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Kelvin Pope

Oral history interview conducted by Michael Roberts

January 28, 1995

Call number: 2010.019.18

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ROBERTS: Well, as the mighty Duke, and he is interviewed by Michael Roberts for the Brooklyn Historical Society Carnival Project. Good morning to you, Mr. Pope and welcome to us.

POPE: How are you?

ROBERTS: Give us the background of your involvement back in Trinidad.

POPE: Well, it goes a long way. First off, Carnival, not only as calypsonian, making my contribution singing calypso, and also participating in Carnival. Of course, I like to play mas and so on.

ROBERTS: Now, let us take it a step at a time. You have been in the calypso world for how long? How long have you been participating in calypso?

POPE: Well, in the early 1960s I started singing in 1960. You know, started recording in 1960.

ROBERTS: And what has been your record to date in respect to your time on the 1:00calypso stage?

POPE: Well, it goes a long way. I've done a lot of things. I have competed, won, in competitions everywhere, like in St. Vincent, Barbados, Grenada, not Grenada, Trinidad, St. Thomas, Antigua. I have competed these places. I have won the Calypso Monarch in Trinidad for four consecutive years. I am the only person ever did that, '68, '69,'70, '71. I've been the Virgin Islands Calypso Monarch [unintelligible] calypso in Trinidad for three consecutive years. I placed second twice. So you know, I've been quite a bit -

ROBERTS: So you've had a very long career in the calypso field.

POPE: I've only just begun.

ROBERTS: Now, you obviously, since you won the Trinidad Calypso Monarch -and 2:00Trinidad is the mecca of calypso in the Caribbean --title for four consecutive years, we have a very good jumping off point if you tell us what the differences between calypso when you started as opposed to calypso now. What are some of the things that you see as happening in the calypso field now and then?

POPE: Well, like everything else it is changing. It has changed consecutively. You can say there was the Lion and the [unintelligible] era. You can say there was the Sparrow era, and now you can say there is a Shorty era with soca. And now, the band is changing again to a more jamming wind thing. And no one said I like it all, but then again, things change. I thing because it's changed, obviously is going to die. I'm not happy with the changes, but I think it means 3:00a little more thought as regards lyrics. Lyrics aren't just pushing it in the musical thing of it, you know? But it has its good and bad.

ROBERTS: Now, when did you start --first I must ask you, what part of Trinidad were you born?

POPE: I was born in South, Port Fortin, south Trinidad. That's Deep South, Port Fortin, where most of the Caribbean people from the small islands settled there in the early days.

ROBERTS: Do I detect that you are from a smaller island lineage?

POPE: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, fortunately or unfortunately born in Trinidad, but my brother, my mother and father are from St. Vincent. I went to school in St. Vincent for a time. So I'm between these two countries, yeah.

ROBERTS: When you were growing up, who were your idols relative to singing, 4:00because eventually you became one of the famous Trinidad calypsonians, Caribbean calypsonians? Who were you idols when you were growing up? What kind of music were you exposed to when you were growing up as a young boy in Port Fortin?

POPE: Calypso. My mother liked calypso. She loved calypso, so she let us put on records and so on. But my idols were Spoiler. I loved to hear Spoiler, Deceased Killer. And then as I grew up, I came to Sparrow. Sparrow was among my favorite. Even before Kitchener. But then now, I now understand what calypso is all about. I think Kitchener is one of the greatest calypsonians. More than I think he is, I'm sure he is the greatest calypsonian the world has ever seen.

ROBERTS: Well, that certainly is a great endorsement, and coming from you, because following your musical heritage, you have kind of steered away from smut. You always be singing some very serious songs. Last year, you gave us a very, very important song that was nominated for the record of the year for the 5:00social commentary, talking about the world and how things are. And you've given us a number of things. Why have you stopped that type of high lyrical, high road if you want, as opposed to the jammin' wind?

POPE: Well, I as you do you get. Man can get in it, so he does. I sing everything. I won't say I stick to it only, but I sing party. I like to think of myself who encircles the whole calypso arena, sings anything in calypso. But I like to sing serious topics; because this is a serious world we live in. This is not a play world. It's a serious world. And when we see things that disturb us, I think we have to bring it out, and that's what you do as an artist.

ROBERTS: You said that you had participated and you like to play mas. To use 6:00your own words. How long have you been involved in playing mas in Trinidad?

POPE: Oh, boy I started as a kid. When I was 18 years old in my first mas I played robber in Point Fortin, as a kid. And then as I grew up, I played sailor mas. I played the first Belmont. In Belmont there was a band called Them Boys, sailor. It was [unintelligible]. I used to play in All Stars in Trinidad, with Sparrow and all them guys, and-now I play with other bands, Wayne Berkeley and the other bands.

ROBERTS: So you been involved in Carnival for a lot of years?

