Feature Address at Return of the Bassman- A tribute to the Mighty Shadow
For decades, when he stepped onto the stage, he did so with unrivalled boldness that instilled fear in the hearts of his musical opponents. His lyrics were sometimes haunting, with powerful references to our folklore and mas characters. The reach of his music extended across the generations- who can ever forget the lyrics of the song “Dingolay”
Sing- Music sweet
The one who invented music
Is got to be ter-riffic
Got to be the one,
who created the sun
and the trees,
rivers and seas
Music fills the world
plenty sweetness and
Music have no friends
Everybody could dingolay….
Even when you think of the deep meaning behind the song ‘Soucouyant,” where he tells the story of the mythical folklore creature who was uncertain about her victims because of the HIV epidemic, he skillfully used a folklore tradition to address a contemporary issue.
The name Mighty Shadow itself suggests something mysterious, unexpected, and lurking, watching your every move. These traits formed part of his stage demeanour. I quote from the Mighty Shadow’s interview with Debbie Jacob back in 1995, which perfectly captures his impact on the calypso fraternity:
“It was a sultry Dimanche Gras night in 1974 when a young skinny singer named Shadow who was reinvigorating calypso with blistering bass lines, challenged the Mighty Sparrow for the Calypso Monarch title. His song Bassman had burst upon the calypso scene like no other song since Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah in 1956. In those days, calypso seemed to be divided into three categories: Sparrow, Kitchener and the rest. But Shadow’s name had emerged as a potent musical force of its own; he threatened to turn the existing hierarchy upside down. Everyone was haunted by a singer who could exert such power just by standing on stage, deadpan, and moving his shoulders or jumping an inch off the ground.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I make no mistake when I say that Winston Bailey, or the Mighty Shadow, revolutionized the Calypso world with his repertoire of music, spanning over forty years. The “Bassman”, as he is known to the musical world, deservingly captured the highly desired “Road March tittle” in 1974 and 2001 with “Bassman” and “Stranger” respectively. He also copped Calypso Monarch in 2000 with “What’s Wrong With Me” and “Scratch Meh Back”. For a period of time, he was responsible for the Master’s Den Calypso Tent, which saw great calypsonians such as Cro Cro, Gypsy, Funny and Cardinal emerge.
Winston Bailey’s distinguished contribution to calypso saw him bestowed with the prestigious Hummingbird Silver Medal in 2003.
Yet all of these accolades never diminished his humility. This musical giant who was born in Belmont and grew up in Les Couteaux, Tobago, never strayed from his roots. He continued to effortlessly create music, with fusions of rapso in some of his later songs. During some of his performances over the years, one could see fans walking around with a crown for their king; our king.
To the Mighty Shadow, I say a profound thank you. Thank you from the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts. Thank you from the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and from all of your fans across the region and around the world. My address here tonight could never capture the entirety of your contribution to the calypso legacy. You were always dared to be different in each of your renditions, you challenged the boundaries that existed in the soca and calypso world, and we your fans love you for this.
I can assure you that my Ministry remains committed to preserving the legacies of our musical masters, and yours will be transferred across the generations. I am certain that right now, somewhere in the world, someone is listening to your music. You stand tall amongst Trinidad and Tobago’s national heroes who give us a great source of pride.
As I speak of national pride, the Ministry is wrapping up its National Patriotism Month commemorative activities, which were dedicated to enhancing our self-awareness as a people, and as a nation. It is indeed fitting that tonight I am here to deliver this address honouring one of our musical greats. Your story has inspired us to embrace the idea that there is a hero inside of all us, waiting to be discovered. In the words of Jonathon Lockwood, “If you want to be heroic, don’t emulate your heroes, learn from them. Heroes don’t follow anyone, they set their own course.”
I hope that after tonight’s proceedings, we all take back something positive from your legacy to incorporate into our own daily lives.
I thank you for your contribution once again, and ladies and gentlemen, I thank you, and bid you a Happy Republic Day!