(also extempo calypso) is a lyrically improvised form of calypso
and is most notably practised in Trinidad and Tobago
. It consists of a performer improvising in song or in rhythmic speech on a given theme before an audience who themselves take turns to perform. It is inherently competitive and success is judged by the wit and ingenuity of the performance.
It is similar in form to what has been defined as traditional African song: "a recitative or chants with a short chorus. The soloist gives the melody while a chorus sings a refrain. As the melody is given out, they turn to one another, each improvising in turn. Extempo tends to comprise topics from current events treated with mockery, ridicule and sarcasm, or with flattery or praise.” 1
The Art of Extempo
It is characterised either by the “single tone”, consisting of four-line stanzas or the “double tone”, which has eight line stanzas. There are four basic melodies common to extempo; “Santimanitay”, “Matilda”, “Miss Mary Ann” and “Big Bamboo.” The most widely used is Santimanitay. Another characteristic of extempo is that the performer must be able to think quickly on his feet since the subjects are handed out on the spot and the lyrics are improvised.
The competitive nature of extempo
is reflected in the annual Trinidad Carnival
with a formal extempo competition for the title of National Extempo Monarch
. Extempo War, or warring, is the practise of competitors attacking each others efforts at extempo
in the course of their own performance. It is not an essential part of competition, but is a regular feature, and an entertaining one.
Extempo war may also be called simply Calypso War.
Not all extempo performance is competitive. Away from competition formal roles for extempo performers are typically as MCs or hosts at private functions.
Related oral/musical traditions
It is similar to the United States
tradition of 'yo mama' or the dozens
in its competitive aspect but may be distinguished in that the aim is not to improvise humorous abuse to an opponent incorporating a given form of words, but to entertain an audience of ones competitors while extemporising on a given theme. The abuse or sarcasm may be directed either at ones competitors or at subjects relevant to that theme, ideally both.
It is also similar to the United States tradition of freestyle rap.
Notable Extempo Artists
- Lord Pretender
- Big B
- Black Sage
- Lady Africa
- Lord Relator (Willard C. Harris)
- Shortpants (Llewllyn Macintosh)