Red plastic bag is a rolling stone

For a professional calypsonian, it’s always Carnival season. N’delamiko Lord tries to keep up with the calypso king of Barbados

2009 Pic-o-de-Crop winner, Red Plastic Bag (left). Photograph courtesy Barbados Tourism Authority

For the Bag, as Bajans affectionately call Stedson Wiltshire, almost every day is a working day.

Barbados has a short Crop Over season in mid-year during which he performs regularly, but it’s other regional carnivals, and events in the US and Europe, that pay the bills year-round. The professional calypsonian’s life is one of almost constant motion.

Red Plastic Bag has performed throughout the Caribbean, the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. He’s done the big-name venues: the Apollo Theater, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Hammersmith Palais, London. After 30 years in the business, he gets around – even in these hard economic times.

“The impact of the downturn has taken its toll on promotions in music, and there are not as many events being staged. [But] I am still getting my share of performances, and it’s a fair balance between local and foreign performances.”

Part of his regular performing schedule is a visit to Trinidad during Carnival.

“I love the atmosphere. It gives me that vibe, and prepares me for Crop Over. It’s an excellent place to showcase my work.“

Travelling between Barbados and Trinidad gives him a broader perspective on the music industry in each country. While he says the approach to party music is the same, social commentary is more prevalent in the Trinidadian tents, he says, and there’s one compelling difference in the way it’s presented.

”Trinidadians are so great at their craft, and calypso is such a part of their culture, it’s everywhere, part of everything. When you go into a tent in Trinidad they have a way of singing about serious topics with great humour.“

This sense of humour, he thinks, is what makes the difference between calypso in Barbados and Trinidad.

Red Plastic Bag is an icon in Barbados. He’s recorded 24 albums, and has a repertoire of more than 400 songs. He’s an unrivalled nine-time national calypso competition winner, and he has a slew of awards and accolades, including a national honour, the Barbados Service Star.

But he still considers himself a representative of the masses who have little or no public voice.

”I see myself as a mirror, as the people’s newspaper, as a mouthpiece for those who don’t get a chance to be heard. The mere fact that I see myself this way brings a level of enthusiasm that’s not ordinary. It makes my life fulfilling. When I create a song that resonates with people and I see them respond, it gives me the impetus to keep going.“

As for his strange professional name, the real story of how he came to be called Red Plastic Bag is not the one I heard as a girl – that he was walking in the road in St Phillip, his home parish, saw a red plastic bag blowing in the street, and adopted the name.

The truth is funnier. One day he went to the beach and returned home sunburnt from head to toe. His nephew looked him over and precociously asked, ”How you look like a red plastic bag so?“
The rest, as they say, is history.