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Encyclopedia > Extempo

Extempo (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. Calypso might refer to one of several things: Calypso is the name of a sea nymph in Greek mythology; Calypso music is a style of Caribbean folk music; Calypso is the name of an album sung by Harry Belafonte; Calypso is the name of a moon of Saturn; 53 Kalypso...

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.

Extempo war

Its competitive nature is reflected at the annual Trinidad Carnival with a formal extempo competition for the title of National Extempo Monarch. Away from competition formal roles for extempo performers are typically as MCs or hosts of private functions. Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago is the event of the year. ...

Extempo war is sometimes called simply Calypso War. War is a calypso form that has existed since at least the turn of the twentieth century. ...

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 humourous 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. The Dozens is an African American oral tradition in which two acquaintances go head to head in a contest of often good-natured, ribald trash-talk. They take turns insulting; cracking, ranking, sparking, janking, snapping, checking, or riding — on one another, their adversarys mother, or other family member until...

It is also similar to the United States tradition of freestyle rap. This article or section may be confusing for some readers, and should be edited to be clearer or more simplified. ...

External Links

  • Trinidad & Tobago Carnival: the origins of extempo
  • Trinidad & Tobago Unified Calypsonians Organisation)
  • Brother Resistance, Extempo and Rapso artist)
  • Glossary: National Geographic World Music
  • "Seriously Funny: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime" by Howard Hacobson (1997 book: study of comedy referencing extempo)
  • "Seriously Funny: An Argument for Comedy" UK TV series



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