The following is an excerpt from Steinberg Henry’s “Calypso Drift.” In this excerpt, author and broadcaster Alex Bruno speaks with June “Sandy” Soanes – a 2007 conversation. Here goes —
… I read a marvelous morning, even one bearing signs of an erotic linguistic unfolding on radio. Its spoken language continued to amuse me.
Bruno and Sandy made passing reference to Lady Christine, Black Panther, Diva Niocah, Lady Edna, and Jah Lee. Like Sandy, the charming Jah Lee had quadrilled into calypso’s circle again, wearing three-quarter heels! Sandy conceded that the real veteran calypso woman is Yakima, who had been sculpting the art for the last eighteen years, making a contribution in each of those years. “That’s somebody that really loves calypso,” said Sandy. “We, as women, we should appreciate that, and we should come together because Yakima is a cool person. She has been there, she has been the stepping stone, and through Yakima, I entered because that was the only woman who was there when I came. So I big-up Yakima.” That’s love! I remember when Yakima sang “Women Wearing De Pants,” chanting, “Wake up my brothers / wake up / is we wear de pants / today you wearing de skirt.” That must’ve been the late-’80s male redefinition period when what it meant to be male was already dismantling. Sandy would go on to thank Ian Jackson and praised Tim Durand, who, for three years, kept her ship of song afloat. “I really like to big him up, not forgetting that he wrote for me and without him I would not be here.” That’s gratitude. Good for you, Sandy!
“When I came back,” she continued, “it was kind of difficult for me because I had left so long. Seeing that there were other women in the competition, I was a bit nervous. I was wondering if my people, if my fans still remembered me. And to tell you the truth, on the first night of showdown—one of two calypso tents—I felt great to see that my Dominican people did not forget me.”
Jah Lee, who lived in New York and Dominica, called from Dominica with tinges of a New Yorker’s accent. “Sandy, keep it up. I watched you last night.” Sandy, who had been living in New York until she decided to return, thanked her.
A female caller. “Hello, Sandy, morning. All you, run de song. I know you can do it. Man even doh you doh make it to get de crong, you will make it—at leas’ in my top ten you dere. And, Alex, lemme tell you something, Jah Lee didn’t go an compete, you know. De lady is an honest lady you know. De woman cut her neck long before deir judge tell her anyting, you know.” Hearing it spoken with so much energy, such incomparable vivaciousness, such water-clear tones and cadence with “man” at the beginning of the sentence, vellicated my passion for linguistic codes. Somewhere in my psyche, I knew there was something I was understanding better from a distance. To me, and I must stress to me, it was phonetically captivating.