When 79-year-old Calypso Rose spoke to a writer at UK’s Independent in July, she vehemently implored women not to accept the narrative of gender-based violence and victim blaming.
“Carnival is to be loose! To be free!” she said. “We have to let everybody know that women should not be walking behind the men any more. Women should be walking in front! I know it is a scary time. But I am here to tell women: don’t be afraid. Enjoy yourselves!”
A living legend in her own right, Calypso Rose, who was born in Tobago, has had a lengthy 60-odd-year career in the music industry, with over 800 songs (yes, you read that right) under her belt.
And… She’s still going strong, despite having battled cancer and a few heart attacks, her energy rivals acts more than half her age, and she has an undeniable zest for life.
She is also an ardent activist who has devoted much of her career to standing up for the dismantlement of gender inequality and violence against women.
Her recent colossal feminism anthem was Leave Me Alone. The song’s lyrics calls for an end to sexual assault on women during carnival, and since its release even spawned a political movement, which received global attention. Leading creatives and activists in Trinidad & Tobago joined forces to address the prevalence of gender inequality, both within the construct of carnival and society at large.
Born McCartha Linda Lewis, Calypso Rose personally struggled to break through gender barriers. By 15 she was told to stop singing Calypso music, as it was a man’s genre. Despite being challenged, in the 1960s, she became the first woman to win the annual Calypso King competition. However, by the early 70s she hung up her mic and stepped away from the industry after being denied entry into a subsequent Calypso King contest because she was a woman. She couldn’t stay away long though. By 1978 she had re-entered and won the contest again.
In late 2018, Calypso Rose released her latest major hit, Young Boy, which once again catapulted her into the limelight. The song celebrates her age, womanhood and sexuality, with its main character, an elderly woman, pining after young men.
“I am here to tell women: don’t be afraid. Enjoy yourselves!”
The song helped land Rose a slot on Coachella 2019 – a jaw-dropping achievement, considering her age and the young demographic the festival targets. She had made history once again… She was the only calypso performer ever to be booked for the event, and the oldest ever across the board.