Guyanese Calypso icon The Mighty Rebel, known for bold and unapologetic political commentary which challenged the state of affairs, died yesterday after a period of illness.
Born Geoffrey Phillips, he was 72 at the time of his death.
Phillips’ daughter, Raelene, told Stabroek News that her father had started experiencing kidney failure last year and was hospitalised for a period. He was subsequently released but would attend clinic regularly for checkups. She stated that it was during one of these routine checks last Thursday that they were informed that his condition was critical.
Raelene noted that even after he had experienced a stroke in 2015, he had still continued performing and offering mentorship to students who participated in the annual Mashramani competitions. She noted that encouraging and facilitating the continuity of the calypso art form was a passion of his. The woman stated that his vision was for the development of a calypso programme locally, so that persons desirous of learning could go on to cultivate their craft.
In 2011, Rebel was honoured for his contribution to the local music scene at a private ceremony organised by Natasha Corrica, Marci Forde and Stanley Phillips in the wake of the announcement of his retirement earlier that same year. “I was thinking about retiring for some time, but I keep coming back because of my fans and because I love singing… I want to make it clear that I am not done with singing, just with competition,” he had said then.
The six-time Calypso Monarch winner had under his belt the 1988 hit “Secondhand,” “Dessie You Wrong” (1993), “Political Lie” (1997), “Ask de President” (2001), “Is We Put You Deh” (2007) and “All Awee Know De Man” (2010). He was also the runner-up nine times in the competition.
Many of his popular songs questioned the policies of the president of the day.
In an interview with Stabroek News in 2007, the calypsonian had said he nearly was not Rebel. When he first burst onto the scene and had to find a stage name, he came up with The Midget. It was a name he thought of, given his stature, but a close friend urged him not to use the name and suggested Mighty Rebel instead. He decided to go with it.
Rebel had then opined that soca music was rising in Guyana to the detriment of calypso music. He said the soca tunes have very little to offer yet many follow them more closely. He said calypso has a message and is more than “rags and flags” but has been neglected at all levels.
Rebel, who travelled extensively and performed in various countries, said he believed that it was not too late to for calypso to be revived to take its rightful place on the local scene, although it would take much work.
Before his Calypso career, the Mighty Rebel sang with a band called The Hermits, which broke up in 1978.