Ode to Sir Rupert ‘King Swallow’ Philo

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By Patricia Louisa Tully

In 1962, The Mighty Swallow, as a young boy from Willikies, made his first appearance on the Carnival stage and was adjudged the second runner-up in the calypso competition. That night, he was driven home in a car loaded with many gifts. That was the advent of his baptism, confirmation and marriage to calypso. Almost 50 years now, I doubt if a divorce from calypso is possible.

King Swallow as he is now called after winning the Calypso Monarchy on four occasions and the Road March title five times, is a humble, regular, friendly and down-to-earth “country boy” singing to entertain and inspire us. He has made a tremendous contribution to the art form and is someone that every Antiguan and Barbudan can be proud of. He is really a son of the soil and a musical ambassador “par excellence.” King Swallow’s illustrious career did not follow any blueprint prepared by him. He nurtured his singing talent in church and developed a love for calypso. He was encouraged by his childhood friend, Jerome Ramsey, and they spent countless hours listening to calypso records from a juke box close to his school in town.

However, it was not until 1976 when Swallow was dismissed from his substantive job with LIAT that he was convinced that he could survive without the job. This gave him the opportunity and time to enter his “Soca Kingdom” full time.

During the almost fifty years that have elapsed since his permanent change of careers, his string of soca hits with their vibrant, fiery and pulsating rhythms have created frenzy whenever and wherever he performs. This has resulted, in some measure, to the overshadowing of his mastery of the political or social commentary as evidenced by classics such as “Dawn of a New Day”, “One Hope, One Love, One Destiny,” “Rise Antigua Rise,” and “Man to Man.” But when we add hits that mesmerised the crowd like “Don’t Stop the Party,” “Party in Space,” “Subway Jam,” “Satan Coming Down,” and “Soca Kingdom,” it is clear that King Swallow was indeed a master of the artform.

To date, King Swallow has reigned as Caribbean Calypso King with the added distinction of capturing the Road March title and the Calypso King honour all in the same season. He is the recipient of three Sunshine Awards, and has received national honours in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and the Grand Cross of the Most Princely Heritage here at home. King Swallow still holds the distinction of being the first calypsonian to grace the Radio City Music Hall stage. Apart from King Swallow’s fierce competitive attitude, the fighting spirit of his long standing friendly rival, Sir MacLean Emanuel aka “King Short Shirt” contributed significantly to some of the biggest crowds at the Carnival City for any calypso competition. King Swallow also established and managed Antigua’s oldest and most consistent calypso tent, “Swallow’s Calypso Pepperpot,” dubbed the ‘university of calypsos.”

Through the years, King Swallow has earned the respect and recognition as one of the top three calypsonians that Antigua and Barbuda has produced thus far.

Let us all hail the King, King Swallow, that is!Thoughts and views expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Observer NewsCo, its management or staff.

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