BOMBER: TRIBUTE TO A GRENADIAN-BORN HERO
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
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)
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
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
"What is your name"?
"Me? Ah is Clifton, Miss"
"Clifton Who", she probed.
"Nice name", she opined
"And where do you live?"
"Up dey so", he said, pointing to no place
"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
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
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
This was truly a defining moment- Clifton Ryan became
End of Part 1
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 -
Subject line: "Birthday Greetings to the Bomber".