POPE: Yeah, taking part in it. When one Carnival finishes, when tent finish the Carnival Sunday night, and then I jump in the band and play mas and enjoy myself, because through the Carnival you can't really enjoy yourself, because you have to keep your voice. You cannot party too much, because you'd lose your voice. So you try to keep yourself quiet. But after that is finished, Carnival 7:00Monday, we sort of let go and enjoy yourself.

ROBERTS: Now, what are the changes you've noticed in Carnival in Trinidad over the years, since you've been playing right up to, let's say, last year.

POPE: Many changes. The artistry we had long ago, with people like Bailey and Sali and these guys, who used to create [unintelligible] and create mas, create these sort of things, and the costumes, and you see yourself in a beautiful costume at the Carnival, you know. That you can only dream about. But you don't see them anymore. You might see them individually like in a headpiece or whatever. But in general, like a band, like a history band like Sali used to do or these guys, you don't see them no more. It's gone. It's more this women take part more than men played Carnival more, now more women take part. All we have 8:00now is this little tight thing and two feathers and they enjoy themselves, but it's Carnival.

ROBERTS: Now, a cut above the rest in Trinidad, and this is important for people who are just beginning to learn about Carnival. There have been some very famous mas producers. You've spoken about William Barkley, and another name jumps out to mind, Peter Minshall. Minshall has been at the forefront in Trinidad in revolutionalizing mas and Carnival as such, in terms of harnessing the technology. Do you think this is good or bad?

POPE: Nothing is really bad for Carnival. It's another avenue, another street to go up, another road to plan. Nothing's bad. Anything you can do to enhance something is not bad. It's your creativity that counts. Minshall is one of the 9:00people who has today come out, I like. In the days, when we had George Bailey and these people. Minshall is the the George Bailey of today. And George was very creative. He was creative in a different way, I think though. He made more history to Carnival than Minshall in a way. Minshall is more modern-day type thing.

ROBERTS: And of course I must get back to the whole question of calypso as being part of Carnival. What do you think will happen in the calypso arena in the next couple of years?

POPE: I would like to see them do it with the Carnival king competition as it is per se in Trinidad and Tobago. I'd like to see young guys who have calypso have 10:00a competition for the young guys, you know? That sort of thing. And give, encourage certain aspects. Encourage humor, encourage politics, encourage different aspects of the thing and give prizes for them. Because what happened up until today, they now give prizes for like Spoiler type calypsos, and [unintelligible] and these guys they are beautiful aspects of calypso, you know? And they should encourage that more. And I'd like to see people like Kitchener now, Sparrow, you know, Shadow, begin on Carnival Sunday night. They have made a fantastic contribution, and there's nothing could surpass them in education. They should be there. The only way they can get there is by competing. [unintelligible] is by competing. And it's very unfair to us who have made such a fantastic contribution to Carnival and calypso. And they should be there, 11:00because they are doing a fantastic job. They should be there so the younger ones could emulate what they have done. That sort of thing, you know? And now, we did out of the Carnival Sunday night, you know, and I think it's terrible.

ROBERTS: I am going to leave Trinidad and the Caribbean indeed, for a little while and bring you back to Brooklyn and ask you how long have you been living in Brooklyn?

POPE: Well, how long I've been living in Brooklyn is a nice question. I'm in and out of Brooklyn. I'll be here I've been coming here to the Hawks, since 1968, for the first time, and I've been in and out, so I'll be here Labor days. I never miss Labor Days. I'll be here almost every year from '68 till now. That tells you.

ROBERTS: And when you first came to Brooklyn in 1968, what were your impressions 12:00of Brooklyn when you did come?

POPE: I was surprised to see at that time the Caribbeans gathered themselves, you know, and Trinidad people particularly and West Indians in general, to bring bands and so on on the road. I don't think it was Eastern Parkway then was it?

ROBERTS: I think it was Atlantic Avenue.

POPE: I think that's where it used to be. I was surprised at the effort then, you know. And it has grown now so much bigger, and there is still so much more it can go if harnessed in the right direction.

ROBERTS: And what do you think of the community that you met in 1968 having come from Trinidad and having participated on many of the islands and so on. So you have a sense as to the community spirit on many of the islands. How did that compare with Brooklyn?

POPE: Well, in the early years it was different than it is now, because at that 13:00time, there were fewer Caribbean people, so you find that they were more together than they are now, now they are more fragmented. You know, but before, in 1968 and 69, people used to get together from the Caribbean, and you could see the enthusiasm when they met one another and that sort of thing. How they greeted one another and how they lived together at that time. Now it's totally different. People are more, I guess, time has done that.

ROBERTS: If I may ask, what are some of the important things to you, both as a calypsonian, as an entertainer, and as a person, that you looked out for when you came to Brooklyn?

