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Just Another Lousy Day in Paradise: Ten Songs of Misfortune From the Caribbean

Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.

The Stormy Caribbean

In the subtropics, trouble can show up at any time

In the subtropics, trouble can show up at any time

Not Always a Good Time

Vacations, and travel in general, are designed to be times of relaxation and enjoyment. But, as everyone should know, this is not always the case. In fact, the literature of bad trips and hard times in foreign lands is vast and varied. The following songs are ten musical accounts of trouble in the Caribbean, coming from both outsiders and insiders.

The Beautiful Sub Tropics

Tropical vacations do not always have a happy ending

Tropical vacations do not always have a happy ending

An Old Folk Song from the Bahamas

The much-recorded, folk song called the Sloop John B goes at least until 1916, when American musicologists discovered the catchy tune. The song has been recorded many times, including Carl Sandburg in 1927 and the Kingston Trio in 1958. This A Capella performance by the Fisherman Friends from Port Isaac, Cornwall was done at the Cambridge Folk Festival (England) and gives a gutsy nautical feel to the folk song.

From the Bahamas

Float Plane Blues

Perhaps nobody embodies the Caribbean good life better than Jimmy Buffett. From Key West to Havana and points beyond, Buffett has written and sung about the region with a wit, charm and grace that few have matched. Even when accidentally placed under fire, the rambling songwriter does not loose his sense of humor.

A Real Lousy Day in Jamaica

Yes, There Once Was a Calypso Craze

Back in the late forties, Nat King Cole recorded a song called Calypso Blues and then Harry Belafonte followed with an entire album of Caribbean music. The music collection was simply called Calypso, even though not all the music was done in that style.

Maya Angelou, who would later go on to become a popular writer, entered the fray with her own album and a part in a 1957 movie, Calypso Heat Wave. Here she is from the film, telling a funny tale of misfortune in a number called, Run Joe.

Run Joe

A Sad Island Story

Jolly Mon Sing is another Buffett tune, most likely assimilated and transposed from island folklore that Jimmy encountered during his numerous sailing trips through the islands.To add a surrealistic note, this live version of the song is performed live in front of an aquatic tank full of mermaids in Cincinnati.

Jolly Mon Sing

From Jamaica

Next stop is Jamaica, where we hear from two island-born musicians, Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley, who both got their musical beginnings back in the 60s.

Released in 1967, Desmond Dekker's Shanty Town was one of the few island tunes to get a lot of airplay in England, as well as Jamaica. Shanty Town is also one of the very first "Rude Boy" stories, as it tells of a local crusade against a seaside construction project and the subsequent demonstration that does not end well for the participants.

Not much to say about the second song, except that it was written by the legendary Bob Marley and then performed by Annie Lennox of Eurythmics fame in Central Park. By the way the song does not have a happy ending.

Shanty Town by Desmond Dekker

Waiting in Vain

Island Immigrants Living in Canada

The Kobo Town band members all hail from Port of Spain, Trinidad, but now live in Canada, where they frequently perform in the Toronto area. Listen to them tackle, an old Lord Invader song that the majority of the Western world most often associates with the Andrew Sisters. Kobo Town's Caribbean roots come through loud and clear in this slightly older version that differs significantly from the popular tune, which was recorded in the forties by the famed trio of American ladies.

Kobo Town Does Lord Invader

Is the Man Really Smarter?

In the late fifties, the Calypso craze, actually made it on to the I Love Lucy Show. Having an actor on the show, Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) that was actually born in the Caribbean didn't hurt, as the whole cast, including Lucy, Fred, Ethel and even Little Ricky, get into the act.

Man Smart, Woman Smarter was written in 1936 by King Radio, a Trinidadian recording artist, then made famous by Harry Belafonte, when he released his landmark Calypso album. This made-for-TV version of the song followed Belafonte's album by just a couple of years.

The Calypso Fad Makes It To Network TV

More Island Adventures

The last two musical numbers come from two American folksingers, who both have a good story about what not to do when trying to take up residence on a beautiful Caribbean isle.

First up is Rob Mehl, performing his own number, Hemingway in Bronze, which colorfully describes Hemingway's favorite bar in Havana. Following that is a Dennis Wolfe song called A Gringo in Belize. The folksinger in this case is Leo Dean.

"Don't Even Think About Her"

A Gringo in Belize

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Harry Nielsen

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