Bad calypsonomics to blame for tents going bust; Baldeosingh considers impact of State interference

“In a market economy, prices indicate demand which, in turn, affects supply—falling prices indicate lower demand, higher prices reveal shortages and, generally, supply adjusts to meet demand.

“[…] The trouble was that State subsidies distorted the market for calypso. So government funding, especially over the past 25 years, concealed preferences—or, more accurately, lack of preferences—for the Carnival in general and commentary calypso in particular.”

In the following Letter to the Editor, Kevin Baldeosingh suggests reasons for the struggles of the calypso tents in the 2018 Carnival season.

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)

It seems that a recession concentrates minds wonderfully. This is shown by the number of commentators who are now applying economic judgments to issues where they previously based all their opinions on ideological beliefs.

Nowhere is this more glaring than in respect of Carnival. On 24 January, Sugar Aloes a.k.a. Michael Osouna announced that the venerable Calypso Revue was going to close owing to meagre corporate sponsorship, small audiences and a reduction in government funding.

This heaps irony upon irony. The first irony is, of course, that Aloes became successful not because of the quality of his calypso commentary but owing to his aggressive support of the People’s National Movement. Now, it is the very same PNM which cannot afford to subsidise him.

The second and related irony is that Aloes’ racial lyrics drove away from the Revue the very people whose ticket purchases could have sustained the tent in these lean times. Amazingly, in a subsequent interview the following week, Aloes actually cast blame on Indo-Trinidadians for the failure of the calypso tents, arguing that these were the same persons who flung $100 bills on stage to get encores for calypsoes such as “Chambers Done See.”

Photo: Calypsonian Michael “Sugar Aloes” Osouna runs the Calypso Revue Tent.

In the media conference held by Aloes, Lord Kitchener’s former manager Errol Peru said that Kitchener would be disappointed by the tent’s closure over half a century after it was founded as Kitchener’s Revue. But it was the same Peru who, in 2007, wrote in a letter to the editor: “Ask any tent owner/manager and they would tell you that the Indo-Trinidadians were the biggest supporters of the calypso tents; they would buy all the front row seats and Johnny Walker Black and would always invite the calypsonians to meet their families and have a drink with them.”

Unsurprisingly, no official data exist in respect to how much money was given to calypsonians each year. However, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Nyan Gadsby-Dolly revealed that the government had allocated $7 million to calypso this year, which is about 5% of the Carnival budget.

Extrapolating for previous years on the premise that the percentage allocated to calypso has remained constant, I have estimated the allocations for the past decade:

TABLE: Carnival budgets 2009-2018

Year Carnival Budget Calypso allocation
2009 $123M $6M
2010 $123M $6M
2011 $122M $6M
2012 $237M $12M
2013 $224M $11M
2014  $171M $8.5M
2015  $314M $16M
2016  $262M $13M
2017  $168M $8.4M
2018  $147M $7.3M

Source: Ministry of Finance

Significantly, the allocation does not vary much year by year. The only drastic increase in the past decade occurred in 2012 and in 2015—and 2013 was Local Government Elections and 2015 the General Elections. This appears to imply that sponsorship and ticket sales are more crucial to the tents’ bottom line but it is likely that most of the sponsorship monies come from State entities.

More pertinently, the private sector hasn’t continued its sponsorship, and this is obviously because the returns don’t make advertising in a calypso tent worth their while.

For me, the most risible remarks from the media conference came from The Mighty Chalkdust a.k.a. Dr Hollis Liverpool, holder of a record nine Calypso Monarch titles. He said: “The calypso tent has done a lot for T&T, not just corn soup but for nurturing calypsonians and developing their art. You cannot let the calypso tent die. The calypso monarch could die; that is all right.”

Photo: Hollis “The Mighty Chalkdust” Liverpool.
(Copyright BuzzTT)

Here we encounter the third irony. Chalkdust ignores the glaring fact that the calypso tent is dying because people now find most calypsonians’ offerings boring, trite or narrow-minded. But Chalkdust himself is the epitome of such calypso, hence the reason he holds the record for most Calypso Monarch titles.

Chalkdust himself called for support for the tent out of respect for the memory of Kitchener, yet his own preferences were revealed by his failing to offer any of the millions of dollars he got in prize money to help out the Revue.

Which brings me to the fourth irony. According to Minister Gadsby-Dolly, “What disturbs me the most is that this tent, a staple on the Carnival landscape, with such a proud legacy, is not attracting significant patronage.”

“This may be a signal to all tents,” she added, “that a change in modus operandi is required to improve their brand and attract more corporate sponsorship.”

Gadsby-Dolly is quite right. But it was government patronage of calypso which distorted the market signals in the first place. In a market economy, prices indicate demand which, in turn, affects supply—falling prices indicate lower demand, higher prices reveal shortages and, generally, supply adjusts to meet demand.

Photo: Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly.
(Courtesy Elections.TT)

In economic terms, the market is a device which reveals people’s preferences. But markets only work to reveal preferences when free. The trouble was that State subsidies distorted the market for calypso. So government funding, especially over the past 25 years, concealed preferences—or, more accurately, lack of preferences—for the Carnival in general and commentary calypso in particular.