POPE: Well, first off, now you're a Trinidadian going from the country in Trinidad and Tobago, and you are hearing since you were a kid, you know, America and Brooklyn and these sort of things. As a kid you're hearing it, everywhere, 14:00you are seeing it, you know. Because the biggest thing that people had don't realize is the culture, American culture-- I grew up in American culture, even in Trinidad and Tobago. Of course, as a kid, I was singing White Christmas and I never know what snow was about. So I was singing about being a cowboy, which is the Western, more recent so on. So I grew up in American culture, even in Trinidad and Tobago. So when I came to Brooklyn, that you were looking for that, to be in America, such a strong cultural influence that transported so far and so on. I was happy to be here, and to make my contribution to Brooklyn and to America in general, as a calypsonian. To bring my culture, and even mix with the Western culture and so on. I was happy to do that.

ROBERTS: Now obviously you've been participating in different arenas here and 15:00throughout the United States since you have been coming to United States from '68. How does that compare, from the time when you started in '68 to now? How does it compare?

POPE: Well, at that time, it wasn't as wide as it is now. Now you can go almost every state in America and you have a Caribbean community where people want to hear calypso. At that time it was just Brooklyn and maybe where, maybe Boston, I think it was, at that time. The two, you know? Not Brooklyn only, but New York, Manhattan and Brooklyn and so on, the Bronx and so on. But now you can go every state. Like, you have Miami, you have Atlanta, you have everywhere. Texas. Anywhere you have a Caribbean community that wants the calypso, and then you get people to take part in their thing.

ROBERTS: So you're saying that the audience and the money for calypso has 16:00improved over the years?

POPE: Yes, it has greatly improved. People are wider, a wider, a much wider scheme; because long ago you be based here in New York and Boston, as I said before, but now you can go to anywhere in America, almost anywhere. People call you [unintelligible] to come and do a show for them, and you know, to participate in their thing, and it's good. It's good.

ROBERTS: Now, that brings us to the next question. Over the years, the calypso has started as you know in Harlem, in February, and then it took us -- too cold to happen in February then -- and then as West Indians settled in Brooklyn, it developed from there, and then Labor Day was chosen as the Carnival. But then over the years, we have seen tremendous expansion --Miami Carnival, Atlanta Carnival, Boston Carnival, and Texas and a number of other places. Why is it do 17:00you think this culture is spreading so far? Why?

POPE: Why is it? Because carnival is beautiful! It brings people together. It joins people. That is the most important. That it brings people together to enjoy for one special purpose and that is to enjoy themselves. And that sort of thing. And there is good will. And any time that anybody you can spread and share that in a community. It brings not only Caribbean people together, but it brings American people together, because once Americans see the Caribbean culture for the first time, exposed to it, they love it. And it's nice. It's beautiful. I think that's the reason why.

ROBERTS: Then of course I'm going to ask you, what does Carnival represent for you?

POPE: Carnival represents everything to me. It represents love, love for your culture, love for people. It represents history to me in a way, because every 18:00--Carnival represents for me every aspect of life. In that small thing there, you can read everything of life in Carnival.

ROBERTS: Now, I'm just going to zero in a little bit now on the West Indian American Day Carnival Association Labor Day thing. Over the years we have seen in grown from strength to strength. And I think it is now 27 years old, the Carnival and getting bigger every year. It used to be a few hundred. Now it's in the millions. Since you've been here as both as a performer, and also one involved in that kind of effort, what have you seen that has changed over the years as part from the number of people who participate each year?

POPE: More people come out, for one thing, to see it, to view it. There are more 19:00people than masqueraders, much much more. And I think there's more pushes to get involved in the parade than watching it so much, so much. But what I've seen happening over the years, to me it's like --I want to put this right, in the sense, it's closing in. It's not getting wider. It's being too much enclosed. It should be spreading wider. I remember a long time ago, when you go down the Parkway and go home; the bands could go down any street they want. Now, what has happened, their cut off there and that's it. They can't go any further. It's getting too restricted. There should be more opportunity to display themselves more, more than that one day in particular, throughout Brooklyn, you know? To a 20:00certain area in Brooklyn; an area should be designated for that sort of thing. Like in Notting Hill Carnival. [unintelligible] In Notting Hill bands go do any street in Notting Hill and anywhere in Notting Hill. It's almost like Trinidad. And you know, their monitored per se, but they have to enjoy themselves, you know?

ROBERTS: I'm glad you raised the issue of Notting Hill, because I was going to ask you your impressions of Carnival outside of Trinidad and outside of New York, mainly Caribana and Notting Hill. Those two are the major ones. I'd like you to comment on these, because I know you've been involved in those two also, you played.

