Daly Bread: What’s left of Carnival? Reviewing the problems at Revue

On Wednesday last, we received news that the Revue Calypso tent was the latest victim of money problems in the cultural milieu. This news was made worse when readers digested that the Revue was more than 50 years old and had been founded by the late Lord Kitchener.

Kitchener’s body of work in calypso music remains unique and revered. We do not know how influential his work will remain, given the way in which calypso has lost its share of the Carnival market and has been supplanted by high energy soca.

Photo: Calypsonian Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osouna, who now runs the Kaiso Revue Tent.

Although some of it is groovy, thoughtful and adaptable for pan, soca lyrics are generally not subtle, do not contain a story line or use metaphors, as do calypsoes like Scrunter’s Woman on the Bass, Blue Boy’s (as Super Blue then was) Unknown Band, Kitchener’s Bees’ Melody or Sparrow’s Du Du Yemi—which are also preserved for live audiences in the pan repertoires.

The death knell of the Revue is confirmation that the calypso component of Carnival is terminal in the tents of old and has relocated to electronic media and to the now massive fete stages.

Kaiso political and social commentary cannot survive commercially. It no longer pulls a regular audience and barely gets on the radio. It will become entirely dependent on state subsidy, which of necessity will be limited, provided merely for the purpose of preserving a cultural heritage.

The problem is that we have never had a coherent policy for the funding of cultural products. All of our governments, for partisan political purposes, have thrown lashings of money at those who shouted the loudest but had little concept of quality control or sustainable development of the performing arts. Now reality is lashing back.

Another problem with funding of Carnival products is that, net of expenses, we have no idea of the earnings of Carnival—if it is a net earner at all—particularly in the matter of foreign exchange when so much is imported and no longer produced at home.

Photo: Jamaica sprint star and global sport icon Usain Bolt (centre) enjoys himself during the 2017 Carnival celebrations.
(Copyright UK Sun)

In an editorial published in the Express in July 2015 regarding the collapse of the Central Statistical Office, this statement was made: “The miserable state of the collection, analysis and sharing of vital data has had painfully adverse effects on all aspects of governing and economic management.”

This deficiency has not been rectified.

In the context of this column and the desertion of Carnival by spectators, what do the absentees spend on foreign travel on what is now a principal getaway long weekend? What does it cost to police a parade that is a procession of trucks and bumpers and not one of interesting costumes?

My information is that a study of the economic impact of Carnival is a work in progress but one that I fear may be never-ending.

With reference to the exuberant street party that takes place on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, the question is this: What should be the extent of the investment of taxpayers’ money in that party or in the many feasts available to officials and their “contacts” during the course of Carnival events?

It is not necessary for me yet again to make the case for the funding of steel orchestral music in and out of Carnival. I would just like to repeat that this is one performing art that occupies many youngsters and encourages discipline, a strong work ethic and self-esteem.

Photo: The La Horquetta Pan Groove Steel Orchestra responds to a conductor.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Regarding the dire need for Panorama to be a contest for prime bands in prime time, some baby steps have been taken. Small bands now have their own separate show. I have also taken note that medium bands have had to qualify and are limited to 14 for today’s semifinals so fewer numbers should require fewer hours to get through it all.

Sadly, however, the authorities have decided to start today’s Panorama later so that the proposed fewer hours may still take us past midnight. I am doubtful, therefore, that there will be any relief from the annual endurance test. Audiences have jumped out of that same khaki pants and gone away, particularly from the finals.

Are there sufficient well-produced, quality cultural products left for discerning, paying audiences?

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  1. http://goodies.wizardacademypress.com/MMM180129-WhenCategoryIsDying.mp3 Podcast: What to do when your category is dying – seems relevant/appropriate that is if anyone who can help is willing to listen. Listen above or read about it here: http://www.mondaymorningmemo.com/newsletters/what-to-do-when-your-category-is-dying/

  2. As much as I wish it were not true Machel made a very salient point when he explained how he crafted his music to entice young people to “buy in” – that enticement was to fuse rhythms of reggae. It worked well for Machel wouldn’t you say? I am not claiming this could be the salvation of Calypso but the point is, Machel sought to appeal to his customers and he achieved that- calypso designers could learn a lesson from this experience.

