Patois in Calypso


Patois in Calypso


The Mighty Sparrow’s Sa Sa Yea (Sa Sa Yé, 1969 Road March), possibly Trinidad’s most famous Patois calypso:


Sa sa yé, sa sa yé, Bondjé,
Misyé, ou ka tjwé mwen!
Lévé, lévé, lévé, lévé –
Ouvè lapòt-la, gason, mon ka alé;
Sa sa yé, sa sa yé, Bondjé,
Sparrow, ou ka tjwé mwen!


What is that, what is that, oh Lord,
Mister, you killing me!
Get up, get up, get up, get up –
Open the door, boy, I going;
What is that, what is that, oh Lord,
Sparrow, you killing me!

Fò pa nou obliyé! We mustn’t forget! 

What follows is a short tribute to Patois (French Creole), the first language of Calypso and some of its proponents. A lot has already been written about calypso and soca, but this is part of a research project on Trinidadian Patois (in progress). We welcome all additions, corrections and suggestions – all will be gratefully acknowledged.

Linguistic Origins

Originally, Calypsos were sung in Patois.  The earliest known one, according to Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo), is En bas/Ambas Pons Marabella (Anba Pon Marabella*1838), which sings about a slave massacre in Marabella. See Quevedo’s book, Atilla’s Kaiso: A Short History of Trinidad Calypso (republished in 1983).

Attila's Kaiso_17cm

The music world celebrated 100 years of recorded calypso in 2012.  Fittingly, the first calypso recording was one with a Patois name – Mango Vert (Manngo Vè), played by George R. Baillie’s Lovey’s String Band in 1912.  The first vocal calypso recording was done in 1914 – Jules Sims, a stick fighter (Bois) was recorded live doing a Kalinda song.  Around the same time, a chantwèl, Henry Julian (aka Julian Whiterose/Iron Duke) was recorded singing Belle Marie Coolie (Bèl Mawi Kouli) under the sobriquet J. Resigna.  The language of Bois and Kalinda was Patois. The Patois linguistic traditions are still treasured and proudly maintained, as much as possible, by the Bois Academy of Trinidad & Tobago.


The Language(s) of Trinidadian Calypso, with a focus on Patois (French Creole)

The languages of Trinidadian calypso are French Creole (Patois), English and English Creole (Dialect).  French Creole is the Lesser Antillean variety, including influences from Martinique and Dominica. Sparrow has also sung in Dutch and, like others, has used some Bhojpuri (aka Hindustani) and Spanish. There have been other language varieties referred to in various calypsos by other artistes, including humorous imitations of speakers of Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese, as well as Barbadians, and more.

Two examples of Patois in calypsos are Lis Camille (recorded by Babb and Williams) and L’Année Passée by Lionel Belasco.

At the turn of the 20th century, more calypsos began to be sung in English and in English Creole (Dialect). Winer, referencing Quevedo (Atilla), notes that “The first complete calypso in English was probably sung in 1898 or 1899; Atilla (1983:11) and others have attributed this to Norman LeBlanc, singing in reference to the cutting of a new road in Port-of-Spain” (Lise Winer, “Socio-Cultural Change and the Language of Calypso“, New West Indian Guide 60.3/4 (1986): 117). This therefore means that for sixty (60) years, calypsos were most likely exclusively in Patois, since En bas/Ambas Pons Marabella (Anba Pon Marabella) of 1838.

The Mighty Conqueror’s calypso, Trinidad Dictionary, of course included a few Trinidadian words of French Creole (Patois) origin, such as bazodee (bazodi), and mauvais langue (mové lanng), among many more of other origins.

Some calypsonians still continue to use Patois in their songs.  This is no doubt in recognition of one of our oldest surviving heritage languages, one that lives on in our English and English Creole of today, and in our culture and folklore.

Of interest are the multilingual descendants of Trinidadian Calypso, such as Costa Rican calypso with Limonese English Creole and Spanish, Venezuelan calipso with English, English Creole and Spanish, and Aruban calypso which is usually also in English and English Creole, and may include Papiamento, Dutch and Spanish.