Thus, according to culture critics like author Raymond Ramcharitar—who tracked the growing antipathy to calypsonians like Aloes, Cro Cro and Pink Panther—important signals were ignored as were data showing that between 15,000 to 20,000 actually left Trinidad for the Carnival, while many more thousands went to beaches or ignored the so-called “national festival” in other ways.

According to the Central Statistical Office, just over 38,000 tourists came to the Trinidad Carnival in 2015 while the 2016 figure dropped to just over 35,000 last year’s rose to over 37,000. In the past five years, Carnival arrivals have ranged between 35,000 to 39,000 visitors over a 19-day period with an average spend of TT$9,500 per visitor. Given the annual government expenditure, this suggests that Carnival is a money-losing festival.

Had the calypso tents been allowed to operate according to market principles, calypsonians would have been forced to adjust their offerings to cater to audiences who, typically, want calypsoes which attack the powerful, are witty and which are cleverly written.

Photo: Former Minister of Culture and Calypso Monarch Winston “Gypsy” Peters.

But since politicians were the paymasters, the majority of calypsonians sang songs which did not question any status quos and which catered only to the hardcore patrons.

The virtue of the recession is that it separates the chaff from the wheat. The problem is, after so many years of bending over for politicians, calypso may now be pure chaff.

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    It would be useful to compare M Daly’s analysis of the death knell of calypso with the arguments put forward here. Ppl always use the ‘facts’ that justify their POV rather than examining issues holistically. I agree that much of what is written here is one sided.

  2. It’s very simple.In days of yore,the masses were dependent on the calypso tents to hear the bacchanal and comess underlying the society.Now there is FaceBook,despite a recent judgement against slander and defamatory comment,where cleverly couched malice can be expressed.Let’s not go into the same tune syndrome,the race baiting by all singers regardless of ethnicity and the audience being the final arbiter as Ms.Maria Bhola so succintly expressed it – Audiences no longer love Ship.

  3. What this writer is saying is absolutely correct …
    Tuco should get out of the tent running business
    It facilitates nepotism, it discourages artist growth .To get redress on any matter artistes have to resort to the court ..instead of tuco which is their union .DAT ent making sense to me
    I hope things change soon
    Some good ideas are never ventilated because of the fear of Skinner park

  4. I note the writer and poor research on past issues, therefore this is not even worth reading . Shabaka Kambon Zeno Obi

  5. Yet Spektakula organised shows which were sold out twice over,at least at NAPA.The baby boomers still hanker after good quality kaiso of old and I particularly enjoyed the variety offered by performances of Nailah,Ultimate Rejects,Kes and Patrice.Shows started on time,no encores,flowed smoothly and ended before ‘foe dey mawnin’.

  6. No Kevin Baldeosingh, calypso is not just an item of local, contemporaneous market economy, it is the cultural form that defines the nation. Chalkdust’s book, Rituals of Power and Rebelllon clearly documents its inception and growth alongside the other celebration and protest forms that sustained us on our journey out of slavery. Five percent of the total government spend on carnival is a small price to pay for our national identity. Particularly as at this time of year calypso is all pervasive in its reinforcement of our perspective.
    But again, I continue to judge all Baldeosingh’s offerings in this group highly racist and patronising in pursuit of everything negro.

    • And your blinkered approach to viewing his “offerings” renders you incapable of appreciating the merits that might be on offer.

    • Nigel S. Scott, the three or four essays by Kevin Baldeosingh in this group this year have been anti Black in their unfettered racism. I have seen other indications of this trend with other Indian posts in this group, and have even received other replies to my comments that they weren”t being racist. Nonsense. I get that writing style. And yours. The premise that the calypso industry in Trinidad is a market economy is a misreading of its process. Simply, government has a duty to support it for the Trinidad culture that it is. Then calypso may join with its sister art forms and inspire, as it does, multitudinous carnivals and other Trinidadian cultural representations in the Caribbean, UK, USA, Canada and everywhere a Trinidadian may roam. (With pride).
      I do not presently live in Trinidad, but I cannot accept this casual racism where anybody through race or reputation, can check a negro’s thrust.

    • Danny in your haste to focus on the messenger, for reasons known only to yourself, you yet again fail to address the message being offered.

      Baldeosingh did not say that calypso is a “market economy” that is your own subjective and specious take. If you claim to decipher my “style” of writing (not even sure how that is possible given the small sample that is at your disposal), then might I offer that you may want to pay closer attention to your own ‘style,’ one short on attention to detail, and long on crying wolf on racism.

      There is a clear racial undercurrent to the article for sure, but the focus on race seems both relevant and innocuous. Indo-Trinidadians to believe Peru, were disproportionately propping up the calypso tent economy, their patronage (second to government subsidies) kept the venues afloat. With Indo-Trinis no longer attending in the numbers they once did, patronage has dried up.

      Now I have no idea whether this is factual or not, but to cast such perspectives as “racist” is just nonsense. Whatever your grievance with Baldeosingh (and I have my own) you’re flailing at shadows with the racism claim.