POPE: Well, the first Carnival even before I saw Brooklyn's Carnival, I saw Notting Hill, that's way in the 60s, right? And it wasn't as big. When I went back and seen it again I see it got big. Then I saw Brooklyn Carnival, which today is big. And then I saw Toronto Carnival, and Montreal was before Toronto, but Toronto has grown so big that I think it's one of the biggest carnivals 21:00right now that it encompass with Labor Day and Notting Hill. It's one of the biggest carnivals in North America. This Carnival here in Brooklyn, our Carnival is Brooklyn here, could be much bigger than all of them because it has all the necessary ingredients right here. But again, I don't know, maybe it's the venue or whatever, the area or whatever, I don't know. But it needs to be expanded more. It could be expanded more. Like in London, in Notting Hill you can go down any street and find a band. You know, any way you want. They all gather on their way eventually, but you can pass different places. Unlike here. Here it is restricted. Toronto is restricted, but it's a, has a longer area, a much bigger 22:00area, and then they have a place where you can view the bands. Where it is now you can view the bands party in a stadium, like for our thing, you know? And I think it has grown very big, as big as our carnival here Toronto's Carnival.

ROBERTS: I'm glad you raised the issue of viewing the bands, because that has been one of the major complaints of the Carnival Labor Day parade, in that people say they don't see the bands, and band leaders say because of the late start and how the thing is structured, they don't get to pass the reviewing stand, because the outlet at the reviewing stand there is so much confusion, the people don't really see what is going on. Do you think the people who run the Carnival, the West Indian Day Carnival Association should look at that as a serious issue?

POPE: It is a serious issue. Sure it is. It is a serious issue. But again, you 23:00can't leave something and go to something worse. If you are going to leave that area, you need a better area. I think the bands should probably stay coming down Eastern Parkway and go in a place like that school there, in Brooklyn there. That school on Fulton, there

ROBERTS: Oh Boys and Girls.

POPE: Yeah, Boys and Girls with a reviewing stand. And then make some turn, somewhere as a pavilion area where people can slow there, build a pavilion, sort of where you can view the bands, and turn and go somewhere else, you know?

ROBERTS: So you are advocating a kind of a decentralization in respect to the area of the parade route, so people have an opportunity to view the bands?

POPE: To view the bands. In case you don't want to walk on Eastern Parkway. You can pay and view the bands and have a better [unintelligible]

ROBERTS: Very much like a pageant is run on Trinidad and other parts of the islands?


POPE: That's right. Yes, that's how it should be.

ROBERTS: Instead of just a parade.

POPE: And everybody enjoy themself. Who want to walk and walk? You want to sit and bring the kids and enjoy the Carnival, take pictures and so on, and it should be much better thing for all concerned.

ROBERTS: I have to ask this because it's important. What do you like best about Carnival?

POPE: What do I like best about Carnival? What do I like best about Carnival? I like Carnival because, strange enough, I meet friends who I haven't seen for ages in Carnival, in any Carnival I go, and I can enjoy myself with them. People I haven't seen for ages, you know, I meet them there, and I can enjoy myself. That is one day I think I can go out and meet friends and enjoy myself with them. That's why I like Carnival.

ROBERTS: And what do you think --not what you like worse, but what do you think are the worst aspects of Carnival in your opinion?

POPE: I don't think there, there are no worst aspects of Carnival. Things can 25:00happen and that makes it bad, when people overdo and whatever. But that happens anywhere. It's anywhere. But I think under good supervision, good whatever, good planning and everything, Carnival could be beautiful. The only bad thing about it is that it ends too soon.

ROBERTS: You like to see it more?

POPE: Yeah.

ROBERTS: We've touched on Carnival in Trinidad, in London, in Miami, in Atlanta, as being Carnival centers, and certainly one of the things is because a lot of West Indians, a growing West Indian population in these areas. Do you think that Carnival, in Brooklyn, on Labor Day, makes a political statement? Do you think it does?

POPE: It does. It does. But, in America, any gathering makes a political statement, looked upon as a political statement. Carnival, it could make, it 26:00should make, it could and should --I'm not saying it's there for that purpose, but it could and should make a political statement. It shows that Caribbean people can get together, in [unintelligible] Caribbean people, in North American, that's what it is. It could be looked upon as a political statement, but I don't think it necessarily is a political statement.

ROBERTS: I see. Now, over the years, what has happened in places like Notting Hill and in Miami, not Miami, in Toronto, the governments of these countries and localities have been involved in Carnival planning, and to some extent they have subsidized the organizations which run carnival, which make for --to defray some of the costs that normally would be incurred in running Carnival. Would such a thing happen in New York City, understand, would you like to see local government, the mayor's office, get involve in Carnival in Brooklyn?


POPE: Sure. It's a tourist industry. It's a big industry. Carnival is a big tourist industry. And more people come to Brooklyn for Carnival from all parts of America in general. It's a money thing. It's a money thing. It creates a lot of things in New York. So therefore, if something brings money to our state, and boosts its economy it should be encouraged and whatever help and whatever, by the state.

ROBERTS: And you think it should be a partnership between the state and the West Indian American Day Carnival Association to run it?

POPE: Sure it should be. It should be. The state should finance it. Make any means possible. Move any stone, turn any stone possible to make a contribution to Carnival, because it's a beautiful not only a beautiful, it's a big thing in North America. It is. Not only in Brooklyn here, but anywhere it helps.


