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Garfield Blackman
Ras Shorty I
July 12, 2000
Age 58 
Bone Cancer 
 
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                                              Calypsonian who found religion after a life of sex and drugs 

                                                    Peter Mason 
                                                    
                                                    Few life conversions have been more
                                                    spectacular than that of the Trinidadian
                                                    calypsonian and father of soca music,
                                                    Ras Shorty I, who has died from bone
                                                    cancer aged 58. 

                                                    As the notoriously free- living "Lord
                                                    Shorty", he was the classic Port of Spain
                                                    "saga boy" in the 1960s and early 70s,
                                                    taking part in what he later described as
                                                    an "orgy of the flesh"; as the self-styled
                                                    "Love Man", he had a prodigious appetite
                                                    for women, drink and drugs. 

                                                    Then, in the late 1970s, he found religion,
                                                    renounced worldly pleasures and moved
                                                    deep into the remote Piparo forest in
                                                    southern Trinidad, 50 miles from Port of
                                                    Spain. There he built a house, changed
                                                    his name to Ras Shorty I, grew
                                                    dreadlocks and lived quietly for the rest of
                                                    his life with his wife, Claudette, and their
                                                    14 children. 

                                                    The constant thread in his life was music.
                                                    In Piparo, he proved to be a great
                                                    songwriter, producing new, avowedly
                                                    spiritual, tunes that were as popular with
                                                    the Trinidadian public as his previous, far
                                                    more frivolous, output. 

                                                    His greatest legacy, however, was as the
                                                    force behind soca music, which, with its
                                                    up-tempo and more funky outlook, brought
                                                    calypso music into the modern era.
                                                    Though of African descent, he also played
                                                    a significant role in bringing the sounds of
                                                    Trinidad's Indian community into the
                                                    island's musical mainstream. A cover
                                                    version of his song, Om Shanti, became a
                                                    major hit in India. 

                                                    Born Garfield Blackman in Lengua,
                                                    Trinidad, Shorty - so named in ironic
                                                    reference to his 6ft 4in frame - began
                                                    singing at the age of seven, and made his
                                                    breakthrough in 1963 with the song Cloak
                                                    And Dagger. He quickly became known
                                                    as the most outrageous of calypsonians,
                                                    in a profession renowned for carousing
                                                    lifestyles. Many of his lively and hugely
                                                    popular compositions, such as Lesson In
                                                    Love, were appropriately risqué and
                                                    sex-orientated, and in 1973 he was
                                                    charged with obscenity, a complaint only
                                                    dropped after the inter vention of the
                                                    Trinidadian prime minister, Eric Williams. 

                                                    Shorty's most important mark was made
                                                    with the 1974 album Endless Vibrations,
                                                    which was the first to use the new soca
                                                    rhythm. Like his Lord Shorty persona, his
                                                    music was bold, loud, sensuous and
                                                    larger than life. It was much copied, and
                                                    has become part of the bedrock of
                                                    calypso. 

                                                    By 1977, however, Shorty had became
                                                    disenchanted with the image he had
                                                    created, and when Maestro, a close
                                                    calypsonian friend and composer, was
                                                    killed in a car crash, he underwent a
                                                    dramatic change of direction, swapping
                                                    his fancy clothes for togas and sandals,
                                                    and retreating to the forest. 

                                                    In Piparo, after a period of
                                                    Rastafarian-inspired reflection and
                                                    establishing a new-found faith in
                                                    Christianity, he gathered together some of
                                                    his talented children to form his own
                                                    musical group, the Love Circle, and
                                                    devoted himself to writing songs about
                                                    spiritual matters and the dangers of
                                                    hedonism. 

                                                    Though he sometimes complained that "a
                                                    lot of people can't accept the fact that I
                                                    am no longer Lord Shorty", the new
                                                    message he gave out was warmly
                                                    received by most Trinidadians - as well as
                                                    by those further afield, who came to hear
                                                    his songs through the burgeoning 1980s
                                                    world-music scene. In 1977, his anti-drug
                                                    song, Watch Out Children - which warns
                                                    against "a fella called Lucifer with a bag of
                                                    white powder, he don't want to powder
                                                    your face but bring shame and disgrace to
                                                    the human race" - was an international
                                                    success translated into 10 languages. 

