Home / View Point / Earl Best / Dimanche not so gras! Best casts critical eye; says why he preferred Karene to Chalkie

Dimanche not so gras! Best casts critical eye; says why he preferred Karene to Chalkie

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.

Photo: Dr Hollis "Chalkdust" Liverpool performs “Learn from Arithmetic” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. Chalkdust copped the crown for his record ninth title. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool performs “Learn from Arithmetic” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Chalkdust copped the crown for a record ninth time.
(Courtesy Wired868)

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.

Photo: Karene Asche performs "Caught in a Whirlwind" at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. Asche placed second from the 17 contestants. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Karene Asche performs “Caught in a Whirlwind” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Asche placed second from the 17 contestants.
(Courtesy Wired868)

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.

Photo: Lornette "Fya Empress" Nedd-Reid performs her calypso "Guilty" at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. Fya Empress placed 15th from 17 contestants. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd-Reid performs her calypso “Guilty” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
Fya Empress placed 15th from 17 contestants.
(Courtesy Wired868)

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.

Photo: Sasha Ann Moses performs her calypso, "The Main Witness", at the 33rd Annual National Calypso Queens Competition on 13 February 2017 at Queen's Hall in St Ann's. Moses won the Queen's competition but placed 14th from 17 participants at the Calypso Monarch final. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Sasha Ann Moses performs her calypso, “The Main Witness”, at the 33rd Annual National Calypso Queens Competition on 13 February 2017 at Queen’s Hall in St Ann’s.
Moses won the Queens competition but placed 14th from 17 participants at the Calypso Monarch final.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

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?

Photo: Heather MacIntosh performs "Games" at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen's Park Savannah. MacIntosh placed third from 17 contestants. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Heather MacIntosh performs “Games” at the Calypso Monarch final on 26 February 2017 at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
MacIntosh placed third from 17 contestants.
(Courtesy Wired868)

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

Photo: Terri Lyons sings her calypso, "The Unfortunate Phrase", at the 33rd Annual National Calypso Queens Competition on 13 February 2017 at Queen's Hall in St Ann's. Lyons placed fourth at the Queen's contest and the 2017 Calypso Monarch final. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Terri Lyons sings her calypso, “The Unfortunate Phrase”, at the 33rd Annual National Calypso Queens Competition on 13 February 2017 at Queen’s Hall in St Ann’s.
Lyons placed fourth at the Queens contest and the 2017 Calypso Monarch final.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

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

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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I am very grateful to both Earl Best and Cliff Bertrand for their extensive comments …


  1. Typical PNM competition they can’t sing about nothing else but indians why they don’t talk about the bandits who breeding like mosquito and murdering people

  2. Another racially motivated competition paid for by the taxpayers. ..

  3. I love the song i like how he targeted sat maharaj and the Hindus it good.

  4. Black power movement of late 70’s dragged Kaiso in the forum of social commentary and it never left! Thank god for my late father for introducing to ole kaiso, most of the youth now will think all kaiso is political bantering in song.

  5. I wonder how much NCC charges for recordings of the Dimanche Gras these days? I remember it used to be TT$250 or some kinda offsetting price like that.
    I would have bought them all if they were reasonably priced.

  6. I can’t recall a single tune by Chalkdust. Not a one. Sparrow? You want them in alphabetical order?

    • I want to argue with you… But it says something that I have to check Wikipedia to remind you of his great golden calypsos! :-/
      I think he is one of the best in the business. But it’s true that he hasn’t given us cult hits like Sparrow, Kitch, Stalin, Rudder, Shadow, Cro Cro, Sandra, Duke, etc…

    • “Cult hits”? Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything, Anything” is a cult hit, my friend. Sparrow, Shadow, Stalin, Kitch have nothing but stone cold instantly and widely appreciated classics.

      Chalkdust’s lyrical dexterity – and that’s debatable too in some of his works, eh – cannot be separated from the fact that the music for so many of his songs is so similar that one is hard-pressed to distinguish one from another but for the title.

      The man is a true patriot and champion of the arts. But nah, dred. He could win Calypso Monarch until his tally reach triple digits. As far as I’m concerned, Sparrow is untouchable.

    • Earl Best

      Uh oh! You don’t do yourself proud, Clarke. Everybody knows “Juba Doo Bai,” “Ah Fraid Karl” and”Ah put on mih guns again”. “Three blind mice” is another well-known number.

      I have no problem with early Chalkie (Baron, ditto). But these lumbering, ponderous, unimaginative monstrosities he has been producing recently and calling art, they’re an embarrassment, frankly.
      Certainly for those of us who know his early work.