ROBERTS: Now, over the years, when you view carnivals in London, in Toronto, and in Trinidad particularly, we've seen a number of non-West Indian people and I use the term loosely participating in Carnival. In Brooklyn Labor Day Carnival, that move has been very, very hesitant. Why do you think that is?

POPE: A nice question, because I know we're seeing Mick Jagger and them playing mas in Trinidad. And others [unintelligible]. I think, too, because, I don't think Carnival even in North America, although it's big with millions of people, not even established here in Brooklyn. They don't even know about it. It's highly possible they don't even know it exists, that this thing exists here on Eastern Parkway during Labor Day. So that could be a point, too, that people 29:00aren't educated about it. That sort of thing. And if somebody don't know about something, then they won't participate. They get more interested in it, then probably participate as well.

ROBERTS: You raise an interesting point about education. What do you think could be done, given what you just said, within the West Indian American community and not so much outside that community what do you think could be done to educate other communities to our Carnival and the beauty of the Carnival?

POPE: Well, same thing that is done in other communities, TV, television coverage and so on. Other communities have their things and its well covered by top television stations and so on, well covered from start to finish, and carried thoughout North America. But Labor Day, you might get one second of it 30:00on the news and that's about it. But think about Toronto. Toronto's carnival is covered by all the medias. All the top medias. That's why its getting bigger and bigger. Everybody in Canada knows about Toronto Labor Day. I mean Toronto Carnival. So the same thing could happen here in Brooklyn if it's well-covered and --not well established, well-covered. It needs to be covered and it needs to be spread throughout North America.

ROBERTS: Now, are you saying that Carnival needs to be more organized outside of Brooklyn?

POPE: Yes, it needs to be. It needs to be covered. It's not covered properly. It's not even covered. It's not covered at all. People outside of Brooklyn doesn't know that Carnival exist in Brooklyn. Very few people, except the people that live in the tight little Caribbean community. But you know, and they bring a friend along, word of mouth, and so on, but it's not really covered. It's not, 31:00you don't really see anything in the subway; you don't see anything on cars. You don't see anything that tomorrow is Labor Day, and this big West Indian parade. You very seldom see on thing in the newspaper or [unintelligible] because it's not covered. It's not covered at all.

ROBERTS: In recent years, the West Indian Day Carnival Association has attempted to pass on the culture, if you will, by developing the Kiddies Carnival. Last year, there were almost ten or fifteen thousand kids on Kiddies Carnival the Saturday the back of the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnival City. Do you think this is good? And why?

POPE: Well anything when you encourage kids in something means its going to grow. You [unintelligible], anytime you encourage kids [unintelligible] and kids need to be. Like in Trinidad, the same thing is being done in Trinidad, in [unintelligible] and even the Virgin Islands. The same thing is being done and the kids [Interview interrupted.] St. Thomas had Kiddies Carnival long before 32:00Trinidad's Carnival; Kiddies Carnival. Their Carnival, when I went there in 1964, for the first time, they had Kiddies Carnival. Trinidad didn't even dream of Kiddies Carnival then. I was so enthused about it, I went back and I told them, the chairman of the Trinidad Carnival. I saw something in St. Thomas that we can encourage here. And then I had to take it up before parliament, and so on and so on. And Dr. William Maritime had a meeting full of Carnival's people and so on, and that's where that came up. And from there, it grew and grew, and eventually on Carnival, the kiddies, on Saturday before Carnival.

ROBERTS: Yes, now I know now that there is also a Junior King.

POPE: There Junior King now in Trinidad, and Junior Queen and so on. It's big. I 33:00mean, it's big almost like the adults Carnival. And what I saw in St. Thomas not only Kiddies Carnival, but in 1964 when I saw the children playing their own instruments, this we haven't done in Trinidad yet. The kids played their own instruments then. Kiddies steel band and the music coming from the children playing for themselves, and this is something that we should not only encourage here, but anywhere. When we get kids involved in things, then it's gonna grow. Then, that's like planting roots, you know?

ROBERTS: In Brooklyn, there are a number of youth steel bands. Pan Rebels is one group, CACSYM, and there are a number of other steel bands and other groups. One of the unfortunate things are that because of ignorance, or in most cases lack 34:00of understanding of West Indian and Caribbean culture, you know, playing of steel bands in a residential area is considered noise, and with the noise act, it has put a limitation on kids' participation in this. I gave you the question of education, and the question of how important do you think steel band culture is to the whole issue of Carnival?

POPE: Well, I think not only Carnival, but of community; I think if only people in America were more educated about steel band, then they would know they could get kids, the same kids who are shooting up on the street, and you know, could get involved in music and playing their instrument. Cause this how steel band came out in Trinidad, that the street kids got together and got off the street and beat pans and formulate their own communities, and it took them off that street thing and into the music. And it's good. It's good of the country. It's 35:00good not only Brooklyn, but throughout America. Getting kids involved --same way as involved in rap and so on, you know, getting into pan --it's music. It's another instrument. And get them involved, and then half the problem will be solved.

