Former classmates of his attest to the fact that he could hardly wait to get out of class at Princess Margaret School so that he could begin regaling them with his calypso compositions. Others shared that he actually wrote and sang BOOM BOOM a number of years before it became one of our greatest Road March tunes in 1970. And mind you, that was our very first local Road March. Theretofore, our Road March winners came out of Trinidad, the last being, CRAZY LOVE, by Lord Melody. But Joseph ’Kaiso Joe’ Hunte, he of whom we write, “an unheralded and unsung Calypsonian,” according to the Mighty Serpent, put an end to that foolishness. Remember, folks, Kaiso Joe broke through and won the calypso crown in 1971 with rousing performances of EDUCATE THE YOUTHS and RECORDED IN HISTORY, this, after a string of seven years in which Short Shirt won the crown five times, and Creole won twice.
He was all of 72 years when he transitioned into the Great Beyond, after a period of ailment. Of course, it was another stab at our hearts already aching from the loss of two other calypso icons, Tyrone ‘Edimelo’ Thomas and Rupert ‘King Swallow’ Philo. A nation mourned! And the unspoken question from our lips was: How much more can we bear? And if it be possible, could this cup of sorrow pass from our lips for the rest of this grief-filled year? Alas, we knew the answer. It is not our will, and in any event, this is a road that we all must travel. The thing is: little did we know that Joe, who spoke so passionately on VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (VOP) about our dearly departed Mighty Swallow, would be following him to that great celestial calypso choir, roughly two-and-a-half months later.
Kaiso Joe dedicated his entire life to reveling in, and promoting, our calypso artform and culture. He was almost always in his West Indian-themed Hawaiian print shirts and straw hat, and toting his acoustic guitar. He could fry the hell out of a snapper and could cook a conch ‘like nobody’s business.’ He was blessed with a mischievous smile, a sharp wit, (he wrote all of his songs) and a wonderful sense of humour. Joe was the kind of guy that no one would mind as a dinner companion, partaking of a delightful Kaiso Joe-prepared meal and a cold beer. And yes, he was just as engaging on the performance stage. He captivated audiences with his commanding presence, his excellent command of the language, what with his unique turns of phrases and lyricism, his old school two-step dance- moves, and his crystal-clear and enchanting tenor.
In a conversation with another extraordinary calypsonian, Richie Francis, it was revealed that it was Kaiso Joe who took Richie under his wing. They became partners in the performance of folk songs and other forms of entertainment featuring our folklore and culture. It was always a crowd-pleasing occasion. Richie speaks fondly of their close relationship (they performed together on the hotel circuit for nearly 30 years, seven days a week), and the wonderful Antiguan magic that they were able to perform for visitors and locals alike. Needless to say, Richie was bereft with grief.
Calypso Slane and Calypso Edmond ‘Dougie’ Dowdie, in an appearance on yesterday’s VOP broadcast, spoke with much admiration and obvious respect, of the wonderful times that they’d shared with Kaiso Joe. They mentioned his critically acclaimed performances, here and abroad. They revealed that he was quite a chef. They spoke of his irritation at constantly being overlooked in the calypso competitions, especially since he felt deeply that he’d beaten many whom the judges placed ahead of him. It is widely acknowledged that Kaiso Joe was robbed in the competitions on more than one occasion. But that did not deter him. He loved kaiso. He loved performing. He loved pan. He was a member of the Superfly Steel Orchestra from Roun’ South, and was happiest at carnival time. Remember, it was Joe who sang that wonderful classic, the song synonymous with our carnival, ANTIGUA ON FIRE. The words of the chorus speak to la joie de vivre at carnival: “We go move all day in the heat / Man, we go groove peacefully to de steelband beat / Eighty thousand people like a mighty choir / carnival time, good Lord, Antigua on fire / Well, last canaval was a gala fete / Is one ting in meh life I’ll never forget / Man, de steelband sweet, sweet, sweet; thousands jumpin to de beat / A Yankee woman hold on to me and she bawl out ‘leh we play mas Joey’ / (Verse 2) From Sunday evenin we go start it rough / And we go fete right through, and dat ain’t no bluff / Man, we go hold on to any creature, it could be de Governor daughter / No mind de colour or class, dis is carnival and we playin mas.’” Indeed!
This is arguably his magnum opus, never mind that others swear that it is BOOM BOOM – “Ella leggo meh hand, lemme jump in de band / Don’t tell me is a band so sweet comin dong Market Street / You know she hold on to me and she start to wine like a coon / Dis time she started movin well to dis popular tune / (CHORUS) Singin, ah tink ah hear ah boom boom / Lemme go lemme boom boom / All around is boom boom / Now fire in meh boom boom / Whoy, mama boom boom / Lemme wine lemme me show you boom boom / Big and little boom boom / Old and wrinkle boom boom.”
Look, folks, from his rhetorical question, “What in de world could beat a sound education?” inEDUCATE THE YOUTH;to his call for “Judges to judge competition right; judge what you see and hear on de stage dat night / ‘Cause any misbehavior is wap, wap, wap!” [WAP]; to his moving tribute to the Father of the Nation in TRIBUTE TO V.C. BIRD; to his warning that we pay heed to the lessons of A HOUSE DIVIDED, because we have A NATION TO BUILD; Kaiso Joe is one of our best Calypsonians of all time. And yes, he pointedly addresses the political directorate in REVIEW: “. . . Let us recapitulate and examine our treatment here in this State / Have you been true to your citizens? /Are you worthy of praise or criticisms? / Have you satisfied the majority? / Have you done your duty efficiently? / If so, you have played your part / Congratulations with an open heart . . .” Hmmm!
Kaiso Joe has gone home to his eternal reward. And great will be that reward, because he made us laugh, he made us dance, he made us proud, he made us think. He strode across the stage of life with dignity and class, parlaying the enormous talent with which he was blessed into wonderful things of beauty. He shall not soon be forgotten. Nay, as long as there is calypso music, and pan, and carnival, the name Joseph Hunte will live on. Wherever a tin-pan strikes up, or an iron goes ting-a-ling-a-ling, or a lady decides to “play mas in her born-in suit,” [BOOM BOOM] we will remember Joe. Thanks for the special moments, Bro! Rest in peace!
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