“And leh we fight dem fight, together we can make the wrong things right, fight towards the betterment of this land” – Colin “Observer” Reid, 1983
This evening, we learned that veteran calypsonian Colin Observer Reid had passed away. Observer, who first came on the scene in Pic-O-De-Crop in 1983, eventually became known as The People’s King, especially after his third-place finish in the 1991 Pic-O-De-Crop Finals with Cat Attack and School Girl Write. Many thought he should have defeated Kid Site that year based on the strength of those two songs, which dealt with two highly topical issues many would have considered controversial.
Cat Attack, possibly his biggest hit ever, addressed the crime situation in Barbados at the time, specifically when then Justice Elliott Belgrave (who later became Barbados’ Governor General) sentenced young men to a beating with the cat o’nine tails as a punishment for their criminal acts. That song also claimed third place in the Tune-O-de-Crop (Road March) contest that year, and his flamboyant team of female back-up singers, real name Strategy, became universally known as The Cat Attack Girls. School Girl Write, on the other hand, dealt with an incident highlighted in the local press, involving the alleged filming of a pornographic movie on the grounds of a secondary school. He was one of the few artists that year who looked at that issue in a serious way.
However, prior to that, Observer had made his presence felt with songs like More Pay (1984) and Youth Man Need a Trade, the latter of which advised young men to seek technical and vocational training so they could make it in life. As a tailor himself, Reid was speaking from his first-hand experience, and this song is still relevant today, based on the Ministry of Education’s plans to pay greater attention to this aspect of our education system.
He also made a statement with his 1988 song, I Don’t Want de Crown, and paid tribute to our international draughts champion, Ronald Suki King in 1992 with Keep On Pushing Suki. In that song, he spoke to the criticism Suki had received in some circles, for example with lines like “So when the people say that you brag too much, it hurts me deep inside, how could you take time out to say something such?” In this song, he also mentioned that a number of local calypsonians had done tributes to foreign personalities, for example Pitch Up with Good Luck to Jesse Jackson (1988) and Red Plastic Bag’s Mandela (1990). Observer addressed this by saying “But if Pitch Up could sing a song about Jesse, well now I gine sing one just for Suki – Keep on pushing Suki!”
Observer emerged when there was a surge in the popularity of calypso in the 1980s, when calypso tent performances were recorded for radio as well as shown on CBC Television. In those days, we developed the notion of big tents and small tents, with the former referring to those establishments where the “bigger names” such as RPB, Gabby and others performed, while small tents featured those artists who were either newcomers or were just generally not well known.
Back then, Observer was a proud member of Kaiso Palace and Contenders, which were considered small tents, and he and his contemporaries showed that there was indeed a lot of talent there. No doubt he would have helped bring audiences to the tents’ live performances. In his later years, he appeared with more established tents such as House of Soca, where he last performed in 2017 when he reached the Pic-O-de-Crop Finals.
Fellow calypsonians also admired his phrasing and clever lyrical structures, as well as his ability to isolate specific themes and write an entire song on them. At the 2004 Pic-O-De-Crop Semi-finals at the Wildey Gymnasium, veteran performers such as Red Plastic Bag and the late Smokey Burke, another outstanding practitioner of the art form we lost earlier this year, were completely thrilled by his use of language and theme in his song Kaiso Slave Ship.
Apart from his more serious songs, he could also put out a good party song, as Cat Attack was an uptempo song despite its serious theme, and the follow up, Damage in 1992.
in his later years, he also wrote for several younger artists, and in the mid-1990s, when the Pinelands Creative Workshop staged a calypso competition for children in that area, he acted as mentor to one of the performers along with Gabby, John King, Red Plastic Bag and Edwin Yearwood.
Yes, Observer seemed to live his life without ceremony and, as such, was probably one of the most underrated calypsonians. While he never won the Pic-O-De-Crop title, he made a significant contribution to the art form with his willingness to choose the road less travelled, in terms of his subject matter; and, for that, he deserves to be remembered. Our condolences go out to his family and close friends. Farewell, Observer. Rest in Peace.
One Reply to “#BTEditorial – Farewell to “The People’s King””
Condolences to the Family and Friends, i love ‘Cat Attack’.Observer! You will be missed.. Thank you for your contribution to the music i love. RIP