Keith Stewart

Yellow Bird

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Calypso originally evolved as a form of subversive communication among slaves during the 19th century colonial oppression of the Caribbean islands. Banned from speaking while working, the islanders began to pass along news and commiserate through a sung patois that became the basis for calypso when it emerged as a genre of music in the early 20th century. The title track of Yellow Bird, the debut album of Keith Stewart, a popular Caribbean performer of the 1960s but little known stateside, is a perfect example of this function of calypso. A song about the Caribbean's most famous animal, the bananaquit or yellow bird, it works on two levels -- as a personal song of love lost and as a social freedom song. Multiple levels of analogical association create the possibility of multiple interpretations of lines like "Yellow bird, you sit all alone like me," or the slightly ominous "Pick a town sleep from night to noon/Like banana they might pick you one day." While there's definitely a strong traditionalist influence to Stewart's singing, the album's R&B treatments of traditional tunes, like the vampy version of "Angelina," are typical of releases on the West Indies label from this period. Stewart has a beautiful voice and is a solid guitar player, but is not an outstanding songwriter. His only contribution to the album, "Island Girl," is a lyrically weak tale of love lost while at sea. As an interpreter, however, Stewart is first-rate, and the album has a number of highlights, including the elegant lament "I Will Never Marry," "Wings of a Dove," and the Alice Simms' classic "Calypso Island."

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