Algebra, not arithmetic; Best returns to Chalkdust’s ninth win to get his sums right

My friend AJ is not a trained calypso judge, the only ones able, according to now nine-time Calypso Monarch Chalkdust, to judge the annual calypso competition fairly. So I really don’t know if AJ’s view that “Chalkdust should be somewhere in the middle of the field”—shared with us on our premature way out of the Queen’s Park Savannah on Sunday night—is worth very much.

He had begun with a loud steups, which I took to be an expression of his frustration with the second half of the show rather than anything else.

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)
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)

“If I were a judge,” he went on before switching to the more appropriate dialect, “I woulda tie ’bout five ah dem fuh larse.”

Hyperbole, of course! We laughed, he and I, all of us indeed, and I put it out of my mind. Until “hyperbole” came up as I read Joel Julien’s Sunday Guardian interview and Rosemarie Sant’s follow-up story in yesterday’s edition…

First, Sant. Chalkie says in her news story that his calypso is not “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.”

According to the 75-year-old champion bard, “Learning from Arithmetic” is “a warning to young people not to be fooled.” It is “meant as a warning to young girls to be wary of older men who like to fool them.” It is sung “in defence of young women so that schoolchildren will understand they have to be wary of older men who only want to fool them.”

He also makes a connection with teenage pregnancies.

Photo: A pregnant 14-year-old girl.
Photo: A pregnant 14-year-old girl.

“People feel teenage pregnancies involve two teenagers,” he explains, “but in most instances young teenaged girls getting pregnant because they are fooled by older men who prey on them.”

Well, thanks for the explanation, Professor Liverpool. As a teacher—and careful user–of language for almost all of my adult life, I am constantly reminding my students that meaning is made at the receiving end. So I feel constrained to ask you this question: Do you really think, Professor, that that is what ordinary people, for whom, I presume, you are singing, get out of your song?

Still according to Sant, Chalkdust “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.”

Which raises the question of whether, having completed the calypso, he ran it by his two consultees to get their feedback. Or by Meguella Simon, who managed 16th place on Sunday and who, a UTT newspaper advertisement tells us, is a “current Ph.D. candidate (in) Cultural Studies.”

You see, in Julien’s Sunday Guardian interview, Chalkie had had this to say in response to a question asking for his thoughts on why only one representative from the Calypso Revue had been included in the line-up for Calypso Fiesta.

Photo: Kaiso Revue boss Sugar Aloes.
Photo: Kaiso Revue boss Sugar Aloes.

“Some of the judges cannot write English. How can you judge calypso? So the judges need training in literacy, in world affairs because calypsonians sing about world affairs.

“The judges have to be literate, they have to know history. How could a man judge calypso and he has not even done Caribbean Civilisation?”

Interestingly, the first seven paragraphs of the response are devoted to the competence—or lack of it—of the judges before Chalkie begins the last three paragraphs of his answer thus: “With respect to the Revue…” And goes on to say that the judges “came by Revue first when some of the calypsonians weren’t settled as yet…”

For me, in the business of teaching journalism informally and formally for the last 20 years, equally interesting is that Sant in her post-coronation story chose to completely ignore the issue of the judges’ training–or lack of it.

Which brings me back to my conversation with AJ. Those of us who presume to “judge” the competition—I noted to him after writing my earlier story for Wired868—and challenge the eventual results on the basis of our reading of the performances really don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

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)

Arithmetic is what guides the judges while we—he and I and any others without a formal scorecard—are in the business of algebra. The judges are computing precise marks, we’re merely loosely assessing overall impact, substituting for X.

I thought—I still think—Chalkie’s lyrics were no wittier than, say, Kurt Allen’s. And I don’t know that his presentation was any more impressive, more effective than Devon Seale’s, say.

Was his music more appealing than, say, Rondell Donawa’s? He certainly had the crowd with him by the time he walked offstage. But how is crowd response weighted in terms of the final mark? And is there a category called “Overall Impact” or some such vague term that allows a judge to compensate for the effects that the listed categories do not quite cover?