      I hope that now that he has the record he so clearly coveted, he does not put on his guns again.

    • Earl Best

      I just remembered that I worked some of those titles into the fabric of the piece. That makes your situation even more embarrassing, I daresay.

    • So Colin, you don’t think “Wait Dorothy Wait”, “Bassman” and “1990”–to name a few–are not cult hits locally?

    • I’ve never really considered the wider diaspora when looking at the popularity of the older classics, and I have no knowledge how much those songs enjoyed, but it can’t be denied that you are GUARANTEED to mash up de place if yuh drop one o’dem tunes in yuh playlist.

      If you are using “cult” hits to mean that they were only known and popular locally (and by THAT, I mean strictly T&T scene, not even regionally) I have no idea. But then that would only make my case against Chalkdust even stronger, ent?

    • Yes. I think so. He doesn’t have one for my era at least. And I can’t say I have heard the radio dropping “old favourites” from him either.

    • Thinking on it some more, “Bassman” made noise up the islands when it came out and is recognised in the region as one of Soca’s foundation stones. So, that wouldn’t be a “cult” hit according to my understanding of the term.

    • Ok. Replace “cult” with “classic” then.

    • Ha! Well is NOW yuh sink yuh biy Chalkie. 😛

  7. The problems with the continued poor quality production of Dimanche Gras is it’s a cultural event that need not worry about a competing event … as well as the lack of ambition among it’s producers.
    Compare Demanche Gras stagnation to the continued evolution of the production quality of the season’s various fetes ….. fete promotors NEED to be constantly improving their product in order to remain competitive in the market, Dimanche Gras need not worry about such things therefore it’s producers are free to continue to produce a Scrunting For Talent quality show.
    Had they had their eye on attracting a wider foreign viewershp thereby brining in larger revenues the show would improve, but they have never been burdened by ambition.

    • What do you think will help Vernie?

    • A dose of flicking ambition and pride in their damned work!

    • Lol. That’s a little vague eh.

    • Or maybe too specific… Either way what actionable things you think?

    • Hire the people who do stage production for them stush fete to do the same for Dimanche Gras.
      Dem people look like dey know wey dey doing.

    • Lol. Well, that might be a good starting point in truth.

    • Watching Dimanche Gras is a labor of national pride … and I stress “labor”.

    • Wasn’t always so. Even back in the days when the show finished after 1 am. But the quality of the calypsos were better.

    • People like me tune into Dimanche Gras for nostalgic reasons. And because I didn’t get free tickets to Lara fete?. But I used to love watching as a child and couldn’t wait for the second round with the peppy kaisos. But it real painful to lose sleep watching what they putting out now. Especially when there are so many other things to do now on carnival Sunday.

    • Earl Best

      Oh but you’re so wrong, Vernal, at least about the !ack of ambition part. No, sir; producing Dimanche Gras is a stepping stone to much bigger assignments and they’ve given it to big names (as far as the local scene goes). But there are obviously budgetary constraints which limit the choices and which would probably eliminate the people you recommend.

      But I think the problem is much, much larger than you suggest and I’m hoping to get some of my thoughts down “in black and white” before too long.

    • Vernal Damion Cadogan I understand your point. Passed through the Savannah for the king and queens of the bands-poor turnout. Beautiful costumes that people took months, money and time to produce. For designers, players and audience, I was thinking exactly as you, if it had been produced in a more interactive way like an all inclusive setup, and if the layout for parade was bigger, so it’s like a street parade where patrons can also move about, it would have been a beautiful sight. As it is, after all that work, it’s just for a few moments. And if we consider streaming in HD (not sure if it was shown live?), the quality would be better as the lights affect how the costumes look on screen-from what I saw, it certainly did not truly reflect the beauty of the costumes!
      Agreed, we do need to keep trying to best ourselves, as it seems we are content we invented pan and trinidad is the home of carnival, never mind we letting both suffer. Meantime, other ppl taking both and marketing more than us to see how much mileage they can get as we seem to have lost our competitive and creative edge.

    • Sadly Narisha that will not happen, improvement does not come to us naturally.

  8. Was it Heather who sang We Taking Dick? I thought her delivery was great. I also enjoyed Chalkie because it was my first time hearing him so everything was fresh to me. Dais all I really saw of the Dimanche Blah competition wise. I love that song with Terry Lyons and Skinny. Don’t know why she didn’t get more airplay. The rest of the night for me was the Oscars yes.

  9. I didn’t like this tune it came across as racist bcuz it targeted sat maharaj Hindus and Indians while under age marriages are among the muslims as well why he didn’t call abu bhakr name in his song or some other Muslim leader

    • There Indians who aren’t Hindus… So I don’t get the racist part… And I think they’re the logical target because they were the most vocal about the issue at least in maintaining it as is (they meaning Sat and Co.).

