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THE BOMBER: TRIBUTE TO A GRENADIAN-BORN HERO 

Caldwell Taylor

I would like to go
In a blaze of glory
Like the Lord Kitchener
Let the media know
And they must tell the story
Biographical details of Bomber
So doh wait
Until Ah gone to meet the Lord
To give me ah posthumous award
Give me now to let the people know
I am a living legend of calypso
Ah say give me now
To let the whole world know
I am the godfather of calypso

"The Godfather", 2001.  

This might be politically incorrect, but what on Earth is a doting fan supposed to say on the happy occasion of the eightieth birthday anniversary of this "living legend of calypso"?  

Ehhem- Long live The Bomber!

Clifton Ryan, the boy who grew up to be the Mighty Bomber, broke into calypso at a time when the art form was second only to gossip as the people's most reliable means of information.


Clifton was born in St George's, the Grenadian capital, on January 30, 1928, less than twenty
years since the world's first aerial bombers had taken to the skies, and a mere eight years
after the idea of bombing whole countries into submission was first conceptualized and
operationalised by the British. 


The British ran their experiment in Mesopotamia, a former province of the Ottomon Empire that
became a mandated territory under the relevant provisions of Covenant of the League of Nations.
In its role as a Mandatory power, Great Britain was charged with the 'sacred' responsibility (see
Art.22 of the League's Covenant)of shepherding the Mesopotamians to civilization and self-rule. 

But it was not the British experiment in Mesopotamia, the country now called Iraq- that gave Grenada it first "Bomber". The nom de guerre actually came in 1940, after the bard had scorched his opponents with his lyrical payload in what was the country's first Calypso King competition. But we are running too far ahead; we ought to step back a bit in order to view the spangled trajectory of Clifton Ryan's career in calypso.          


              DISCOVERY DAY  

It was a hot day in 1940 and, once again, a group of boys and young men gathered on Halifax Street , St. George, "to take out rhymes" (what African Americans call "playing the dozens") and sing calypsoes. This ritual was performed virtually every day; it was the boys' way of having a good time. Besides, they sometimes got a shilling or two from appreciative passersby and in any case, singing and taking out rhymes were wholesome ways to take their young and impressionable minds away from the horrible stories of war. World War 11 was raging at the time and Grenadians reported several sightings-some real, most phantasmal-of enemy (German) submarines in
Grenadian waters.


In 1940 Grenada remained mired in the web of social and economic relations that characterized the period of slavery. Indeed, not very much had changed since 'wage slavery' replaced chattel slavery in 1838.

In 1940 the daily wage of a male agricultural worker was the equivalent of 18 cents U.S.; women took home 14 cents.

In 1940, child labour was still prevalent on Grenadian estates (plantations) and many boys and girls went to work to put food in the family calabash.  


In 1940, Clifton Ryan and his friends' calypso singing sessions were of course very informal affairs. This boy sang or rhymed, then he would be followed by a challenger and another. There would be a spattering of clapping and much ribbing and fatigue. On that fateful day back in '40 the songs and performances were nothing far from the ordinary until a magga likkle fella stepped 'into the ring' to do a number.


The likkle fella was doing his thing when the First Student of Grenadian culture, Pansy Rowley, approached.  She stopped. She listened. She nodded in approval. She said how she liked the likkle fella's moxie, his voice and his charm.


The likkle fella finished his song and Pansy Rowley walked up to him. Their conversation went along these lines: 

"What is your name"?

"Me? Ah is Clifton, Miss"

"Clifton Who", she probed.

"Clifton Ryan".

"Nice name", she opined

"And where do you live?"

"Up dey so", he said, pointing to no place

in particular.

"I really like you song", said Miss Rowley.

The likkle fella giggled into his cupped right hand.

"Tell me", returned Miss Rowley: Did you make up this song all by yourself?"

"Yes. Ah make it up for me own self", said Clifton.

"Well", said Ms Rowley, "I have a Club and I will like you to come and sing before the members. It is the Pygmalion Glee Club. Will you come?"

The likkle fella stared down at his unshod feet, as if to draw the courage to answer.
Finally, the words came. 

"Yes, Miss", he croaked. "Ah go come and sing for your Pyg Club".

Miss Rowley chuckled. Then she walked away. She wondered whether little Clifton would
keep his promise.

"I hope he does", she whispered to herself. 
 

            A PYGMALION EFFECT? 

Could Miss Rowley have expected a Pygmalion outcome?

 

In Greek mythology Pygmalion is the legendary sculptor who falls in love with a statue he has made. In 1913, Bernard Shaw used the story to create a play of the same name. In Shaw's Pygmalion, a professor wagers that he could transform a rude  Cockney -speaking lass
into a model of upper class refinement  and respectability merely by training her to speak with an
upper class accent. The professor's Cockney subject was doing fine until she suddenly broke off and announced plans to marry a poor sod named Freddy.


Will Clifton Pyg out?

 
Clifton honoured his promise to sing before members of the Pygmalion Glee Club.  And when he did, he brought the house down and was mobbed by many people from the upper brackets of St George's society.  Mr Norris Hughes, a big merchant, walked up to Clifton and gave him "ah
money". Mr Hughes will go on to become something of a patron to the youngster. Eric Gairy would also become a patron some years later. Indeed, in the role of griot, the young calypsonian was the first to lionize the young Eric Gairy. He sang:


"Uncle G is we leader
Dem police and dem too frigging regular".

 

The Pygmalion performance launched Clifton Ryan's singing career. Miss Rowley was very suitably
impressed and so she went on to organise a Calypso King competition: her little protege ran away with the title. The king was plain and simple King Ryan; up to that point he had not given any thought tothe idea of assuming a sobriquet. But that would soon change.    


    THE BIRTH OF THE BOMBER  

        
On the day following his Pygmalion victory, the pint-sized king was strutting along the Carenage,
on his way to the Empire cinema- when an old East Indian man in a torn singlet called out to him:


“Aye, ent you is the young fella that bombed them boys in the calypso show last night?"
 
"Yes", Sir, Ah is the fella, said Ryan.

" Bwoi you is a real bomber in truth. You bomb them boys for so."

This was truly a defining moment- Clifton Ryan became THE BOMBER.


End of Part 1 


Editor's note:

Part 11 of this story will be published on Monday, January 28. The concluding section will appear on Bomber's birthday, January 30.

Send birthday greetings to the Bomber -
submissions@bigdrumnation.org
Subject line: "Birthday Greetings to the Bomber".

S. Patrice

             

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