                                                    Latterly, in a song called Latrine Singers,
                                                    he lambasted Trinidad's new generation of
                                                    calypsonians for their obsession with
                                                    sexually-fixated lyrics. Although the song
                                                    caused heated debate in Trinidad - and
                                                    earned Shorty some insults from younger
                                                    singers - it did nothing to damage the
                                                    respect in which he was almost
                                                    universally held. 

                                                    Shorty also continued his mission to
                                                    promote the "Indianisation of calypso",
                                                    writing a number of songs that presaged
                                                    the current boom in Trinidad of
                                                    Indian-influenced "chutney soca". Last
                                                    month, he and his band released God's
                                                    Calypsonian, containing reworkings of
                                                    "Lord Shorty" hits that he had no
                                                    objection to, plus more recent numbers. 

                                                    Garfield Blackman (Ras Shorty I),
                                                    calypsonian, born October 6 1941; died
                                                    July 12 2000 

    
  
 
NY TIMES
        
           Ras Shorty I, 59, Created Modern Calypso Sound
                By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 

                     PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, July 14 -- Ras Shorty I, creator of 
                     soca, a fusion of calypso and an up-tempo beat that he said 
                represented the true soul of calypso, died on Wednesday. He was 59 
                and had been ill with bone cancer.  

                Ras Shorty I, whose original name was Garfield Blackman, started 
                singing calypso as Lord Shorty. He was responsible for fusing traditional 
                calypso with an up-tempo "soca" beat, what he called the "Indianization" 
                of calypso, bringing together the music of his Caribbean nation's two 
                major ethnic groups, the descendants of African slaves and of indentured 
                laborers from India.  

                In "Endless Vibrations," his first soca song, composed in 1974, he sang 
                of his need to "change the musical structure, make it super sweeter . . . 
                bring out that funky feeling." Dozens of musicians adopted his style, 
                taking soca to the dance halls of the world.  

                "Shorty was able to succeed in his attempts to modernize calypso, 
                especially to package it for young people, and I recognize him as the 
                father of soca," the calypso performer Mighty Sparrow said on 
                Thursday.  

                Lord Shorty would soon undergo a transformation himself. He became a 
                Rastafarian, changed his name to Ras Shorty I, and moved with his family 
                to a forest. He then changed his music to incorporate spiritually uplifting 
                lyrics and a new rhythm he called jamoo.  

                He is survived by his wife, Claudette, and their 14 children. 

 
       
 

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All-Music Guide
 
 The rhythms of calypso and the drone-heavy music of East India were combined to create the energetic musical hybrid, Soca, by Trinidad-born vocalist Lord Shorty (born: Garfield Blackman). During a 1979 interview with "Carnival Magazine", Lord Shorty recalled, "I was trying to find something new because the talk was that calypso was dying and reggae was the thing....I felt it needed something brand new to hit everybody like a thunderbolt".  
  
 Focusing on calypso in the early-1970s, Lord Shorty experimented with altering the rhythm until "introducing" soca with his hit song, "Ïndrani", in 1973. The new rhythm combined the musical traditions of the two main ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago. Lord Shorty initially referred to the rhythm as "solka", later explaining, "the 'so' comes from calypso and the 'Kah"' to show the East Indian thing in the rhythm.The name of the rhythm was later changed to "soca" by a musical journalist.  

 Although his early soca recordings utilized instruments, including the dholak, the dhantal and the mandolin, associated with East Indian music, Lord Shorty went towards a more standard instrumentation, including drums and guitar, beginning with his 1975 album, Endless Vibration.  Converting to Rastafarianism in 1981, Lord Shorty changed his stage name to Ras Shorty I. He continued to explore new musical ground with Love Circle, a band featuring thirteen of his children. In the late-1980s, he introduced a new style of music, jamoo, which combined elements of reggae and gospel. -- Craig Harris

 
 
  
 
 

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