  3. Really? We’re going to bring up Bunji’s twang in this? Bunji may be one of the few artists that truly appreciates calypso and has brought a few of them into the 21st century. Besides this he is not the only one with a twang, and the twang is not the problem.

  4. All the songs named have more in common with soca than calypso. They are rhythmically enticing, lyrically superb and generally do not sound like most of what we hear these days as Calypso. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Calypso tents are not unsaveable, they just need to be better managed. Strategic planning for customer delight can go a long way.

  5. ‘The physical tent and it’s revenue structure may be at an end in this digital/electronic age.’ One other major blow to the calypso art form is the digital/electronic age and its peculiar features of ‘instantness’ and ‘disposableness’ to coin a word or two. Another is the fact that there are also too many persons dabbling in music but do not have a clue about what music really entails. As far as producers are concerned just buy a computer, learn Pro Tools or Fruity Loops, block off a lil space in the house for your studio, and yuh good. Notice how there is an emphasis on a ‘riddim’, a hook line no matter how inane (just for the last Christmas season something about under the table), and plenty bass when the DJ plays it. Exposure to music appreciation is also another factor which is not practiced–the soca people have always bombarded the ear/air waves with that ilk, so for some persons that is all they know. There is also a particular host on a radio station who describes the traditional calypso in not too complimentary terms. In the education of music producers there should be a fair amount of musical content, so that the musicianship would have more ready mass appeal instead of the fare that is now served. By the way most genres of music are readily identifiable because of certain sonic, rhythmic and performance practices peculiar to it–the name of what Lord Shorty (later Ras Shorty I) produced as soca was used to hype a product which has spawned several mutations–power, groovy, etc. Mention of East Indians–most look at Carnival with disdain, but when the opportunity to benefit financially from it here comes chutney brass, chutney soca. And who owns most of the big trucks transporting pans and sound systems for the parade of the bands? Finally why does Bunji have to use a pseudo Jamaican twang? How come Bob (Marley) and the don’t try to sound like us Trinis?

    • Herbert, Plenty to consider here. For now I would just zero in on ur East Indian point. In politics there is the concept of Self Interest. N it applies here. While the general population of East Indians might not usually embrace carnival, some East Indian business people do. N they make good money from the carnival. When this money is spent in the East Indian community, due to the multiplier effect, the $’s multiply n thus fall into the very hands of those members of the East Indian community who dislike carnival – know ur interest people.

    • why should Indians embrace carnival? Having nasty men rub their genitals on your bottom is a specialised taste. No thanks, partner!

  6. Also, Indians once used to patronize tents and once they began to feel attacked began to go less…this is a vocalized perspective in the Indian community, and needs open minded consideration

  7. Good discussion going on here. Possibly similar discussions took place in the US when Blues n Jazz were struggling to survive against the new types of music like bee bop n pop, n now Rap n others. Free Society has always felt free to try some thing new. A musician makes a new type of tune n this new type of tune makes the previous type old or obsolete. Like Soca did to Calypso. This under lying demographic shift produces winners n losers. Monroe won TUCO lost. Now the show, Soca Monarch, is struggling to survive against shows like Machel Monday – another set of winners n losers. Cultural products like all products have a life span, n the Product Life Cycle, the Bell/Normal Curve, is there to guide us. If TUCO was paying attention to the Product Life Cycle of Calypso, the bosses would have seen the opportunity to “accommodate” Soca as part of the wider Calypso fraternity long before Monroe n others came calling. N instead of Soca Monarch down on the foreshore or Oval, it would have been housed at the Savannah. It is still possible for TUCO to grab Soca. But to keep Calypso alive they would need an injection of creativity on both sides of the equation, I.e., on the singing side n on the business side.

    • Andy Morris, I am not sure who took the “asinine” position u referred to. But this is where nice discussions get off the rails, when Value Judgments r injected in the debate. If u r referring to my point let me know so I can respond.