ROBERTS: Yes, recently in Trinidad also the government has made the pan the official instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, and that of course gives recognition to an instrument that was born among the grassroots, among the poorest sectors of Trinidad and Tobago. In Grenada, pan is also taught in schools, and a number of other Caribbean countries. However, I say this all to say; that in Brooklyn, we've seen it in Trinidad, we've seen it in Grenada, in St. Lucia, and I know other countries we've seen it --pan and steel band music is not given the prominence that it deserves at Carnival time. Why do you think this is so?

POPE: Not only at Carnival time. Well you see. The strangest thing now. "The 36:00King has no honor in his own country." Same thing happened in Trinidad, you know? And people look at that, and they say, well look, you know, if it doesn't happen in Trinidad, it shouldn't happen here. But pan should be given the prominence in Carnival, because Carnival is pan, pan is Carnival. The same thing is entwined together, you know? And it's a musical instrument like any other instrument. What is happening in this high tech world is that pan doesn't have the song, as forceful song as musical instruments. As stereo equipment and so on. And there is no one who doing anything into that, technify the pans or whatever, to get pans to have the same effect. Once that can happen, believe you me, pan will be an integral part of Carnival.

ROBERTS: The West Indian Day Carnival Association under Carlos Lezama have been 37:00involved in developing this tremendous cultural art form for 27 long years, and they have been on the Parkway. I would just like to hear your comments on that organization relative to the Carnival on Labor Day.

POPE: Well, as far as I know, the little I know. As far as I know it, they're the ones who are responsible for Carnival from nothing to the way it is today. They're doing a good job. I think they are still working, fighting to keep it the way it is, whatever. But like everything else, it could be improved upon, like everything else could be improved upon. And probably don't have the manpower, and the public they can harness it, you know. But so far I think they have done a good job just merely keeping it well, it's not easy to keep Carnival going in a country that don't want it. That's the whole thing. Except for a few, 38:00a minority. It's not easy. And so I know they have done a fantastic job.

ROBERTS: Now you just alluded to something that other people have been thinking about, that there are certain areas where the Carnival could be improved. Despite the whole question of limitation of manpower and the financial resources, what are the areas do you think needs to be improved or tightened?

POPE: The involvement of man masqueraders in the bands, in masquerade bands, their involvement. There should be some women, but there must be some way. There should be some --I don't know how it could be done. Find some means so people can look at the play the costumes and parade unfettered by other people getting in the band, and so on and so on and so forth. So people could see the costumes better, and so on. That could be worked on. Another part is you could get a 39:00place where people could view the Carnival. New incentives, other incentives for people to form bigger bands, for people to participate in Carnival, you know? People getting more involved in the Carnival. Get people to go to the band, to the pan yards and the costume places and so on, have them as theaters, you know? Have them as theaters, people making costumes and so on, have them as theaters, and people come in and view the costumes and so on. You know, can get more involved in Carnival in a good aspect of Carnival in general.

ROBERTS: This year --I'm sorry; last year, last Labor Day is no exception to an ongoing problem that has happened in Crown Heights. I refer, of course, to the 40:00situation with the Hasidic Jews. In 1992 we had the Crown Heights Riots because of the death, unfortunate death of Gavin Cato, and that put a cloak on the Carnival parade. Mr. Lezama was able to bring the Jews together with the Caribbean leadership. We solved that problem. Last year there was some problems again, and the mayor's office had to intercede. And so, we don't know what will happen this year, 1995. What do you think is responsible for that kind of attitude in respect to a people who just don't want Carnival to take place?

POPE: Well, it [unintelligible] for education. They don't know about Carnival. They have their beliefs and maybe fear. Fear is a dangerous thing. If you fear something without even knowing what you fear. They don't know something, so they're not educated about it, so they fear. They fear that because they don't 41:00know about it. Should they be more knowledge about it, then they will probably accept it.

ROBERTS: As a spinoff question, this year for the first time --last year, I'm sorry --for the first time in the Labor Day Carnival, we saw a number of, I would want to call them, non-traditional Caribbean peoples playing mas. For example, we had the Korean band. Unheard of five, six, seven years ago. We had a band from the Dominican Republic. And we've seen the gradual incursion of Haitians, our French-speaking neighbors, in the bands. And so we've seen also a few White folks getting involved in the band, playing mas, coming out, walking on the parkway, and really enjoying Carnival. Do you think this is a good thing and it should be encouraged?