From Gros Jean (Mait Caiso) to Mighty Sparrow, Slinger Francisco (Calypso King of the World)

Some of those who sang calypsos only, mostly or partly in Patois (including duets and trios) are:

  • Gros Jean (1790-1820), who was the Calypso King or Mait Caiso of his time;
  • Lord Executor (Philip Garcia, 1884-1952, e.g., Lajobless (Ladjablès), Alla Nom – Go Away Man (Alé Nòm – Go Away Man), My Troubles with Dorothy, The Lajebeless Woman (The Ladjablès Woman), The Censoring of Calypso Music Makes Us Glad, How I Spent my Time at the Hospital, My Indian Girl Love, Carnival Again, Sambo Why You Are Go and Gambo Lai Lai Before the Court);
  • Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo, 1892-1962, e.g., ScorpionGabilan Bombay, Gambie Law Ray (Gambi Lò Ré), From a Scandal, Deliso, Banning of Records, Li Li Pierrot DarrieFire Brigade – Water de Road, La Reine Maribone, Zingue Talala, Meon Las Cherchez, Archie Boulay, and Doggie, Doggie, Look Bone) – see below for one chorus:

Atilla the Hun’s Scorpion (1939)

Eskoupyon, i vlé yon déjinen;
Piti kon mwen yé, mwen vlé yon déjinen –
Sé mwen mèm doré; mwen ka hélé:
Tout fami-mwen, mi, yo vlé manjé;
Tout kamawad-mwen, yo ka hélé
Eskoupyon, wi, vlé, i vlé manjé
Kamawad-mwen, mi, yo ka hélé:
Sé mwen doré, doré, mi, mwen blésé.


Scorpion wants a meal;
As little as I am, I want a meal –
It is I, the gilded one; I am shouting:
Look, my entire family wants to eat;
All of my friends are bawling out;
Scorpion, yes, he wants to eat;
Look at my friends shouting:
It is I, the gilded one, look, I am wounded.

Shorty’s E Pete (I piti, 1976)

Ou di mwen i piti, Shorty,
Ou di mwen i piti, ou manti;
Sa ou vlé fè mwen,
Ou vlé tjoué mwen;
Ou di mwen i piti, Shorty,
Ou di mwen i piti, ou manti;
Souplé, ladjé* mwen, Shorty;
Mwen ka santi kò-mwen pèdi.


You told me it was little, Shorty,
You told me it’s small, you lied;
What do you want to do to me,
You want to kill me;
You told me it’s little, Shorty,
You told me it’s small, you lied;
Please, let me go, Shorty;
I am feeling like I’m losing my mind (like my body is going weak).

*Here Shorty also sings either laji, “to widen” or lagé, “to let go” or possibly even laché, “release”, probably intentionally. Note: tjè and latjé mean “heart” and “tail”, respectively. (Similarly, God may be pronounced Bondyé, Bondjé or Bonjé, except here there is no play on words in this example of alternating pronunciation between [dj], [ʤ] and [ʒ].)

There are, of course, many more. See Alan Lomax’s archive for much more, including Patois songs in genres such as belair (bèlè, bélè), bongo, crèche (kwèch) and more, and Florence Blizzard’s and Nnamdi Hodge’s Vini Chanté an Patwa (Come Sing in Patois) – Patois Songs of Trinidad and Tobago. Songwriters and singers have written, sung and/or recorded some 80 extant calypsos that are either in Patois, use some Patois or have a Patois title. Some are in written sources only, such as Quevedo’s Atilla’s Kaiso.