    • Marketing seems to be the disciple people r pointing to to save the Cultural products. Marketing can be simply def as the satisfying of needs. But to do so one must know what those needs r. This is where market research comes in. N who do we research but the potential consumers, people who r ready to consume a particular product that will fill a particular need. We r now in a position to build that product n with other elements of the Marketing Mix, communication, price, n distribution, we can now develop a Marketing Plan, using a coordinated approach to move forward, possibly focusing on a particular market segment referred to as segmentation analysis. There r many of us out there that have studied n worked in Marketing that r willing assist. But in my many yrs in Marketing I find that the obstacles I have encountered come from the organizations themselves that need the help.

  8. Dr Keith Nurse and Dr Joanne Tull has done extensive studies of the economic impact of Carnival at UWI

    • I sponsored several studies by Keith nurse and he got Assistance from out EIU headed by Sharifa Ali-Abdullah. When people say that the studies have not been done, I begin to question their own thoroughness. We had launches of the completed study in the central bank auditorium where we invited carnival stakeholders and tour operators as a part of the marketing push. We should not be fishing in the dark about the economics of carnival

    • yes but where is the info in alibrary gathering dust, soemtine if you go on line ,you only obtain partial info, it is easier to get info from across the globe but UWI stress. Also successive government have sat in the hot seat (Culture Minister and are clueless about how things work, friends and family and corrut practices, and NO JAIL.what a one forum as atalk shop and nothing at the end, This is a cycle of nothingness. No one seriously speaks about the economics of Carnival, Thye don’t want the public to ask how much was invested for example lets say 2016, How much revenue was generated, how were the money expended.? Why a year later monies still outstanding to those involved including pan men, but writing off millions of debts to NCC,Pan Trinbago for years Why these organizations not self sufficient after all these years. Another issue TRINIS themselves killing the mas, Calpysoes are vacuous and empty.No Minshall and Mc Farlane no CREATIVITY. These men are revered around the world , but not in their own country. We doh like we own.Happy people are band leaders smiling all the way to the bank, Bikini mas stands empty, Steelband across the globe and we playing games in TT. Citizens sit idly by and the talk on the ground the Carnival dying. Go by the beach , watch Cable TV 2 days.When will the GAMERS get it right , when it dead, The society is also vacuous and empty.

  9. (1) There have been studies done which aimed at quantifying the economic impact of carnival. TIDCO thru their Economic Intelligence Unit conducted such a study with the help of several other agencies. We do know the revenue streams and areas of leakage.

  10. The day Pink Panther brought a coffin on stage….that was it. Metaphor padnah!

  11. The artificial distinction between dimanche gras ‘kaiso’ and road march music (ie soca) is what has killed the calypso tent. Shadow’s “Stranger” won road march in 2001. International Soca Monarch has only existed since 1993. Soca is older, and grew out of the tents in the 1970’s and 1980’s – there should be a place for soca at Dimanche Grad and in the Calypso tent, to encourage a younger audience.

    There used to be real diversity on the calypso tent stage, but today it is gone. They don’t want party music, so those who wish to party go elsewhere.

  12. Daly makes some great points, none so sadly resonant as the dying art form that is calypso. Just last week this was sent to me, and I couldn’t help but smile in appreciation, both for Relator’s skill, as well as for the lyrical dexterity of the compositions.


  13. Ms. Glasgow you are right on point. The airwaves are full people who do not appreciate their role in the cultural development of the country. Wine, jam and twerk are not part of our culture. The behaviour of our sisters, mothers and grandmothers on Carnival day leave much to be desired. We are running out of ladies in our society.

  14. Perhaps the artform has evolved into material like Voice’s “Fire go bun dem”, which is essentially “groovy” social commentary. The physical tent and it’s revenue structure may be at an end in this digital/electronic age.

  15. Mr. Daly,
    There has indeed been a study done and a paper produced and published on the financial contribution Carnival makes to the gross national product (GNP). It is research done by Professor Gary Garcia (UWI), ethnomusicologist/senior lecturer Mervyn Williams and Anne Procope-Garcia, BA in Carnival Arts (UWI), MA in Carnival Studies(UTT).

  16. We must accept that culture will change as people react to new developments .

  17. Sorry !!! Revue is alive and healing

  18. Performers not talented enough, bad management practices, little to no savings. Any business must fail under those circumstance.

  19. This is the era of jam and wine songs..

  20. It’s about context. When you’re out for bacchanal you don’t want music that makes you think, just simple themes to move your body. Soca has evolved to fit that requirement.

    Calypso is for thinking and socialising, not bacchanal. Trini folk music.

  21. “… , soca lyrics are generally not subtle, do not contain a story line or use metaphors, as do calypsoes …”. https://youtu.be/q6I6AyTRjZc

  22. Soca is a form of Calypso – just say no to #musicalapartheid

    • But won’t we miss something without traditional calypso?

    • Lasana Liburd the new “Soca” song Ultimate Rejects just dropped IS traditional Calypso! Very much what Stalin would have done back in the day.

    • You’re sure that isn’t the exception that proves the rule? Lol. And would you really compare it to songs like “Wait Dorothy wait” and “Black man feeling to party”?
      Careful brudda.

    • In my opinion two of the best social commentaries of the 2000’s were Maximus’ “Border” and Bunji’s “From De Ghetto”

    • I disagree Martin. The difference I think is depth. It is like comparing a low fat fast food meal with proper healthy food.
      It is much better than the typical junk food and there are good features for sure. But one artist has the sole intention of educating and driving home the point while the other is trying to make something positive stick while getting you to jump up and down and enjoy yourself.
      I’m a big fan of Bunji and MX Prime. But I don’t think they can replace what calypsonians have provided us with.

    • Yes – the difference is depth. Compare Gypsy’s original lightweight “Soca Train” with Maximus’ incisive, biting commentary version of the same. Or the lyrical mastery of ANY Bunji Garlin song vs any recent “Calypso”. And pray he doh ever enter extempo… Sorry, but Maximus, Bunji, Machel et al ARE calypsonians and are steeped in the finest traditions of the art form. Calypso Dead. Long live Calypso!! (Btw, Kitch, Sparrow, Shadow and Duke took both approaches you mention)

    • Sorry – but I’ve been hearing the same talk since 1975/76 with the emergence of Shadow and Shorty. I refuse to accept the false notion that Soca is some bastard child or inferior form of Calypso. End the #MusicalApartheid!!!

    • Martin, Gypsy’s Soca Train wasn’t Calypso either. Soca might have roots in calypso but I don’t think they are the same thing.
      Both contribute. I’m not saying one is more or less deserving.
      But I’m saying Machel and Bunji cannot replace our calypsonians. There will be a gap. That’s my view. And I know full well that Bunji is a former Young Kings winner.

    • I’d love to hear Bunji in an extempo competition. But I don’t think it would be a foregone conclusion.
      It would be interesting for sure.
      And I know Bunji from his days in Arima when we called him “Ice”. I was the first reporter to ever interview him in a mainstream newspaper back at the Guardian. And that was the second article I ever had published.

    • “Each generation sends its own hero up the pop charts.” Britan is yet to produce another Beatles, but hey, U2, Oasis and Radiohead are not bad. Jamaica may not ever have another Bob Marley, but I’ll take Junior Gong and Chronnixx, thank you. And also, calypso has never been just one thing: there have always been fast calypso, party songs, lavways as well as more weighty fare. Soca is just one style.

    • Machel, Bunji, MX, Iwer, Voice, Turner, Preedy etc cannot replace our calypsonians, because they ARE our calypsonians too! And by dint of composing most of their material probably have more claim to the title than many that will grace the Skinner’s Park stage next weekend. It took the Calypso fraternity many years to accept that David Rudder was, in fact a calypsonian and not just a “band singer”. Let’s not sleep on this generation. #LongLiveKaiso

    • David Rudder won ever Calypso title possible on his first serious attempt. He could not have done if he was not considered a calypsonian.
      Because some people disagreed doesn’t change that fact.

    • Lasana Liburd but the misguided backlash against Rudder’s victory (and SuperBlue’s ascendancy) is precisely what led to our current situation. By forcing Soca out of the Calypso arena, the art form has been weakened in my opinion. It’s as if someone decided to amputate a healthy and flourishing limb under the mistaken belief that the new growth was some strange infection. And as they slowly bleed to death, they keep asking “why am I dying?”

    • That’s a very interesting perspective Martin. I do remember that Super Blue got to the big yard with “Road to Italy” for instance.
      Would you consider doing us a blog on the topic? Anything preferably (but not necessarily) between 600 and 1,000 words?
      You can send to lasana@wired868.com.

  23. Neither does the Country Club

  24. People who truly enjoyed calypso are in their 60’s. Many of them are no longer around to give massive support. the youths grew up on soca with their 2 line songs , so they will no tappreciate calypso. They don’t know that most of them are stories being told

  25. The commodification of Carnival by businessmen (which it is today), has stifle the art form. To hear Calypso you have to attend the Children’s Calypso Shows Radio stations have contributed to the death knell of Calypso tents, since they only play jam and wine and tell us that”s want the people want,but who asked the people?. The so call winner boy of Carnival , songs are played 6 out of 8 times every hour on some stations At times we never hear other people songs, The serious Calypsoes are played if the announcer on the station like the artiste. Other than that the Calypsoes are buried in Lapeyrouse Cemetery until the following year The cycle continues. The diaspora is more enthused with Calypso. TT youths have been flooded with foreign and Jamaican sounds from local RADIO stations. What is interesting is when you travel up the islands Calypsoes are heard, more than in the land of Calypso. In Cuba when you go out for lunch there are live bands entertaining, playing and singing THEIR music. This is not only applicable to Calypso, but masquerade Bands (bikini mas ), have long killed the mas, Haven’t you noticed the STANDS have been empty for years, ( the elites want to separate themselves and take it to the SOCA DOME ( also empty) PAN, well that is another story. Pan is found across the globe in North America , UK Europe. Korea, Japan and China in schools and Universities. In its homeland T&T, we are yet to get it right. ONE day we will wake up and it will all be gone. Like our national cricketers Bunji and Fay Ann, Kees, Machel and others have to spend 8-10 months abroad to survive. CARNIVALS across the globe make millions for their respective state/country. YOU HAVE TO SPEND TO MAKE MONEY. IN T&T billions are made annually from CARNIVAL but No accountability and transparency in the spending of the public purse. Yet successive governments continue to fund the groups. Where in the world does this happen. If I give you a million dollars and you cannot account at the end of the year, why should I give you money the next yearn. More than that if millions are made annually, this should the government to assist some groups until they become self sufficient an wean them off. No group should be begging the government . Pan Trinbago is celebrating 55 years , Why are they not self sufficient? Corruption and writing off debts at NCC is a norm and NO ONE makes a JAIL. 2010-2015 PP paid millions to one Calypsonian including a 5 million for an Independence song which we still awaiting(ask BHOO TEWARI), This year the Monarch getting about 500,000. This is similar to increasing a persons salary because your business good, if the business declines do , you think you can reduce his/her salary and wages. NO The UNION will take the employer to court and WIN. ) Politicians like to make adhoc decisions (KPB) which almost always comes back to bite us. Yes WE the tax payers. But passive Trinis take it all in strides. That’s why the politicians do as they like. they know they will walk scotch free .We like it so

  26. Time to stop subsidising ChutneySoca Monarch,the monstrosity aka International Soca Monarch and ALL religious festivals.

  27. To me it’s about who was left with the responsibility to lead in the new generation. .It fell on the shoulders of the venomous racist “social commentators ” who chewed delightfully on the hands of a business sector. .not 1 percent. ..who traditionally supported calypso. ..that’s part of it..maybe some one can address that aspect and send it to the editor

    • Interesting point. So you put the blame on Sugar Aloes’ shoulders then?

    • is there a someone out there with the initials RS who might be interested in taking a stab at that story?

      I hope so…

    • i am saying like sport this modern generation of leading calypsonians could not/did not plan ahead . Remember guys like JazzyPantin and Syl Taylor were tent managers not entertainers. A front line calypsonian cannot run a tent as we see.Pt 2 ..What was the image of calypso to remain attractive and appealing to a sophisticated market? Racist commentary? The dirge movement where the same melody dragged on and on and the entertainer/s would intone..”Ah hope all yuh get de message?” Summary..the modern entertainers prove anything but entertaining to a young sophisticated audience and could not even hold on to the exiting mature one..

    • It’s not just the calypsonians unless it’s only the calypsonians running the tent. The tent is run by business people is it not? These people had nothing in mind for future – they only cared to make a dollar where they could. It probably should have not been in their hands in the first place – this is where a culture ministry would be helpful – not necessarily in funding but in strategically planning for a future where our artform can be nurtured and cherished.

    • Am suggesting it is not about further analysing the problem..Sparrow took the initiative to tour up the islands and ‘sell’ calypso entertainment..That’s how songs like Bermuda Gyul, Blakie’s “Vincentian Calypso King and the like emerged..The tent in its present form is not coming back..What is the new face of calypso entertainment..Even if the received subsidies how will they bring people back to calypso? Who are the faces, what is the strategy..e.g. Sparrow vs Melody..Blakie the Warlord..Spoiler the genius..What the attraction today? Going to the newspapers to decry ingratitude in your political Party?

  28. The irony of all of this is that in the State of New York you can hear Calypso all day long on some airwaves. Calypso is an art form. As a society we have lost our way culturally. We have become a nation of wine and jam. A nation of young women immodestly dressed all in the name of fashion and costumes. Have we not noticed that Christmas is a thing of the past as well? Before Christmas is over the local airways are given to wine, jam and twerk.

  29. That is an assanine position to take, country music is a story telling genre and alive and well. It has to do with the marketing and the people that are actually involved.

    Is Aloes really a “businessmen” or someone who inherited this “treasure” with the death of the original businessman Jazzy Pantin? When all the time this was generating income, nothing was being said, along with the Government handouts.
    These traditional artforms needs to be injected with a professional marketing persons, instead of enthusiast who don’t have a clue of the technical and modern requirements of marketing a product like the culture. Look at those who are bawling and crying out for funding, Cro Cro, Aloes, Massimba, though they may be good artists, what’s their forté in business? Persons who seem to be of influence like messers Daly who can lend their expertise, choose to peer through their “rose colored spectacles on their holier than though thrones”. Whilst at it can he or others like him, come down from their thrones and form an Integrity Commission to keep their peers in line, thereby putting us on an even footing. If no …then ….

    • I admire your position as well what is going on with our intellectuals who have made Carnival and culture programmes of higher learning as well our other faculties of Engineering, linguistics, Management etc Our University must offer scholarships to study aspects of our carnival to sustain and improve it, this must be the mandate of education. We have to build on the only creative and innovative activity worthy of effort as we see pieces of it being pulled all over the world from its base.

    • Accepted, indeed there is such studies offered by UWI and UTT..

    • Observation: those in power now are not willing to entertain or accept new ideas or people to affect change to move forward . ..js

    • Andy Morris Yes but we haven’t found a solution in policy or ideas linked to operationalisation or implementation. Those studies has also become another aspect of the certification inflation with an exam to pass. What is happening to graduates? What incentives are there in competitive remuneration and vacancies that ensures the use of skills where they are needed.

    • One cannot expect this sort of innovation in an un innovative system, you may have to be creative upon graduation.

  30. I agree completely that statistics is one of the main issues in funding carnival. We have no idea how much we make from it. That’s why Martin Daly can voice a question if it is is even an earner to country with no evidence (that so much is imported). We have been importing beads and glitter for decades, so too the fabric to play Mas. But all the wire bending and head piece work is still done in Trinidad and pretty much for every regional carnival in the Caribbean. I have personally sent costumes to as far as Nigeria. Most fetes now have an online option to purchase tickets in US dollars overseas. But without a way to measure spend or even arrivals who knows…….

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