill. I came to Trinidad at the age of five. When I came to Trinidad I started school, and sometimes when I got holidays, my mom would send me back to see my grandmother. I enjoyed both worlds at a certain age. There are things that you never forget at the age from one to five years old. I will always remember the first 'Shadow' I knew. He was our neighbour in Grenada, and he was also a fisherman. He used to have 'Shadow' written on his boat, because he was also a Calypsonian. Around Carnival time in Grenada, those guys would perform with their guitars, because they didn't know about band accompaniment. It was a guitar and a chac chac, and that was how they used to sing their Calypso and compete. The first 'Shadow' used to always compete in the competitions.

The second 'Shadow' I know of is the 'Mighty Conqueror', who sang 'Women and Money' and 'Webster's Dictionary'. When he went to do his audition as 'Shadow', it was 'Lord Blakie' who used to be conducting the auditions in a place that was called 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' on Nelson Street. That was a place where you had to pass your acid test; if they say you are good you are good, and if 'Blakie' say you have to come again because you are not ready, you have to take that and cool it.

As a matter of fact, 'Conqueror' didn't even know his way to Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was I who showed him where the place was. Both of us went to the audition, and I failed mine but he passed his own. At the time there was a movie showing at the Strand cinema called 'The Conqueror' with John Wayne. When 'Conqueror' sang his two songs, 'Blakie' said, "But you eh no 'Shadow' boy; you come here to conquer." So 'Lord Blakie' is the man who gave him that name.

Coming down the line now, I heard about the next 'Shadow', which is the real 'Shadow'. I had experiences with three 'Shadows' as Calypsonians in my life. My name too, was not 'Valentino' it was 'Robin'. I was the original 'Robin', and then they had 'Count Robin' from South. The guy who was known as 'Young Sparrow' had called himself 'Robin' as well and that was because he stole my name.

After the season, he took my name and recorded his tune under my name, even though he wasn't allowed to have my name. At the time I did not have the opportunity to make records. The song he was singing was under his Calypsonian name, 'The Mighty Robin' and it was also played over the air. 'Young Creole' said to me, "But 'Robin' you eh see this man thief yuh name? Ironically, 'Creole' took my song that I sang in the tent, and he recorded it as well. That was a kind of an experience, a sort of initiation for me. This kaiso thing was not an easy thing.

Calypso is the kind of thing that if a man hears you singing a song, and he likes it more than you, fellas like 'Blakie' and them would say they want that song and they would take it. It was a steelpan man kind of attitude too; a 'badjohn' kind of mentality. That is why you see 'Sparrow' grew up so, because he faced the wolves. Although you are popular, you could be very unpopular. So sometimes his popularity used to make him very unpopular, and he would have to fight his way through leading up to the incident with 'Ten to One is Murder'. Those things are reality; they are facts. It is nice to see that the thing has gotten so civilized through the years.


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