Thursday, June 19, 2014

Roaring Lion - Netty Netty (Calypso) with information, sound files, & lyrics

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases information, sound files, and partial lyric transcriptions with comments of Roaring Lion's Calypso song "Netty Netty". Information about Roaring Lion is also included in this post. This post also includes an anonymous blogger's comment and my comments that question the generally accepted meaning of this Calypso song- t hat it refers to abortion.

The content of this post is provided for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Roaring Lion for his musical legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publishers of these YouTube sound files and videos.

INFORMATION ABOUT ROARING LION (with information about "Netty Netty")
"Roaring Lion (22 February 1908 – 11 July 1999)[2] was a calypsonian (calypso singer/composer). His 65-year career began in the early 1930s and he is best known for his compositions "Ugly Woman" (1933), "Mary Ann" and "Netty, Netty", which are still performed today. The song "If You Wanna Be Happy", which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 on 18 May 1963, as well as the R&B singles chart,[3] is based on Roaring Lion's "Ugly Woman"."...

Lion was born Rafael de Leon in Aroquita, in the Caura Hills of northern Trinidad, to a mother named Basalicion de Leon and a father named Arias Cairi Llama...

In March 1934 the Trinidadian phonograph merchant Eduardo Sa Gomes sent Roaring Lion and Attila The Hun to New York to record; they became the first calypsonians to record abroad.[5] He was also the only calypsonian vocalist of his generation who could read and write musical notation.[6]

Roaring Lion achieved fame for his linguistic prowess as much as for his catchy tunes. His lyrics, delivered in rapid-fire style, show an impeccable command of the English language (as well as Trinidadian slang), and are replete with witty turns of phrase, humorous metaphors, and clever alliteration and internal rhymes. Of all the early calypsonians, he was by far the most scandalous, with the most banned songs by a large margin. His "Netty Netty", the song of a prostitute who left town to have an abortion operation, shocked not only Trinidad and Tobago, but also neighbouring countries such as Grenada, where he was banned for a while (as his song "Excursion to Grenada" relates)."...
Read my comments below about the widely accepted story that "Netty Netty" is about a prostitute who left town to have an abortion.

Example #1: roaring lion NETTY NETTY

roger Ramirez, March 26, 2009
Here are several comments from this sound file's discussion thread:
Vernell Quashie, 2010
This is Road March (Leggo) of 1937 by Roaring Lion

sbhawanie69, 2011
@SuperSnk1 Actually the melody for Netty Netty is an an leggo from th 1800's called Prisonnier Levez.

tricia chin, 2013
'swagger, mystery, precision of expression, a capacity for sharp data gathering, and an unaffiliated imagination.' Lennox Grant on the makeup of a calypsonian. A truly accurate description by Grant. Calypsonians tease, insult or assuage the entire population ( Trinidad) every year. Their job is to be our mirror, or telescope, and whatever they are, and how their tunes are judged, depends on a mixture of personal skill and attention to national mood and events. The true calypsoes, the ones that are timeless, are those which capture the particular quirks of national culture, or situations, which remain with us today.The Roaring Lion is a giant in this respect. His calypsoes remain popular through re-mixing or on their own. The tune on link is funny, dark and popular some 80 yrs after its Road March win in 1937.

T&T History, 2013
'Netty, Netty' was banned 1936 by Commissioner of Police on grounds of 'immorality'; Collector of Customs dumped entire first shipment of the record in Port of Spain Harbour

Example #2: Roaring Lion - Netty Netty

mrprofessor18, Uploaded on September 11, 2010

LYRICS [1936s version]
From a transcription of the 1936 recording that was posted on by Mick Pearce, 19 Sep 11 - 08:09 AM along with some corrections of that transcription that were posted by James Fryer, 19 Sep 11 - 10:41 AM and two changes that I made which are given in italics.

(Rafael de Leon aka Roaring Lion)

Christmas night, I almost died with laugh,
Lying in me bed with a high brown craf*
Christmas night, I almost died with laugh,
Lying in me bed with high brown craf
She heard a gin-bottle with a wicked roll**
Ah Tamboo Bamboo *** Netty make her lose control

Singing, Netty, Netty
Gimme the thing that you got in your belly

The craf on me bed was very still
And when she heard a gin bottle she got a thrill**
And said "Wake up, wake up darling, let's make our names
Your Tamboo Bamboo *** addlin' me brain"
She jump up off me bed and nearly bust me blind
Lash me in the face with a body-line.

Singing, Netty, Netty
Gimme the thing that you have in your belly

[verse 3 not transcribed]****

Singing, Netty, Netty
Gimme the thing that you got in your belly

The craf caught a vap and she start to dance.
She said, "Lion, this the time to take our chance"
I said "Woman, you better stop your stupidness
You always calling men for foolishness"

She said "I care nothing at all"
She jump out the road and she nightly fall.

Singing, Netty, Netty
Gimme the thing that you got in your belly
Notes about this song with attribution in brackets:
*"craf" = [slang for] a woman [James Fryer]

** "She heard a gin-bottle with a wicked roll" i.e. he can hear a bottle-and-spoon band.[James Fryer]

*** "Tamboo Bamboo" - a type of carnival band pre-dating steel pan [James Fryer]

**** [Verse #3] = this verse sounds mostly slang or possible French-influences patois and I can make out only a little, so I've omitted it here [Mick Pearce]

James Fryer also wrote that "the lyrics 'If you can't stand the digging/Give me back me shilling' are sung in other versions of this song".

