Anatomy of THE Groove: “Calypso Funkin'” by Billy Ocean

Billy Ocean,born almost 67 years ago this year in Trinidad as Leslie Sebastian Charles, decided to follow follow in his Grenadian father’s musical ambitions after his family moved him to Essex,England in 1960. He first got his taste of musical success singing in London clubs as a teenager while carving out a living for himself as a tailor. Recording his first album in 1976 in more of a Philly/Motown pop soul style,his second album in 1980’s City Limit had two songs in “Are You Ready” and “Stay The Night” that LaToya Jackson on her debut album the same here.

He broke out commercially in 1981 with the title track to his third album Nights (Feel Like Gettin’ Down. It was only a few more years before his string of new wave/disco hits such as “Caribbean Queen” and ballads such as “Suddenly” made him a superstar. In the early 80’s however, Billy Ocean was primarily a boogie funk artist with a very strong attention to song craft and keen understanding of a strong groove. His fourth album Inner Feelings was one I tracked down for a buck on vinyl. Its a wonderful album in this immediate pre-superstar boogie sound. And one of my favorite songs on it is called “Calypso Funkin'”

A jazzy synth brass chart starts off the intro to the song,which starts out as an Afro Brazilian percussion jaunt with a heavy slap bass line. This is accentuated by a slippery electric piano part along with Ocean’s vocals for several bars. And that’s when the boogie drums bring in the more straight ahead dance beat for the choruses-along with a nice fast paced funk rhythm guitar.  Each chorus is accentuated by a silent break with a female sigh. There are two instrumental bridges to the song. One showcases a steel drum solo playing the changes. The other is a Vocorder solo before the chorus closes out the song entirely.

Even during his hit period,Billy Ocean never stopped expressing his Afrocentricity in different ways. He even re-recorded the lyrics to his song “Caribbean Queen” and re-titled it “African Queen” for release across continental Africa. “Calypso Funkin'” actually brings in the melodic and rhythmic influences of the vast spectrum of Calypso music deriving from Ocean’s native Trinidad-a music originally derived from West African Kaiso music with colonial French influences,into his post disco/boogie funk sound of 1982. Its another strong example of the Afrocentric musical elements still present in the boogie funk era.

 

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