POPE: Sure, that's what Carnival is all about! Getting together and meeting people. That's what Carnival is all about. In the Caribbean, in Trinidad, when Carnival started up in the Caribbean, I think so, what happened is that the people around there, mulatto and everything get together with the people, the slaves and so on and so on. That one day, we call it, prince and pauper get together. You know, color has nothing to do with Carnival. So this is what Carnival is all about. Unity and love. And that's what Carnival is about. So when they get involved in Carnival and they see Carnival, they tell their friends and just go and enjoy themselves. That's what it's getting people together, no matter race, religion, nothing. Nothing matters there. Getting together. You don't want to participate in Carnival itself? But just be there. It's what Carnival is all about.

ROBERTS: This last year also, and the year before that, on Labor Day we saw a 43:00number of serious innovations in respect to how mas is played. I remember one costume that drew rave reviews both in the mainstream media and the Black press, was the issue of an alien with arms and heads moving. It showed the willingness of some band leaders to harness technology that exists in America here in the service of Carnival. Do you see this as going further and should be encouraged?

POPE: Yeah, that's a Minshall type thing, costume. What Minshall has done. Bringing the technical aspects of what's happening there and put it in the costume and so on. It's beautiful. It's beautiful. We're in the 90s, and anything that you can harness from the 90s and put in something that 44:00[unintelligible] from the 50s is beautiful.

ROBERTS: So perhaps in the future we might find our band leaders designing costumes by computer?

POPE: Already it's being done in Trinidad. Believe you me, it's done in Trinidad.

ROBERTS: That is correct? It is done in Trinidad with the computer technology?

POPE: Band guys work with computers now, drawing on computers now. Color schemes and color blending and so on.

ROBERTS: Well, this has not reached in New York yet, but certainly Trinidad is a leader in that field.

POPE: It's being done already. You know, New York. It's the 90s. We've gotta use stuff from the 90s in the 90s. You can't be doing things from the 40s in the 90s.

ROBERTS: We spoke just now about different people involved in Carnival. You say it was a beautiful thing and so on. Why do you think that Carnival is unique, of all festivals, because there are a lot of festivals --that Carnival is unique in 45:00bringing people together?

POPE: Because you see, Carnival, as I said before, is not an Anglican, Catholic or Caucasian, Black or Asian thing. It's a everybody thing. You see, the other aspect you have to think is that they have a Asian march, Asian parade or Caucasian parade, or this parade or that. This carnival is a everybody parade. It's West Indian parade, it's American parade, it's a Brazilian parade. Anybody, any nation, any color, anybody, child, adult; that's what makes Carnival unique. The others, you can say well, this parade is an ethnic parade. You know what I mean? That color or that or that or that parade; but Carnival is a everybody parade. This is what makes Carnival unique.

ROBERTS: Now, to round off our discussion, I have to go back to your specialty 46:00relative to Carnival, and that is of course calypso. In the last couple of years, we've seen soca music taking off in different directions. There has been an attempt to fuse it with reggae, for example, to create the dance hall effect. Byron Lee is doing that kind of stuff. And we've seen a number of artists, people like Super Blue, harness the kind of jump, dance hall pulsating rhythm. Where do you think calypso would go in the next couple of years?

POPE: I would like it to go international again. What the guys are doing now is experimenting, looking for areas to spread music, which is normal. Because in the past, we had this fused culture with Latin. [unintelligible] and other Latin 47:00music involved in culture before, so they had a lot of Latin music. So now they're using reggae dub, which is really --dub rhythm is really a basic calypso rhythm. So I'm not against the fusion. It's beautiful; once you can do it in a proper way. It's going. It help. Anything can help. Anything that could enhance a music to go forward, to go to a wider audience. I'm all for it. Anything that can help to take music to a wider audience, I'm all for it.

ROBERTS: Now the argument in respect to how far calypso music has reached is that the pioneers have not been active enough on the international marketplace. For example, when you put against reggae music which came far later than calypso 48:00--calypso music was first, reggae came afterwards, but the influence that reggae has developed today has been due to the pioneering influence of Bob Marley. Do you think that enough is done with calypso on the international scheme, arena, to really sink home to the international community that: Listen, this is the music. This is our music. It's just as compatible as reggae is.

POPE: Yes and no. One is that we have to, see calypso, no longer a Trinidad thing, no longer. This you have to understand. It's a Caribbean thing. It's not --it's like reggae. Reggae is not only a Jamaican thing. Reggae [unintelligible] is a Caribbean thing. So whether the roots started here or started there, together it has become Caribbean music. Trinidad's international. Calypso is 49:00Caribbean international. Calypso was there before reggae. It was big. It was international like, remember when Lion used to come here and Veda and them sing [unintelligible] then it was big, it was international. Then it went out, like everything else, it's trying to get back on the mainstream. It's not easy to get back on the mainstream. Reggae has gotten there by adaptation. Adapting themselves to situations. Trinidad calypso has more wanted to hold onto its roots more than reggae did. Reggae just, you know, you move it to this and going to that without holding to anything. We try to hold onto the traditional thing of calypso. So I think we have to go this way, try other schemes like soca and 50:00so on. Soca has a root, a gutsy thing from calypso in it. Unlike dub. Dub has gone completely far from reggae than reggae ever was. So it's ---why it has gone more than calypso is, too, because people. Jamaican people have a total love for their thing, Jamaica. Trinidadian people are more --I want to say they are more --you go in a Trinidad house, you see a Bob Marley, you see an American record, you see whatever record thing, you know? Jamaican you go in, you see total reggae. That's their thing. Reggae. They don't want nothing else. You know? We, Trinidadians are more liberal. That's the word. They're more liberal musically. And liberal, being liberal musically doesn't get your music on the air. You have 51:00to be dogmatic. This is my music. It has to be there and that's all. I want to hear my music, that sort of thing. You go in a party, a Jamaican party, you hear reggae, right through At a Trini party you hear calypso, you hear Latin, you hear French, you hear Souk, that sort of thing. So they're not dogmatic to their music as Jamaicans are.