    • Yeah. I thought Sat was the most vocal. But I agree that there are African groups who also support child marriage including baptists too.

    • They were the ones most targeted hence the reason they were most vocal

    • How do you define “most targeted”? I think the legislation focuses on persons wishing to marry children. I don’t think any sect is treated better or worse than the other.
      You would have to show me what you base that notion on.

    • Sat said, let the Hindu community/religion do away with the law themselves; not by way of the State.

      So those critical of my stance – all I am saying is that you are missing a significant portion of the information and so too was Chalkie.

      In any event, the PNM did this as a distraction away from their non performance as a government. It was not done for the right reason.

      Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is the wrong thing still.

      • Earl Best

        Who can dispute your assertion that “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is the wrong thing still.

        But before saying that, you said that “The PNM did this as a distraction…”

        What precisely did the PNM do? Sing Chalkie’s calypso? Stage Dimanche Gras? Give Chalkie the crown? Can you be more specific?

    • “Chalkdust said Maharaj had missed the whole point of the calypso. He told the T&T Guardian “it was never meant to be an attack on any one person or anyone’s religion. I was simply singing about an issue, I will never attack anybody’s religion.”

      Liverpool said he referred to “Sat in the calypso because when Al-Rawi spoke in Parliament he (Sat) is the one who attacked him.”

      He said Maharaj and others who feel that he was out of line are “missing the message of the calypso, it was meant as a warning to young girls to be wary of older men who like to fool them. The calypso is more than Sat Maharaj, it is a warning to young people not to be fooled, people feel teenage pregnancies involve two teenagers, but in most instances young teenaged girls getting pregnant because they are fooled by older men who prey on them.”

      Liverpool said he spoke to two “13-year-old girls and I asked them about the issue and they agreed that I was right to sing about it. It is an issue. The calypso is really in defence of young women, so that school children will understand they have to be wary of older men who only want to fool them,” he said.”

  10. Concerning the comparison you made of the offerings by Chalkdust and Asche, I couldn’t agree with you more Earl. It was really like ‘Chalk and Cheese’! Pardon the pun! Not diminishing Chalkie’s classroom approach to social commentary, Karen, in my opinion, went further in bringing alive the fullness of the calypsonian’s craft – stage presence, body language, masterful vocal delivery of powerful lyrics were sterling examples of the artist being used as a vessel to be the town crier of the harsh truth we must confront.

  11. While Chalkdust’s winning tune was decidedly weak, his victory was not unfair based on the lack of Dimanche Gras quality tunes tunes his competitors put forth.

    • You didn’t like Heather MacIntosh’s “Games”?

      • Yes. Heather would be another great exponent of crafting commentary through the calypso art form. With her ‘Games’, she used the double entendre ‘viciously’ and to great effect.
        Earl lamented the poor signals being sent to the younger calypsonians by the seemingly questionable disparities between their efforts and their placings. Heather Mac Intosh and Terri Lyons offer that glimmer of hope of representing well , taking up from their fathers and carving their own niche.

    • I did, but it wasn’t a winner.

  12. What did you think of the results Adana?

    • I had Karene for the win. As a matter of fact Donielle Jones and I had a friendly debate about her performance and whether she would win. Chalky sang his slack special verse and I said they will give it to him. I only saw Heather and Karene main competition.

    • I loved Chalkie and Heather for their word play to be honest. Even though Best thought he beat us over the head with his catchphrase too much.
      But then I just like that style. Pink Panther was one of my favorites for the same reason.
      Karene Asche is always really good and she was last night too.
      For me though, the shocker was that Sasha Ann Moses placed so low… And that Gypsy placed so high! Same for his sister to be honest. I thought her composition needed fine-tuning. Lol.

    • Agreed about Gypsy and his sister. Don’t feel the same way about Moses

    • Maybe. Maybe. But I feel Sasha has a lot of Karene’s assets. Great voice and a stirring performer. All opinions anyway.

    • I loved Chalkdust, Heather, Terri and Donowa. Karene is always good but I am fed up of her style. She needs to be a little more versatile. Nevertheless I can live with the results. Karene’s dress and barefeet was also not linked to her song. Despite that though I admire her. Chalkdust, Heather and Terri dress and props were on point. Donowa had too much help going on while he was presenting. That took away from him.

      • Earl Best

        You’re not being consistent. You are “fed up of Karene’s style” but you “loved Chalkdust,” who’s being singing the same way, not to say the same song, for nearly 40 years?

        Am I missing something here?