      I agree that the artform should be preserved and that every reasonable attempt must be made so as to ensure that it doesn’t fade into the annals of history. That being said, there is much merit in Baldeosingh’s take that by artificially rewarding calypsonians for the sake of being calypsonians, rather than letting consumer or public acclaim drive the reward, the gov’t has indeed distorted the calypso “market.”

      Winners are not judged by a diverse audience, but rather by select group of calypso insiders. The result is that some calypsonians have been getting by on association and reputation rather than production.

      It’s a perspective that is hard to disagree with, and I’m genuinely interested in hearing an opposing take. To simply cry wolf about ‘racism’ and dismiss dissenting voices as part of the imaginary problem conjured up in your mind, well that’s not exactly contributing to intelligent conversation, let alone a solution.

    • Nigel It is not possible to have read Baldeosingh’s essay and not seen that he has superimposed his interpretation of a market economy on the calypso industry. That makes it twice that I have caught you in judgement of a text that you didn’t fully read or understand. If you remember, you failed the Haiti test as well.
      But I’m glad you caught the major crime in the essay, that Indians are the majority supporters of calypso tents in Trinidad and Tobago. By implication then, that the calypso tents failed because Indians didn’t like the calypsonian’s lyrics. Lies.
      I have too many arguments against yours and Baldeosingh’s under-informed presumptions about the calypso industry to go in to on this platform, but when I fully recover from my twenty years over-commitment to the industry, I will write the book for you.
      “Cry wolf about racism”; “imaginary problem”? Again on these very pages, Baldeosingh and the other two recently posted Indo-Trinidadians have conjured up some phrases delivering such racial lies that would fit well with the beginnings of any Apartheid regime.
      1791 did indeed explode to define 1962 in Trinidad. And here in London my loyalty to that progression will not be compromised.

    • Danny there is a huge difference between saying “Baldeosingh has analyzed the calypso tent industry through market lenses” and saying “Baldeosingh said that Calypso is a market economy.” The difference is much more than mere semantics.

      For s there is a huge difference between saying “Baldeosingh has analyzed the calypso tent industry through market lenses” and saying “Baldeosingh said that Calypso is a market economy.” The difference is much more than mere semantics.

      For starters, he was assessing the state of the calypso tent industry, not the state of the artform itself. For another, analyzing the industry through the lenses of a market economy, driven by supply and demand is a far cry from saying that the industry itself, through characteristics innate to its nature, is driven by supply and demand. To state otherwise is not only foolish, but it also distorts the record as to what was actually published in the article.

      Thank you for extolling your “twenty years over-commitment to the industry,” perhaps what you proclaim as a virtue is also what prevents you from removing yourself from an emotional attachment to the issue and making rational offerings in its place. You’re so deep in your feelings about Baldeosingh that you cannot see that your perspective on him, shaped by past contributions, is (mis)informing your take on this letter. But who am I to reorient you from your own particular madness?

      As for twice catching me “in judgement of a text that [I] didn’t fully read or understand,” you really flatter yourself to think that to be the case. But again, if you think your subjective take on the article/letter is the only perspective on the matter, then by all means carry on deluding yourself. Yuh tilting at windmills and doh even realize it.

  7. This applies not to which trade, practice or situation in Trinidad?

    Note: I was careful not to use the word Industry!!!!

  8. What the calypsonians have evidently missed is that this particular art form has no appeal to the younger audience. They appeal largely to the baby boomers and the few traditionalists (ppl over 70) who are still mobile. They also ignored technology in this art form. Used to be a time when calypsonians were considered the mouthpiece of the people; the era when many people were illiterate. So ppl flocked to the ten for various reasons. Then came the “Indian government” with Panday at the helm, which was the best thing that ever happened to Aloes. Before that T&T was considered, and still is considered by many, to be “PNM country.” “Not a damn dawg bark” according to Deafy. As someone of Indian heritage, I stopped going to the tent because when the calypsonians in their song said “them” I felt uneasy. I cannot and will not pay my hard earned money to be insulted by anyone! Walking out is not adequate as a means of protest. They would have already gotten my money and could care less whether I stayed and felt uneasy or walked. I speak with young ppl one daily basis. In the last week I have spoken to over 150 whom I have met for the first time. And not one has ever visited a tent and from all intent, they have no intentions of visiting any. They have no idea who most of the artistes are; recognizing that there are quite a few talented ones. And then we have the cro cro who is has no voice and is severely, musically challenged. Then we have Skinner’s park which seen as a big as a PNM convention….identifying all that is wrong with this art form…

  9. .. Calypso tents, as currently organized, are an anachronism. Too many mediocre singers. Too long a programme. Not enough quality to attract and keep clientele. Must fail..

  10. Thanks for this tag. The excerpt makes sense. Will read the full thing later.

  11. What or who is considered “a bad Calypsonian”? One who sings as it happens, one who sings as it happens, but not crafty with delivery or / and presentaion; one who sings pro one side of the Political divide….define if there is indeed such.

    • …it’s a big, unscientific leap to guess that Carnival is a national money losing venture based on the spurious figure of the average spend of TT $500 per day by visitors…this is clearly living in the dark ages..otherwise an acceptable article on which to build..

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