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Calypso King

Jarrod Lall warms up the airwaves with sounds of the Caribbean

The contagious rhythms of calypso music are filling the attic studio at CIUT, U of T’s campus radio station. It’s -30 C on this January night, but Jarrod Lall – a.k.a. DJ Jarro – is heating things up. He leans into the mike: “Let the Island Breeze lift and warm everything in its path on this cold, cold night.”

Island Breeze – a show dedicated to traditional calypso and dance-hall soca – airs from 6 to 8 p.m. every Friday at “the eight to the nine to the dot to the five” on the FM dial. Lall, a U of T music student, co-hosts with several friends and kicks each show off with a themed set. This week, he starts with Trevor B.’s “Get Up, Stand Up” – ostensibly about dancing, but with a strong subtext about standing up for your rights.

Social commentary is an important element of calypso, says Lall. When the music first emerged, it carried subtle or satirical criticisms of political parties in Trinidad and Tobago (calypso’s birthplace), and then became more blatant and wide-reaching. The music’s global influences are part of what attracts Lall. The Island of Trinidad is populated by many different peoples – African, Indian, Spanish, French, Portuguese – and the music, with its steel-pan drums, sitars, tablas and keyboards, reflects that, he says. He likens the effect to a bouquet of flowers gathered from around the world. “If you took one out, you’d have a different bouquet,” he says.

When Lall was 12, he and his family emigrated from Trinidad to Canada. After singing calypso in a high school talent show at 16, he developed an interest in performing. Lall sang each year at Caribana (the largest Caribbean festival in North America), and, at age 18, won “most promising artist” from the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists. After he finishes his part-time studies in music and Caribbean studies at U of T, Lall plans to become a music teacher, as well as continue writing and performing.

Lall has been a co-host since the show began eight years ago, but knew the program had really made it when soca icon David Rudder agreed to perform at its fifth-anniversary bash. After the show’s 10th anniversary, Lall plans to leave to give someone else a chance. Asked if he yearns to have his Friday evenings back, he laughs. “This is therapy for me. To come here and just play music is something I love to do.” He adds, “Besides, I’ve got little kids – they get up early!”

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