ROBERTS: Now, since you are an international figure in the calypso world, we noticed that calypso, in Trinidad, in the Caribbean and in the United States, despite limitations, there's few artists that really are recognized; Serbs, Sparrow, Arrow, Shadow, Kitchener, right? And Baron. That's almost where it 52:00ends. But however, there seems to be almost a reverse effect in Europe and in England where a lot of people like Eddie Grant, who is not popular over here, but immensely popular in the Caribbean. Why do you think so?

POPE: Because I think Eddie did their music out there, or his music out there. It was adapted more to their music, not our music. See obviously that's why he's more popular out there than here. He did more, what he did something like; his music is more like rock music than calypso music, so obviously he is more popular in Europe than he is in the Caribbean.

ROBERTS: But why do you think a lot of Caribbean artists, Kitchener included, are very popular in Europe?

POPE: Well, remember, Kitchener started a long time ago. And he was in Europe; he lived in Europe for a long time. So he is more transcended that sort of thing. He went to Africa and all these places. Kitchener could be appreciated 53:00more internationally because he is lyrically, he is beautiful. His accent, you know he gets over. He is very audible, and so on. That's helped.

ROBERTS: Do you see Europe as being as big a market as North America?

POPE: Bigger. Bigger. I remember, when he told he that he was selling millions in Europe, and then he came here, and they said, "We don't know you. Who are you?" And he said, "You know, I'm in North America." You see, you talking about Europe, talking about Spain, you're talking about, you know, Europe. It's big. Over here, North America is small compared to Europe. And you can sell records over there. You don't really need this market. You need it for international thing, but not really. So it's a big market out there.


ROBERTS: OK. What can we expect from Duke in the coming years?

POPE: My hope, my aim, my goal, before I leave is to have one international hit. One. Not just national -- but one international. A song that will be accepted -- not only by Caribbean people or Americans -- but people internationally.

ROBERTS: And where do you think Carnival will be in the next couple of years? What do you see as emerging out of this Carnival trend in the next couple of years?

POPE: I see everything, every city, every country in North American with a Carnival. A Carnival village or Carnival area or time for Carnival, and to be one of the biggest festivals in North America. Believe you, me.


ROBERTS: I want to thank you very much on behalf of the Brooklyn Historical Society for this interview.

POPE: Well, it's nice being here, and it's nice for you and for them.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Kelvin Pope

Kelvin Pope, also known as "The Mighty Duke," was born in Port Fortin, Trinidad & Tobago to parents from St. Vincent. Pope was an internationally acclaimed calypso singer, winning four consecutive Calypso Monarch awards, a prestigious calypsonian competition. He participated in carnivals around the world, including the West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn, New York. He began participating in the Brooklyn Carnival in 1969. Kelvin Pope died in 2009.

In this interview Kelvin Pope discusses his calypso career, from its early start in the Calypso Monarch competitions in Trinidad to his projects as of 1995, the year of this interview. He reminisces about his participation in Carnival, as a mas (masquerade) player and as a musician. He provides a commentary on the evolution of calypso in the years preceding this interview and the emergence of technological advancements in mas costumes and music. Pope discusses the early years of the West Indian American Day Carnival, in Brooklyn and compares the contemporary Carnival to Carnival in Trinidad, Notting Hill and Toronto. He notes possible ways in which the Brooklyn Carnival could be made more accessible. Pope also suggests the need for education in handling the continuing conflict that the West Indian American Day Carnival Association has had with its Hasidic Jewish neighbors. Pope also suggests ways in which the association could partner with city government to ease the financial and structural burdens of the Carnival. Interview conducted by Michael Roberts.

The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.


Pope, Kelvin, Oral history interview conducted by Michael Roberts, January 28, 1995, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.18; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Pope, Kelvin
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • West Indian-American Day Carnival Association


  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Ethnic identity
  • Multiculturalism
  • Parades
  • Race relations
  • Trinidadian Americans
  • Trinidadians


  • Brazil
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Grenada
  • London (England)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad


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West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records