See? I’m guessing. If we’re not trained judges, we’re guessing. If we don’t “know the difference between a simile and a metaphor, a hyperbole,” Chalkdust says, we’re shooting in the dark.

“If you haven’t sat down in a classroom for four, five months, six months, you really can’t judge the art form.”

Well, I beg to differ. No way, José! “Hosay” by David Rudder is way better than King Austin’s “Progress,” voted in a public poll as the best calypso ever written; I so affirm without fear of successful contradiction and it’s not because I know what a metaphor is.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago calypso icon David Rudder. (Courtesy Jacqueline Morris)

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago calypso icon David Rudder.
(Courtesy Jacqueline Morris)

I don’t need six months of training to know why I run to my radio and raise the volume every time I hear the first few bars of “Calypso Music” or “Calypso Rising” or “Ah Fraid Karl” or “Gavaskar” but I won’t quite react in the same way if I ever hear Chalkdust’s 2009 winning selection “My Heart and I” start.

I can—and do occasionally—listen to calypso music for hours on end, Sparrow and Rudder, of course, Blakie, Spoiler, Kitch, Shorty, Duke, Nelson, Stalin and Valentino and Singing Sandra, inter alia. And early Chalkdust.

How it annoys my daughter who’s less than half my age! She keeps her door shut to keep my music out. But when I get into her car and nine-time Road March winner Machel Montano comes on on the airwaves, I return the favour, changing the station in seconds to keep her music out.

There’s no accounting for taste, is there? So I respect the right of the judges to adjudge Professor Liverpool the winner on the night. But I have to say that at least one thing is more than a little suspicious.

In the 11-band Large Band category of this year’s Steelband Panorama, the results showed one tie and a 151/2-point spread between All Stars, who were first, and Tropical Angel Harps, who were last. In the nine-band Medium Band category, the spread was 18 points and there were two ties involving five bands.

Photo: Exodus Steelband, who tied with Invaders for fourth place in this year's Panorama. (Copyright TDC via
Photo: Exodus Steelband, who tied with Invaders for fourth place in this year’s Panorama.
(Copyright TDC via

In the calypso competition, almost 90 points separated King Chalkdust (439) from Lady Adanna (353), who was 17th, runner-up Karene Asche was 16 points off earning at least a share of the $700,000 prize and there was not a single tie.

So what will the judges be told or are already being told during their four, five or six months of training?

And, perhaps more to the point, by whom?

Neither Julien nor Sant thought it important to put the question to the Professor but I certainly would like to know.

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  1. Sigh… I won’t even bother after that nah. Fuad is twisting information to suit his narrative in the same statement that he is accusing Chalkdust of twisting information for his winning calypso.
    I’d just leave that hypocrisy alone.

  2. For starters, Ravi Balgobin Maharaj I consider this line to be extremely disrespectful to the calypso competition: “As a performer, Chalkdust has often been accused of utilizing the calypso forum to advocate PNM policies, especially after winning the People’s National Movement’s “Buy Local Calypso Competition”…”

    • Lasana Liburd if Chalkdust is as adamant about child marriage as his newest song suggests, then you have to ask the question: is the reason he didn’t sing out about it when the legislation was being passed because of his vicotries in the PNM competitions? I think that is a legitimate question

    • How old are you Ravi Balgobin Maharaj? And when have you known the conversation about child marriage to be as unmissable as it was last year?
      You might have your answer in that.

    • But that’s the second point that Fuad is trying to raise. Chalkdust is only singing about the issue when it is being repealed. Why didnt he sing about it for the past 40 odd years? And, another question: if he had sung a different version of “learn from arithmetic” in the PNM competition, do you think he would have won?

    • A message can only be absorbed when people are ready to absorb it. That’s almost never the fault of the messenger.

    • Hahahahaha. So you saying that the PNM were ok with “75 into 14” in 1973? Because they wouldn’t have absorbed an argument against it back then?

    • Go back one generation and stuff like smoking and unprotected sex was cool. Go back two generations and you will see “no blacks allowed” signs. Go back three generations and women couldn’t vote and divorces were illegal.
      Now that doesn’t mean there were not people in every generation who railed against those things.
      You take what you want from it Ravi. But now I have to ask if Fuad Khan is not using the Hindus for his own gains in just the way that he is claiming Chalkdust is.