My changes to this transcription:
I changed the name "Nelly" that Mick Pearce gave in the last line of Verse 1 to "Netty". Also, Mick Pearce wrote "Your dambou-vamou addlin' me brain" as line four of Verse 2. I changed that to "Tamboo Bamboo", conforming with the change that was given to that transcription by James Fryer.
Also, "high brown" refers to skin color and may be the same as the African American term "high yellow", meaning a very light skinned Black person, in this case, a light skinned Black woman.

While it is largely believed that the song "Netty Netty is based on a true story about a prostitute named Netty who had an abortion, consider this comment that was posted by GUEST 19 Jun 14 - 01:51 AM on
"Speaking to a Trinidadian. The thing in her belly just really relates to her lady parts. Netty is a prostitute. The words if you can't stand my digging (sex), give me back my shilling refers to if she doesn't like what he's doing she can give the money back"
It's possible that Roaring Lion purposely wrote the phrase "the thing in her belly" to mean either "a baby [to be aborted]" or "a lady's body parts". That said, it certainly seems to me that the lyrics as they have been transcribed are a much better fit for the "lady's body parts" meaning than the "baby to be aborted" meaning.

The Wikipedia article whose link is given above indicates that "[Lion's] "Netty Netty", the song of a prostitute who left town to have an abortion operation, shocked not only Trinidad and Tobago, but also neighbouring countries such as Grenada, where he was banned for a while". [end of quote]

I wonder what would have been so shocking in 1936 about a prostitute having an abortion. It's likely that a number of prostitutes in those days had abortions. But perhaps what was shocking was to openly sing about that fact. That said, it seems to me that a song that even alludes to a man repeatedly asking for "a female's "lady parts" could have been considered more sexually provocative then a man asking a woman to have an abortion. Also, it seems to me that some other references in the song "Netty Netty" might have been considered more shocking than the line "give me the thing you have in your belly" - For instance, what about the references to Netty holding a "gin bottle" and "a tamboo bamboo making her loose control"? Do "gin bottle" and "tamboo bamboo" refer to a man's body part" and not [just] types of music bands? If so- hmm.

As to the belief that the line "give me the thing you got in your belly" refers to abortion, here's another comment from James Fryer 19 Sep 11 - 06:00 PM as published on that same Mudcat discussion thread whose link is given above:
"We only have an unsourced statement on Wikipedia to say it is [about abortion], but the line "gimme the thing you got in your belly" does point in that direction... Possibly the patois verse sheds more light on it. Also there may have been other verses which weren't recorded, and there may have been well-known events which were only alluded to in the song.

I checked in the book that comes with the "West Indian Rhythm" box set, which says:

The Growling Tiger (Neville Marcano) recalled that "Netty" was "a girl from behind the bridge" (east of the Dry River in Port of Spain). She deported herself as though she was having a baby but never delivered the infant, this being an important part of the song's satirical content."...
[end of quote]

Unfortunately, I'm not able to transcribe the third verse of the 1936 version of this song which the two Mudcat commenters Mick Pearce and James Fryer were also unable to decipher. I agree with James Fryer that "Possibly the patois verse sheds more light on it. Also, there may have been other verses which weren't recorded, and there may have been well-known events which were only alluded to in the song."

That quote from Growling Tiger might be interpreted as implying that the song "Netty Netty" was about her having an abortion. But I wonder if there is any other contemporaneous explanations from Roaring Lion, or any other Calypsonian, or any other person who allude to that meaning or directly indicate that the song "Netty Netty" was about abortion. And if that line is about a baby that Netty was carrying, why did Lion want her to give "it" to him (to abort)?

If this story [about "Netty Netty" being about a prostitute having an abortion] isn't a relatively recent invention, and was instead contemporaneous with Roaring Lion, I wouldn't be surprised if that abortion explanation for the phrase "thing in her belly" line was a story that might have been promoted by Roaring Lion to cover up the more explicit meaning of those lyrics & other lyrics in that song. It wouldn't surprise me if anyone who was really in the know about what this song was really about chuckled when they heard that cover story. They might even have publicly confirmed that that story was the "real" meaning of the song just to "put one over" on un-hip listeners.

Since I strive to be "hipper" (in spirit and not so much in weight), I don't mind admitting that I very much doubt this Calypso song has anything at all to do with abortion.

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  1. must say, this was a very good read...

    1. Thanks, Kester Johnson.

      I appreciate your comment.

  2. VERSE 3 in Patois

    A patois woman di Madame Maxwell
    Sé sa mwen ka kwiyé lavèy Nwèl
    You better pull yuhself and leh me shake me déviwé
    Gadé dèyè mwen, sé sa mwen vlé
    Ou pa kònèt bagay-la cho
    Lésé mwen fé maniman, avan mwen mò.
    Translate : A patois woman said, Madam Maxwell
    That's what I call a real Christmas Eve,
    You better pull yourself and let me shake
    my backside
    Look at my behind, that's what I want
    You don't know the thing hot?
    Let me make my moves, before I die.

    1. Thanks Unknown for transcribing that verse from Patois to English.

      I appreciate it!!

  3. Abortion???? ....... I've wined and dined you, and you can't tolerate this penetration .... give me back the lobster and wine that you put in your belly.

    1. which was meant to be satirical ,as are most calypso songs.

    2. Thanks for the comments, Mr. Shep.

      As to the meaning of those lyrics, your guess as good as mine, because I just took those words literally.