Today I’m Inspired by: King Short Shirt

McClean Emanuel was born on February 28, 1942 on the island of Antigua. The last of nine children, he is the son a fisherman, and grew up in the low-income urban district of Point. At the age of 20, he brought his awesome talent into the spotlight, when he entered his first calypso competition. He made it to the finals, but was eliminated in the first round.  By 1964, however, he walked away with the crown that would start his first three-year winning streak as King Short Shirt, Calypso Monarch of Antigua.

Short Shirt was confident and brash, calling himself the “Cassius Clay of Calypso”. He won the local crown again in 1969 and went on to win six more times between 1970 and 1979. In all, he had won 15 titles by the time he retired from competition in 1992. Known for the power and clarity of his singing voice and exceptional diction,  his legacy is one of scathing social commentary. His songs echo the rise of the Black Power movement in the late sixties, and the disillusionment in the islands of the early seventies. He sang against all forms of injustice, and was a fearless social advocate. He won the Antigua Road March title seven times, and had a total of seven regional wins, as well.  His 1976 hit “Tourist Leggo” is reputed to have created an immense stir at Trinidad’s Carnival, almost capturing the title and allegedly inspiring officials to start a ban on foreign entrants to the Road March competition.

One of the most loved Antiguan ‘Sons of the Soil’, Brother Emanuel, as he now prefers to be called, recently celebrated his 70th birthday, and the 50th anniversary of his performing career. He still writes and performs gospels songs, and appears to have no plans of slowing down.

King Short Shirt sang at my parents’ 1973 double wedding, and my favorite album of his – “Ghetto Vibes” – was released when I was just an infant. I have already posted about the song ‘Vivian Richards’ from this 1976 album. I now present ‘When’. While not as haunting as ‘Lamentation’, the lyrics remain as relevant as they were three and a half decades ago:

When? When will we learn to live together?
When? When will we learn to love each other?
When? When will we learn to trust our brother?
When? When will we live one for another?

Lord! I search and I search and I can’t find neither love, true happiness nor peace divine.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Sometimes, Lord I feel I could scream.

When? When will mankind turn from their evil?
When? When will the children rise and shine?
When? When will crime, violence and corruption?
When? When will they leave the hearts of mankind?

Lord! I search and I search but I can’t find either purity, grace or truth in mankind.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Sometimes, Lord I feel I could scream.

When? When will our dreams become Utopia?
When? When will our sorrows cease to be?
When? When will the poor no longer hunger?
When? When will mankind be truly free?

Lord! I search and I search but I can’t find the land of milk and honey and rivers full of wine.
Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. And scream. And scream. And scream.
Sometimes, Lord I feel I could scream.

About Joya Cousin

A former award-winning telecommunications executive from the gorgeous Caribbean, I now live in France with my husband. I have found my new passion as a visual artist, creating vibrant paintings in a contemporary expressionist style.

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