Saturday, 14 February 2009


This started off seeming to be a simple task: to help my boy, Vimmy, to find the lyrics to a vintage calypso, one named Dan Is The Man (In The Van). Which was needed, so that somebody could learn them by heart, the better to render it in one of the many office or school calypso-singing completions held around this time of year in Trinidad and Tobago -Carnival Season.
In this case, that meant the words had to be obtained by Monday February 16, 2009, less than seventy-hours after the mayday signal was sent to me. Lawd! Dunno what I does get myself into sometimes?

I told Vimmy's mom "No probs! I have the record! Plus! I know the calypso by heart. I'll just type it out and forward it to her by email."

At the time, never imagined the whole shebang would not take more than thirty minutes. Hah! Boy! Was I wrong! Wrong because it completely slipped me that my style -once I'm online- is to browse in as voracious a manner as would a pack of hungry stray dogs let loose amongst the nightly KFC deposit at the the Beetham La Basse -sometimes I feel it's not a style, but a curse! Whatever! And 99.9% of the browsing would be directly-related to the whatever topic on which I would be dwelling -the better to develop my arguments.

Well? What do you expect?
For Vimmy's project, I soon found myself drawn -with considerable fascination- into sites that expounded on the significance of Dan Is The Man (In The Van) in the scheme of things literary and, after almost three hours of surfing, finally polishing up a synopsis to append to transcribed lyrics, all of which have since been posted in the TrinbagonianHeroes blog.

Check it out, willya? Also embedded in TrinbagonianHeroes is a YouTube video of the original version as done by the master himself -don't know why they say it's a video, it's pure audio and, it's beautiful.

Hope you appreciate it. Bless!
Saturday, 14 February 2009.

(Lyrics transcribed by Richard Wm. Thomas.)

The Overview
(written with teenagers in mind.):
We don't need no education!
We don't need no thought control!
No dark sarcasm in the classroom!
Teacher, leave those kids alone!
Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
When Pink Floyd smashed into the UK music charts with that grating protest -on December 15, 1979, at position No. 1 if you please- the whole world noticed. Especially the younger generation, who, in short order, snapped up a million plus copies of the single from off record shop shelves.
To this day, Another Brick In The Wall remains one of the more popular songs and has sometimes been embraced by people who are engaged in some protest or the other.
Whatever! I’m however, convinced that somehow, Pink Floyd's bassist and then lead songwriter, Roger Waters was aware of something which happened in Trinidad and Tobago in 1963 and used that something as the kindling the band’s fiery 1979 Christmastime delivery. For it’s more than coincidental that the general theme of Another Brick In The Wall would be identical to the one taken by the artiste who won the Trinidad and Tobago calypso crown that year, isn’t it? What theme? That the education offered to kids was totally irrelevant to their needs and designed to keep us in ignorence -one that would all in all do nothing other than make them just another brick in the wall? Deliberate spelling there of ignorence, okay? So, leave it be! J
According to The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Third Edition) the noun satire means a work of literature that mocks social conventions, another work of art, or anything its author thinks ridiculous.(

It then identifies Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift, as an example of satire, directed at eighteenth-century British society. The same Gulliver who’s mentioned in a satirical masterpiece that, perhaps, the highly-regarded dictionary’s authors never heard -Dan Is The Man (In The Van)? Perhaps, too, they never even of the man who composed and sang it? Because, if they had, they would have been less swift to travel with Gulliver, preferring, rather, Slinger Francisco, better known as The Mighty Sparrow, the Calypso King of The World.

To me, Dan Is The Man (In The Van) is a masterpiece of satire. Sparrow let loose with it in 1963, immediately capturing the gleeful appreciation of listeners; and the Calypso King crown. While the one in the van was a fictitious character, a figment of Cutteridge’s imagination, in his second calypso –all contestants had to sing two for the Crown contest- the man was very real, for he also sang Kennedy Is The Man For Them –referring of course to then US President John F. Kennedy.
In Dan Is The Man (In The Van), Sparrow mocks the education system of 1963 Trinidad and Tobago by highlighting what he felt was the chupidness taught in primary schools. He constantly quotes word for word from the West Indian Reader, a series of reading textbooks used throughout the British West Indies for more than thirty years. West Indian Reader was written by Captain J. O. Cutteridge, who was Director of Education in Trinidad and Tobago from 1932 and 1942.

