SONG: Rum and Coca Cola
ARTIST: Lord Invader
Listen to it here:
This is the first Trinidadian calypso we’ve had on the blog, and right now, I’m really enjoying getting to hear all of these songs that are part of the history of places I’ve never been and don’t know much about. During World War II, there were about 20,000 American GIs posted to Trinidad. They were there ostensibly to deter any invasion of the small island nation. A local musician, Rupert Grant, using the stage name Lord Invader, was unhappy with the situation and used this song as a commentary on the “American social invasion”.
The melody is that of a Venezuelan calypso called “L’année Passée”, which in turn was based on a folk song from Martinique. The title Rum and Coca Cola refers to the preferred drink of the American GIs, as well as referencing the mixing of the two cultures. In the lyrics, Lord Invader talks of Trinidadian women running away with American soldiers, and the general destruction of the culture by these soldiers.
The song became a huge hit in Trinidad in 1943, and it made its way to the Andrews Sisters just two years later. The song has the same title, very similar melody, and similar lyrics, although with some of the commentary removed. The Andrews Sisters version became the biggest selling song in the US up to that point, hammed-up Trinidadian accents, lack of biting commentary, and all. However, a few years later Lord Invader sued and won an undisclosed amount of money for copyright infringement.
Lord Invader was born Rupert Westmore Grant in San Fernando, Trinidad in 1914. He came on to the calypso scene at a young age, but was considered a country bumpkin by his contemporaries. Grant’s tailor told him he should change his name to something more impressive like Lord Invader to change his look and help him invade the capital. With this new name, he moved to the capital city of Port of Spain and began his career in earnest.
He competed in calypso competitions, recorded for RCA Bluebird and Decca Records, and travelled to New York to promote calypso. “Rum and Coca-Cola” turned out to be his biggest hit. When Grant died in 1961 in New York City, he was considered the most famous calypso singer of his time.
For a while, US radio stations refused to play “Rum and Coca-Cola” because of its references to prostitution in the same song as a major advertising brand.
Oooo rum and coca cola, Holly’s favourite drink! And yay, a Caribbean song! I’ve been getting more and more into Caribbean music partly thanks to my boyfriend being Jamaican (hello 90s dancehall and lovers rock!) so I was excited to listen to this one. To me it sounds less like a Calypso song than it does a Latin American song, but that just might be my untrained ear new to the genre. Anyway, I like that it’s a protest song disguised as a dance number, and I didn’t know that the US sent GIs to Trinidad in the 40s. Sadly it’s a bit bland for me and feels like airport Calypso. The instrumentation is non-existent (unless you’re really into shakers) and Lord Invader’s voice is nothing to write home about. Pass.
Please – if you know if that’s an Eb clarinet, or what the heck that is at the beginning, write it in the comments. It’s bugging me! I listened to this song several times, and just couldn’t really get into it. It’s just a light, fluffy, forgettable song to my ears. The subject matter and the lyrics is really the thing that’s interesting and important about the song. The lyrics and the story behind the writing was really interesting, and informative of the attitude in Trinidad at the time. It’s too bad it just wasn’t a better song.
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song (include youtube links when possible)
The Andrews Sisters’ hammy, cheesy, stolen version:
A Korean version by EBS:
Listen with us!
Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist: