Not to take anything away from the 2017 winner, Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, the now record nine-time champion, the results of last night’s Calypso Monarch competition simply do not add up.
And as the dissatisfaction with the organisers and complaints about the quality of the show multiply—as they are almost certain to—TUCO is likely to find much more division in its ranks than there already was leading up to the show.
Like in 2009 when his forgettable—and indeed, forgotten!—unfunny pun on Calder H(e)art gave him a runaway win, Chalkdust whipped last night’s field with a tired—and tiring—word play on arithmetic.
To make the very valid point that child marriages are unacceptable, the Juba Doo Bai bard addresses himself to outspoken Sanathan Dharma Maha Sabha head Sat Maharaj, who has long championed the right of his and other religions to decide by themselves what is acceptable for them.
“Seventy-five,” sang wearyingly the UTT professor and holder of a doctorate in history and ethnomusicology, “cyar go into 14.”
As if the listening audience hadn’t got it the first time, he repeated the message in every subsequent chorus. To me, sitting uncomfortably among the sparse crowd, it seemed to have been repeated ad infinitum.
But the judges thought otherwise.
Chalkdust’s final score was a full ten points better than the mark awarded to second-placed Karene Asche, whose potentially preachy “Caught in the Whirlwind” was delivered with her usual passion and an unwonted lightness of touch that enhanced its poignant message. For me, she was streets ahead of the old master.
But the judges thought otherwise.
Let us go back for a minute for some context. TUCO had decided—or had been mandated—to alter the format of the annual competition.
Instead of the 12-finalists, two-song format re-adopted since 2011, they had opted—if they had an option, that is—for a new 16-singer arrangement with 15 qualifiers from the semifinals challenging the defending champion on Sunday night. In the event, after sundry highly visible challenges to the Calypso Fiesta results, the number of challengers to defending monarch Devon Seale rose to 16, including Fya Empress, a St Vincent and the Grenadines national, and Lady Gypsy, originally named as a reserve/alternate.
Some would say that, with more than half of these 17 singers being female, it’s unsurprising to find them bunched together somewhere in the final results. The judges agreed. Lady Adanna, Meguella Simon, Fya Empress and Sasha-Ann Moses occupied the last four slots from 14 to 17.
I thought Fya Empress’ offering, a little heavy on props with an open casket—complete with name and telephone number of the funeral home that provided it—gracing the stage throughout, should have earned her a better score.
The judges thought otherwise.
Lady Gypsy’s “Plight of my People” earned her a decent ninth spot, one above Allrounder, with whom she claimed to have tied for the last qualifying spot at Skinner Park. Both were separated from former Culture minister and 2017 extempo champion Winston “Gypsy” Peters by “Fourth-King King” Cro Cro, whose “Final Sendoff” tribute to late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning here was delivered, I thought, without real conviction.
But in Dr Keith Rowley country, I suppose, Manning apologists can’t be king. Nor, as Lady Gypsy argued in post semifinal interviews, can those who are critical of the PNM.
There’s really no way of telling whether the judges—Three Blind Mice?—thought otherwise.
Or if they thought at all.
If Chalkdust’s wearisome performance was adjudged to be the best of the lot on the night—and by some distance!—what is the message that we are sending to the young would-be bards watching and learning?
The Junior Calypso Monarch performed in the disastrous second half of the show, which probably means she was watching and learning. Are we telling her and her peers to emulate the Chalkdust of the 2010’s?
Is that what calypso is, has become and is henceforth to be?
The judges’ answer seems to be an emphatic yes.
Mind you, the crowd responded to the professor’s final “special verse” with genuine mirth and lusty applause. But perhaps much more telling for Brother Resistance and TUCO and Chairman Kenny De Silva and the NCC and Minister Shamfa Cudjoe and her ministry and Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and her ministry, who are ultimately responsible for the carnival product, is the fact that the crowd had already voted with their feet.
Compared to last year, say, the size of the crowd was down, I estimate, about 60 percent.
And speaking of the crowd, it would be remiss of me not to mention how disgruntled and embarrassed the handful of patrons sitting around me were at the complete mess that the organisers made of the show’s second half. My party left early without regret, unable to stomach the repeated delays in the appearance of announced performers – at least 10 minutes elapsed between the first call for Nailah Blackman and her eventual arrival on the stage – the constant departures from the advertised schedule, the cavalier treatment of the ministers on hand and the protracted silence of the MC’s. It was nothing short of intolerable.
It is bound to have a negative effect on attendance at next year’s event, if event there is next year.
Maybe the officials responsible can enlist the aid of Chalkdust, Programme Professor of the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs—not to train the judges or to write the competition rules, as the conspiracy theorists would have it he does—but to do the math.
How can a Dimanche Gras on which taxpayers expend millions of dollars—we shall, one hopes, get full NCC accounting before next year’s edition—rake in, roughly, TT$1m in gate receipts?
Even if the oil and the money start to flow again before Carnival 2018, can we really afford to spend it in that way? In this guava season?
Personally, I would have been satisfied if the crown had gone to Karene Asche, Devon Seale or Kurt Allen.
I thought Allen and Lady Gypsy got it right on the night.
It’s not the UNC but somebody is forking up the corn tree.
(2017 Calypso Monarch results)
1st. Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool: Learn from Arithmetic
2nd. Karene Asche: Caught in the Whirlwind
3rd. Heather Mac Intosh: Games
4th. Terri Lyons: The Phrase
5th. Rondell Donawa: Lip Service
6th. Devon Seales: I Carmona
7th. Roderick “Chucky” Gordon: Wha Yuh Doing
8th. Victoria “Queen Victoria” Cooper: The Call to Prayer
9th. Lynette “Lady Gypsy” Steele: Plight of my People
10th. Anthony “All Rounder” Hendrickson: To Be an Icon
11th. Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins: Final Send-Off
12th. Winston “Gypsy Peters: Angry Land
13th. Kurt Allen: My Corn Tree
14th. Sasha-Ann Moses: Main Witness
15th. Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd-Reid: Guilty
16th. Miguella Simon: Still Colonial
17th. Marsha “Lady Adanna” Clifton: Social Media