  3. My overall question is what was the criteria used to judge one Calypso. Over the years we have allowed those in charge to water down quality and this is where we currently find ourselves. vacuous and empty so call ‘Calypso’ . The junior Monarch competitions have been producing better messages and performances. No radio or TV station replay them. Carnival done no replay of all the steel band performances , may be only the winner.s. I say one of these days we’ll wake up and Carnival dead, dead, since its about market forces and commodification of the culture. Be honest after Carnival, how many attend Steelband shows or even want to hear Calypso? The majority who follow pan hosted across the country are mature persons, with many youths as pannist. The audiences shows them appreciation for their efforts, with their presence, even though they are not well attended. Its the die hard pannists and pan lovers who follow them across the country.Many of the songs for this year celebrations have received little air play and will join the long list lying in the ‘cemetery’. WACK Radio should be commended for local airplay, but the others are more foreign than local. Don’t even bother to tell me that is what the people want, NO one asks us what we want. Its simply about dollars and cents . This is beyond Carnival , its our culture (which we cannot defined to date) Ask Errol Fabien from Gayelle, lack of sponsorship for local content forced his hands. Which corporate entity came to his defence. It’s is like pulling teeth. Who really playing games with the Art form? The ‘parasitic oligarchy’ in the Media control the airwaves.

    • Rossana, You clearly are passionate about this issue and I respect and admire that. I’m afraid, though, that you are guilty of oversimplification. This is a very complex issue and your affirmation that it is “simply a matter of dollars and sense” is very misleading.

      Interesting views, strong views as well but, in the final analysis, no more than ONE INDIVIDUAL’S view; let’s be clear on that.

  4. Best practice to preserve transparency in judging these highly subjective calypso content/presentation and credibility of the Calypso Monarch competition, dictate that individual judge’s scores are provided following each performance.
    And the highest and lowest scores should be eliminated from the tally to minimize favouritism or prejudice or result-fixing.
    This process will also mitigate actual or perceived backroom machinations and keep the audience and competitors attuned to the progress of the competition.

  5. Our education has been failing us over the last two decades, we have certified people with PhDs, MBAs who are unable to critically think , or analyse. Who are the judges, what training do they have. what was the criteria for judging? judging Calypso and Soca? Really. That question is still awaiting an explanation. Suddenly everyone in T&t is sensitive about issues. Gone are the days of social commentary, satire and comess (Duke). Calypso have been poor for years, no creativity, “jump and wave’ Also Calypsonians are frustrated re judging for some time now.. The Dimanche Gras has been on a downward slide for years. This year was the worst most boring and poor quality of Calypso. Still people congratulating themselves saying Carnival was the best. Really!!!! Certainly not for viewers. Thank God for cable. It was sad that you said you did not want to read anything bigging up Chalkie. You must be mature and professional regardless of your personal feelings towards a person. which then you can give an informed opinion on issues.

  6. This is one of the few times that I felt a sense of relief as I went back and read the thread. I generally don’t feel that way. I also read the thread and then the article. I really didn’t want to read anything that was bigging up Chalkie – so I was glad when I went back and read it. This calypso was bad! Chalkie’s claim about training in the art form tells all i need to hear about our education system and its failures. WTF does training in calypso entail? Its a stupid and vapid statement. So our education system, where Chalkie spends his time ….. “doesn’t train people to think and be analytical?”. So a group of persons with an appreciation for the performing arts and who have gained great experience, can’t judge calypso – only those who’ve been trained – nonsense. That comment is similar to a well expressed one on Wired that says “only people who know football should run football”. I don’t understand that one either. They are both equally narrow, archaic, useless perspectives, to which we as a country have become enslaved thus there’s no progress. Chalkie’s calypso also emboldens the already prejudiced views across our country about child marriages. he does not educate nor inform, but he attacks, uses piccong and places blame. The reality is that child marriages are found in many cultures and religions so to address Sat and thus single out one culture and ethnicity in TT is wrong! Chalkie probably wasn’t trained in the use of cognitive filters – and so (using his logic) he couldn’t think through what he was doing. He’s playing with us, he knows it and as such he has insulted us. As a citizen of the world – having lived in many countries and visited even more – I don’t accept it nor would I stand for it.

