Obituary: Mighty Shadow


Obituary: Mighty Shadow

Calypso singer who tackled political and social issues and did a ‘skipping-rope’ dance

MAN IN BLACK: Calypso singer Mighty Shadow in 2011
MAN IN BLACK: Calypso singer Mighty Shadow in 2011

Mighty Shadow, who has died aged 77, was one of the greatest musicians to have come out of Trinidad and Tobago, the home of calypso. Dressed all in black, with a wide-brimmed hat and often a cape, he would insert chants into his politically charged songs as he executed his trademark up-and-down “skipping-rope” dance.

In the early years of the 20th Century calypso had become a means of spreading news around the country, and Mighty Shadow often tackled social issues, in songs like Poverty is Hell.

But he was equally acclaimed for more personal songs such as What’s Wrong With Me, a complaint that he had never been named Calypso Monarch (the song itself righted that wrong in 2000). His calypso and soca rhythms were underpinned by throbbing bass lines whose fluidity helped give rise to a variant, the “soul of calypso”, or “soca”, as it became known.

He was born Winston McGarland Bailey on October 4, 1941 at Belmont, a suburb of Port of Spain in Trinidad, but he was brought up by his farming grandparents in Les Coteaux on the sister island of Tobago. Inspired by local musicians on their fiddles and goatskin drums, playing at weddings and other celebrations, and by his choirmaster grandfather, he began singing when he was eight. “I was so carried away,” he said of hearing his first calypso. “I knew from that moment what I wanted to do with my life.”

By 15, he was playing guitar “in front of the guys on the street corner”. At 16, he moved back to Port of Spain, but was homeless for a while as he attempted to embark on a musical career; he gave up learning carpentry when he nearly fell off a roof. He auditioned for various calypso “tents” – carnival venues named after the original canvas-covered stages – and finally, in 1970, he was taken on by Mighty Sparrow and his Young Brigade tent, the springboard for his solo career.

He began calling himself “Shadow” (the “Mighty” was added by others), and in 1974 he won the Carnival Road March title, awarded to the song played most in the carnival parades, with his best-known song Bassman (“Every night I lay down in me bed / I hearing a bassman in me head”).

He also took on Mighty Sparrow that year for the title of Calypso Monarch, and there was widespread bewilderment when the older man won out.

He went on to run his own tent, Master’s Den, and in the competitive world of calypso his records sold well – he released more than a dozen albums – but he was consistently overlooked by carnival judges until What’s Wrong With Me and Scratch Meh Back brought him the Calypso Monarch title in 2000.

The following year, with Stranger, he became one of only two singers to win the International Soca Monarch and Road March in the same year. In 2003 he was awarded the Hummingbird Medal, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s highest honours. In 2017 Mighty Shadow was the subject of a documentary, King From Hell.

Mighty Shadow, who died on October 23, is survived by five children.

© Telegraph

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