Calypso comes from kaiso, and is a corruption of the Hausa word kaito, familiar in West Africa. Calypso is carnival music which tells about everyday life by pinpointing interpersonal difficulties. A true calypsonian draws from all aspects of society and uses wit, humour and hyperbole to show the disparity between an ideal form of living and actual life.
Calypso is any song that after 1898 was sung at carnival time in Trinidad - either in the street by revellers or in staged performances by singers. Many genres of music contributed to the development of calypso, including belairs, which were 19th Century songs in French Creole, Calinda or songs for stick fighting, bongos or wake songs, and lavway, or the more modern road march song.
There are different types of calypsos. Oratorical calypso originates from ritual boasts, or picong, spoken by costumed characters. Ballad calypso tells a story, and lavway was the leggo music, or street song for people who wanted to `let go`. There are also indoor and outdoor calypsos. Indoor calypsos place emphasis on lyrics over melody, and are telling a story; Standard English is the mark of the day and the use of hyperbole and critical commentary is the norm. Outdoor calypso focuses on catchy melodies, allusions to freeness and bacchanal, sexual activity, excessive drinking, African identification and patois.
Before Carnival Monday, calypsos were sung at practices or rehearsals when a group of masqueraders would get together while making their costumes and go over their musical routines. After a few years, music performers separated from masquerade activities, and were confined to a corner of the mas camp which they covered with tarpaulin: so, the calypso tent was born.
Calypso greats such as Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener and the Roaring Lion are names synonymous with calypso music. They forged the way for calypso to be accepted worldwide.