Slinger Francisco, The Mighty Sparrow, Hon. Litt.D. (UWI, St Augustine, 1987), OCC

Sparrow alone has recorded at least eleven (11) Patois-based calypsos (choruses or lines) in a number of albums. The most famous of these calypsos is surely his 1969 Road March Sa Sa Yea (Sa Sa Yé), featuring among Garry Steckles’ Sparrow’s Top 10:

 51CFT7GCQVL   Sparrow 2   Sparrow

             (1969)                                                (1970)                                            (1990)

  1. Monica Doo-doo (Monica Doudou, 1959)
  2. Bois Bandé (Bwa Bandé, 1965)
  3. Sa Sa Yea (Sa Sa Yé, 1969)
  4. Levez Mako (Lévé Mako, 1970)
  5. Zinah (Gadé Zahina, 1970)
  6. Parables (1970)
  7. Manjhay (Manjé, 1989)
  8. Par Quiea Mweh (Pa Kwiyé Mwen, 1990)
  9. Democracy in Haiti (Liberte) (Democracy in Haiti (Libèté), 1995)
  10. Petit Willie Jumpin (Piti Willie Jumpin 2000)
  11. Mango Vert (Mango Vè, 2005)

The mainly Patois ones (Levez Mako, Zinah, Manjhay and Par Quiea Mweh) have been transcribed by Patois researcher and Patois teacher, Nnamdi Hodge, and are on his Patois channel.

The New Generation

The newer generation hasn’t forgotten Patois or Patois culture, even if only titles of songs or a few words only. These include:


One speaker of Trinidadian French Creole, Marvel Alves Henry, has been writing new Kalinda songs. Check out also his teaching blog for lessons in Patois.

Patois in Calypso is a significant part of Trinidad’s linguo-cultural heritage. In the face of impending language loss, we seek to carefully document all aspects of language use, including this very important area. We salute and honour our ancestors, and do this for the sake of present and future generations.

And as a lagniappe, here are two more of Atilla’s kaiso choruses:

Atilla the Hun’s Gambie Law Ray (Gambi Lò Ré, 1940)


Gan, Gan, Gambi lò ré
Vini wè zafè-sala:
Moun ka hélé, bwèson ka tombé;
Tout fami-mwen, gadé yo pléwé;
Ah, vini wè zafè-sala;
Mwen pa kouwi, gadé mwen blésé;
Ah, vini wè zafè-sala:
Moun ka hélé, bwèson ka tombé;
Mi, mwen tann fami-mwen ka pléwé.


Gan, Gan, Gambi lò ré (a chant)
Come see this affair:
People shouting, drinks falling;
Look at all of my family crying;
Ah, come see this affair;
I did not run; look, I am injured;
Ah, come see this affair:
People shouting, drinks falling;
Look, I hear my family crying.

Atilla the Hun’s Gabilan Bombay

Mwen pa sa wété, chè Adela –
This mizè twapé mwen, Adela;
Sé mwen, doré, doré, Adela,
If mizè kontwé mwen, Adela,
Sé mwen doré, doré, Adela


I can’t stay, dear Adela –
This misery has gotten me, Adela;
It’s I the gilded, gilded one, Adela,
If misery meets me, Adela,
It’s I the gilded, gilded one.

Nou pa sa oubliyé wasin-nou! We can’t forget our roots!

© 2015 Jo-Anne S. Ferreira, with Nnamdi Hodge

* Note that the original names of the songs have been preserved for the sake of historical accuracy. However, those names followed no standardised orthography, and are gallicised or, more often, anglicised. They may or may not be easily read by modern readers and writers of French Creole. They have therefore all been retranscribed (in parentheses) in the modern standard writing system for Lesser Antillean French Creole (Standard GEREC-1), which can be read easily by users of the more updated Standard GEREC-2.

Thanks to Bruno Bosc, Juan Facendo, Paul Hadden, Marvel Henry, Richard Mendez, Philip Núñez, Derek Parker, Clifford Rawlins and Sean Silva for their input (see discussion here), and to Ian Robertson and Lise Winer.

Join our Facebook groups, Annou Palé Patwa and the Annou Palé Patwa Classroom and like our page Annou Palé Patwa – Annou Palé Kwéyòl.

See previous Language Blag posts on Patois: A Plug for Patois (Part 1) and A Plug for Patois (Part 2).

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