  7. The art of double-entendre and symbolism, coupled with a very legitimate current topic expertly delivered (except maybe for the-extemporaneous?- special verse) that had the crowd eating from his hands, surely that is what won him the crown, I have watched some of the others and certainly feel Kurt’s nationalistic plea was deserving of a higher place though I have yet to watch his Dimanche Gras performance but I am rooting for the ladies. Terri could have placed higher I think. I have no doubt Heather is also deserving though perhaps her double-entendre did not capture the imagination of the crowd apparently.
    I see no reason why the scoring cannot be published but I guess they are not willing to set any precedent for transparency.

  8. he said when he created the song, competition was not in his mind, but to raise the awareness of Trinbagonians. I believe, many wined to it , but is yet to listen to the message and lyrical content

  9. If I give Dr. Liverpool the benefit of the doubt, that his calypso was not “meant to be an attack on any one person or anyone’s religion… simply singing about an issue,” then what was the need for all the Hindu imagery?

  10. I wonder what the result would have been if MX Prime was in the competition? In my MX Prime lost out by not entering more competitions. I would dearly like to hear his reasoning for not entering other competitions. Full Extreme is an international song and I think it will do well on the international stage.

  11. I agree Earl – it seems that the judging criteria vary with each passing year.
    With respect to the show format itself, even the calypsonians as a body need to really make up their minds as to which they prefer :
    Either the two song format which will cut it down to around eight finalists…
    Or the one song format which obtains presently and allows a greater number of finalists.
    Just a few days ago my mom and I were discussing the judging and she referred to the specialist approach that will see one person adjudicating over a particular category for all the contestants. I agree with Karen Asche ,as quoted by Newsday, that this is the better approach coupled with the two song per person and fewer finalists. Let’s get quality – it matters!
    More discussion here below:,240333.html

  12. What is the criteria to be a judge and as Dr Liverpool,stated, “if you are not trained in the ART from ,what are you judging? I agree with the 123 placing. I have long said the standard of Calypso have been on the decline for years now and it continues. I have to admit , it was one of the most boring Dimanche Gras. NCC had an entire year to organize a show and fell short and Kenny De Silva simply apologised. We killing the mas, the pan and Calypso. Tourist numbers have decline and we blame it on recession,. This is a wake up call, check and see what is being offered. Where is the quality and standards which continues to be eroded.Like the proverbial ostrich with our heads in the sand, we might wake up one day and ask “where has the Carnival gone” as we sit idly by, twiddling our thumbs. De Silva talked about a post-mortem which is an annual even and so what?

  13. You are very good to recall (without research) the name of Chalkie’s 2009 winning composition. It is so forgettable that even I – ScottyPedia – didn’t waste brain cells remembering it …

    One point that you just barely grazed might shed some true light on how dour this competition has become and how far the standards have fallen. Chalkdust was victorious with a score of 439. What was the maximum score that a contestant could achieve though? 500? 600? 750? 1000? It might be very interesting to note how many points Chalkdust lost. That surely will indicate how well(or more likely, badly) the winning performance was rated.

    And if that is how the best of the night’s fare was rated, far less for those whose performances mustered as few as 80% of Chalkdust’s score by the same set of judges.

    • You imagine that I could forget it? ha! He won! In 1979, a man called Poser won the Road march with a tune called “Ah tell she.” Go listen to it on YouTube (if anyone has had the gall to put it there.) But arm yourself with Gravol first, just in case.

      You imagine that I will ever forget that title although it’s now almost 40 years? Ha!

      • Isn’t that the “find ah party, smoke a watty, when yuh fiinish drink ah Guinness” song? I agree. That was a piece of musical diarrhoea! I barely remember that song from my toddler days. Total rubbish. How could you all let that win? Like allyuh really smoke a watty in 79!!!!!

  14. Chalkie is an ass and a liar to say “that his calypso is not “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.”” And they wonder why the tents are dead.

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