I can’t say whether Sparrow really thought that the many nursery rhymes that Cutteridge used to fill his Reader were all nonsense. They really weren’t, but, if anyone reads them literally, they really do not make sense. That’s why Sparrow stressed that he found it hard to believe that one man alone could write so much chupidness:
Ah say, Cutteridge was plenty times more advanced dan dem scientist,
I en believe dat no one man could write so much stupidness.
Aeroplanes didn’ come so soon, scientists used to make de grade in balloon.
Cutteridge make a cow jump over the moon!
We mustn't forget that Cutteridge wrote at a time when Trinidad and Tobago was still a British colony. And, as a colony, that meant all its activities were organized to make its rulers rich. And the only way that could happen or continue was when the rulers kept their subjects under control. And the best way to control someone is not by whips but by controlling their minds. Again, Sparrow points to this, for instance, when he sings:
De poems an’ de lessons dey write an’ sen’ from England
Impress me dey were trying to cultivate comedians!
Comic books made more sense: you know it’s fictitious, without pretence.
Cutteridge wanted to keep us in ignorence!
I can’t say for sure if Sparrow also did not realize that Cutteridge himself didn’t compose the rhymes in his books, but was just using them, because of their comical and simple grammatical, style to help West Indian schoolchildren easily develop their reading skills.

And, where Sparrow is concerned, despite what Sparrow says -long time, people used to swear If Sparrow say so, is so!- Cutteridge seemed to have been successful in doing that, since the thing which impresses me most with Dan Is The Man (In The Van) is how, when his calypso is examined, we can’t help being amazed and proud of how well-educated he was, as is seen by the beautiful, very talented and very skillful way he uses local language to say what he wanted to say. And how straightforward and on the spot his line of reasoning is. That’s why, in the end, I’ll say that Sparrow had to have been a genius. Although he kept complaining of the pathetic education he received at the hands of Cutteridge’s books,

But Slinger Francisco also was a rebel. Most calypsonians were. The artform has its roots deep in the struggles of the enslaved Africans who struggled for more than four hundred years under the weight of slavery.

But, there’s not ever a rebel who isn’t proud that he’s a rebel. Else he wouldn’t be a rebel. So, when you listen to Sparrow’s voice as he sings Dan Is The Man (In The Van), you could almost feel his rebellious pride over his, somehow, managing to resist and get away from the colonial bosses’ attempts to brainwash him with De poems and de lessons dey write an’ send from England. He did that partly by playing dead to ketch cobo alive, as he spells out clearly when he sings:
Dey wanted to keep me down indeed, dey try dey best, but didn' succeed
You see, mih head was duncee an’ up to now ah cyar read!
and then:
Dey beat me like ah dog to learn dat in school,
If me head was bright ah woulda be a dahm fool!
Only a brilliant satirist could come up with lines like those. I could only imagine his onstage antics and expressions when he sang the calypso for a live audience back then. And wish I was there taking it all in.

Here are the lyrics!

But wait! Seeing this is written as the 2009 Carnival season comes to its peak, before I close off, let me mention this little-remembered fact: Dan Is The Man (In The Van) is also the first winning tune in the history of the Steelband Panorama Competition! Here's a lil history, then, on that:
The first Panorama Competition was held in 1963; and one of the competing steelbands was one called North Stars. North Stars was from St. James -in Kandahar area, Upper Brunton Road- and lucky to have on their side a musical genius, Anthony “Tony” Williams, or, Madman, as he was popularly known.

Now, no other arranger viewed the 1963 Panorama contest the same way that Madman did: he treated it the same way he did the Steelband Music Festival, a competition when only classical tunes were played. So it was not surprising, to North Stars players, when his band romped home by miles, for, to the dismay of the other contesting bands, Tony Williams had attacked the tasks of arranging and conducting his band the same rigourous way would have done if he was preparing it for the more sophisticated Music Festival.

Madman was not only North Stars’ pan tuner, he was also the arranger and conductor of the band and did such an outstanding job that, up to today, North Stars is regarded as one of, if not, the greatest steel orchestras there ever was. For that, finally just last year he was awarded the highest national award on Independence Day. That was the new medal named The Order of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which replaced the Trinity Cross -another first! And he also was the first man to be inducted into the Steelband Movement Hall of Fame. (,85362.html)
There! Now that I'm done with mentioning the Tony-Williams-and-North-Stars tidbit, here, at last, are the lyrics to the Slinger Francisco masterpiece. I stop-start transcribed them from memory, but, too, while listening to the song playing in the background; and stayed close to the vernacular, since that’s how Sparrow sang about the man in the van, back in 1963.

