Anyone who has ever heard Cardinal Calypso perform will be quite familiar with the level of energy and celebration this group brings to any stage (more to the point — anyone who has ever heard a steel pan knows the sense of delight that is unique to this percussive, Little Mermaid-esque instrument). However, Calypso’s performance on January 18 was about a lot more than peppy music. In union with Catch-a-Fyah (Stanford’s first and only Caribbean dance group) and Stanford Talisman (an a cappella group dedicated to sharing stories through song), and co-sponsored by the Caribbean Students Association, Calypso lit up the Dinkelspiel stage in a “celebration of the strength and beauty of Caribbean cultures,” raising funds to support hurricane relief efforts.
The hurricanes that tore through the Caribbean this past season had massive ramifications for many members of the Stanford community (and, of course, beyond). Although not all of Calypso’s members were personally affected by the storms, there is a more quiet struggle that arises for a group devoted to the music and culture of a place thrown into turmoil. In organizing this benefit concert, “Sharing Culture, Sharing Strength,” Calypso rose to the occasion of reckoning with that struggle and finding a way to turn it into something truly special.
After the performances, two members of Calypso — Astrid Casimire ‘19 & Kelsey Reardon ‘18 — stood up to thank all the people who contributed to the evening and all the audience members who showed up to support the communities affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Ticket sales from the concert went to GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding platform for grassroots charitable projects, and specifically to the Puerto Rico & Caribbean Hurricane Relief Fund. In addition to raising funds, this event represented the first ever collaboration between Stanford’s Caribbean arts organizations. Casimire and Reardon shared with the audience how the concept for this benefit started small — Calypso playing somewhere in public and setting out a cup for donations. As the idea grew, the steel pan group reached out to include other student organizations and strengthen the bonds between Caribbean and cultural arts groups at Stanford.
At the concert, Calypso provided the beats for some fire dance moves by Catch-a-Fyah, and accompanied Talisman for a fusion piece. All three groups also performed individually.
In the words of Jabari Hastings ‘20, a Calypso member and co-host of the event, “Calypso has been dreaming about a collaboration with Talisman for literally years.” Their song choice, although not Caribbean in origin, paid homage to the African diaspora to Caribbean countries, and the Afro-Caribbean identity.
Throughout the evening, the audience also heard from three Stanford students who were personally affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The first speaker, Alison Bartsch, a freshman from Saint Thomas, shared what it was like for her to transition from the devastation of her home by Hurricane Irma to the excitement and chaos of NSO. Bartsch said: “It hadn’t really crossed my mind that I was supposed to be leaving, because there were more important things to think about. … I really didn’t want to go, because I didn’t want to leave my home in absolute destruction, but I knew I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity of coming here to Stanford.” She explained how, in order to make it to school, she had to get a spot onboard a friend’s fishing boat to Puerto Rico (this was prior to Hurricane Maria), where she then stayed with family friends for a few days before she was able to get a flight to the states.
Halfway through NSO was when Hurricane Maria — the tenth most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic — tore through the Caribbean, in Irma’s wake. Bartsch described the “highs and lows” of trying to enjoy being a new student at Stanford, while also struggling to get in contact with her family to make sure they were still alright (which, thankfully, they were).
Looking to the future, Bartsch was optimistic. She made no mistake, though, that a lack of federal funding was to blame for the slow progress of rebuilding efforts in the Caribbean. She concluded by thanking everyone who showed up to the benefit: “It’s things like this that really do help. … compared to what we have to do, anything helps.”
Two other students also shared powerful words about the devastation wrought by the hurricanes: Julian Bava, a senior from Puerto Rico, and Valexa Orelien, a freshman whose grandmother was on Saint Martin, alone, during the storms. The entire auditorium went noticeably quiet when Bava described witnessing two women, in a town in the mountains of Puerto Rico, taking water from a gutter. “In the United States of America, two women have to resort to taking water from a gutter to subsist. If that doesn’t inspire shame, I don’t know what does.”
Orelien offered a much needed perspective check on the aftermath of the hurricanes. As she and her family struggled to find news of the situation in Saint Martin, and whether or not her grandmother was okay, they were dismayed to find that most of the press coverage focused on Miami, where people were waiting for the hurricanes to hit. Turning away from the news, Orelien related scouting the internet for updates — the number one result led to TripAdvisor, where people were expressing concern about the status of their vacation reservations in Saint Martin.
All three speakers took care to highlight the positive stories they had gleaned from the crises as well; the moments of support, bravery and generosity that they witnessed both inside and outside their communities as people responded to the situation. Bava said: “It’s truly inspiring just how those who have none, those who have nothing, are the most predisposed sometimes to give.”
The evening ended on a decidedly high note. As Calypso rocked out with numbers like “Take Your Mama” by the Scissor Sisters and “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte, a group of Calypso alumni started a conga line, which carried all the way around the auditorium and ended with folks dancing and jumping around in front of the stage. Although the way forward for the hurricane-stricken islands isn’t entirely sunny, and much remains to be done, the members of Catch-a-Fyah, Talisman, the Caribbean Students Association, the speakers of the evening, and especially Cardinal Calypso have much to be proud of for the love and hard work they put into this benefit.
Contact Claire Thompson at clairet ‘at’ stanford.edu.