Artiste/Composer ©: The Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco)
Calypso: Dan Is The Man (In The Van)
Originally released: 1963
(Transcribed in the vernacular, by Richard Wm. Thomas)
There's a traitor on board!
Examine the horn!

According to the education you get when you small,
You will grow up with true ambition and respect from one and all.
But in my days in school, they teach me like a fool,
The things they teach me ah should be ah block-headed mule.

And wey dey teach yuh?
Dey teach mih: pussy has finished his work long ago an’ now he resting an’ ting.
Solomon a Gundy was born on ah Monday, de ass in de lion skin.
Winkin, Blinkin and Nod, sail off in ah wooden sloop,
De ‘gouti lose he tail an’ de alligator fighting, to make monkey-liver soup!
An’ Dan, is the man, in the van!

Wepsee mama!

De poems an’ de lessons dey write an’ sen’ from England
Impress me dey were trying to cultivate comedians!
Comic books made more sense: you know it’s fictitious, without pretence.
Cutteridge wanted to keep us in ignorence!

Tell me if dis eh chupidness:
Humpy-Dumpty sat on a wall!
Humpy-Dumpy did fall!
Goosey, Goosey Gyander?
Where shall I wander?
Ding, dong, del!l
Pussy in de well!
Ah Rikki Tikki Tikki Tikki Tavi!
Dan, is de man, in de van!
Wepsee mama! Yep!

Ah say, Cutteridge was plenty times more advanced dan dem scientist,
I en believe dat no one man could write so much stupidness.
Aeroplanes didn’ come so soon, scientists used to make de grade in balloon.
Cutteridge make a cow jump over the moon!

An’ then he tell dem:
Tom, Tom de piper's son!
Teef ah pig an’ away he run!
Once dere was a woman who lived in ah shoe,
She had so many children she didn' know what to do!
Dickory a-dickory dock!
De mouse ran up de clock!
De lion and de mouse,
Ah woman pushing ah cow
To eat grass on top of ah house!
Ah an’ Dan, is de man, in de van!

Wipsee mama!

How I happen to get some education my friends, me eh know!
All dey teach me is about Beer Rabbit an’ Rumpelstilskin-o.
Dey wanted to keep me down indeed, dey try dey best, but didn' succeed
You see, mih head was duncee an’ up to now ah cyar read!

Who cares about:
Peter, Peter was ah pumpkin eater?
Some little, little people tie Gulliver?
When I was sick an’ lay a-bed
I had two pillow at my head?
De goose lay de golden egg?
De spider catch a fly?
Morocoy with wings flapping in de sky?
Dey beat me like ah dog to learn dat in school,
If me head was bright ah woulda be a dahm fool!

With Dan is de man in de van
Can a pig dance a jig for a fig?
Twirly and Twisty were two screws!
Mister Mike, goes to school, on a bike!
Dan is de man, in de van!
Dan is de man, in de van!
Yeah! Dan is de man, in de van!
UPDATED (20111212):
The whole of the original version of Dan Is The man In The Van can be heard in this YouTube clip posted by :


  1. This is goo stuff man. You must keep up with the good work.

  2. Thanks - been looking for this. Good work man.

  3. A real great job at translating and commenting on the lyrics of Dan is the Man in the Van.

    You sound like a strong intellectual fan of Sparrow as I think I am, so I dare to ask you what you think of SA SA YE, and whether you can translate (in English) those lyrics also.

    Incidentally, I am Guyanese. Do you know anything of King Fighter's calypso that goes along the line of "Fighta fighta, na go back a Demerara. Tomarra betty, me go ge you one fanne...; and the politics that surrounded him not being crowned Calypso King that year (??).

    Finally, your comments on Cuff Dem Down, and Phillip my Dear by Sparrow, please.

    With regards, Errol. (

  4. there is a big hit of ub40...kingston town,which has the same melody as a song called "please dont leave me now" sung by sparrow in the 1950' is given to lord creator(1970) in Wikipedia..but if anyone can put their hands on sparrows tune they would see its the same tune

  5. It is amazing!
    After spending so many years wondering about these lyrics that I heard a little boy, trying to understand the source and reasoning behind it, here you present everything in one place. The only thing left is to find Sparrow and get his take on this Calypso and maybe some others.
    Thanks for your research.
    I thought I was the only one interested in lyrics like this.

  6. Thank you for that masterful translation and context. I started out researching who Cutteridge was and this was how I found your page. I've always said that Sparrow should have been Harry Belafonte. It's incredible how the lesser man could become known worldwide for calypso while the true genius of the art form languished in international obscurity!

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