Who feels it, knows it! St Bernard’s pick for calypso crown and how local music can raise foreign exchange

I’m backing Joanne “Tigress” Rowley for Calypso Monarch 2019. Her story is real. Her music is good. And, yes, I had a ring side seat to her deciding on the song, Who Feels It, Knows It.

Her rendition deals with depression and a mental health issue she dealt with after losing two sons in the space of two years. I think the song is timely and timeless. Since she released it, her email in-box has been inundated with communication from hundreds of persons thanking her for dealing with the topic.

Photo: A woman trying to deal with depression.
(Copyright Huffington Post)

Incidentally, Tigress’ initial song for this year fell apart. I told her to pass on the 2019 season but she insisted she had to sing. She decided she wanted to deal with depression and bare her soul, since she noted the prevalence of suicide and was well aware of that feeling when one thinks all is lost.

There seems to have been a higher calling at work for her to sing Who Feels It, Knows It at this time. And, although the topic is heavy, the melody is memorable and enjoyable.

Otherwise, I also enjoyed Rodrick “Chucky” Gordon’s The Wall and Karene Asche’s Loco & Broko.

That out of the way, the Calypso Monarch semifinals in Skinner Park was lacklustre while the judges continue to select mostly preachy, un-melodic calypsos. There was nothing close to Johnny King’s Wet Meh Down or Super Blue’s Bacchanal Time. Dem days done.

One respected performer told me to ‘throw in the towel’ with regards to the selections made by judges. She’s fed up too. An acclaimed music producer told me he has been lobbying for something to be done about the selection process for Skinner Park for over 10 years. It has become too politically motivated.

Soca singer Blackie is still in shock that Robert “Mighty Trini” Elias was left out of this year’s Calypso Monarch finals, when compared with some of those selected. TUCO seems unable to make changes to return the contest to the most entertaining calypso event of the Carnival season.

Photo: Calypsonian Robert “Mighty Trini” Elias.

To paraphrase the Mighty Sparrow when he boycotted the contest in 1957, ‘let dem keep dey competition’! There are other aspects of the art form to focus on.

As a broadcaster and observer of the calypso and soca industry, I’m excited about the music produced by the youths for Carnival 2019. Having returned to radio—with a weekly show on WACK 90.1FM live from NYC—I listened to more than 700 recorded calypsos and soca songs for Carnival 2019. There are many great tunes which did not get exposure via broadcast rotation, and more troubling, were not selected in the so-called top 40 calypsos for the Skinner Park Fiesta. For examples, listen to Mical Teja’s Wo!! or Aaron Duncan’s Back to Basics.

Unfortunately, the metric for success in our calypso and soca recording industry are measured by whether you secure a place at Machel Monday; how many competitions you got selected for; or how many ‘likes’ your song receives on Facebook or views on YouTube—which generate no income.

To add insult to injury, soca and calypso are listed under the Reggae category by the major online music sellers. It has been suggested that because soca and calypso are released seasonally, they are not worthy of their own category.

I’m not one to call for government funding. I celebrate the entrepreneurship of Machel Monday and Kes on the Rocks Tuesday, as well as the vibrancy of the soca and chutney fete promotions business.

Photo: Former President Anthony Carmona (left) embraces soca star Machel Montano during the 2018 Carnival season.
(Copyright Office of the President)

However, an investment in a portal to sell our music might be needed. Our annual carnival is the basis for our music production. There are over 100 carnivals held around the world, which are driven predominantly by music developed in Trinidad and Tobago. The diaspora, young and old, download the music for free, for the entertainment of themselves and their friends and family.

Is it possible that investing in a portal to sell this music could generate foreign exchange?

Instead of the government continually pumping money to underwrite so many calypso tents and private competitions, maybe they should incentivise the technical minds at University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) to develop a portal to sell our music as well as soca and calypso from all the islands. This portal should include our nostalgic music from yesteryear as well.

This could be an opportunity to develop the new soca and calypso recording industry while supporting our young creative minds to monetise what they have been doing annually at increasing rates.

After years of complaining that the young soca artists are writing nonsense which lacks melody, this year they seemed to have found their collective voices. Redirecting some of the money spent on failing concepts and private competitions might help those young artists sell their music rather than give it away for free.

The traditional calypso writers will also be able to gauge the value of their work in the marketplace. It may force them to revert to creating enjoyable melodies with poetic lyrics, allowing calypso to return to its glory days. That will hopefully in turn, return enjoyable, entertaining calypso music to Skinner Park.

Photo: Rising calypso star Aaron Duncan.

As respected, retired journalist and calypso lover Neil Giuseppi summed it up on his Facebook page: “If anyone had any reservations about bringing back the death penalty, all they had to do would have been to watch [the] semi-finals at Skinner Park and their reservations would have disappeared.”

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  1. As Trinis and Caribbean people, we will all be very proud of what Caziq becomes. Once completed, Caziq will be the #1 music, arts and archival source in the world. This project started close to 16 years ago. Some folks worked tirelessly and with no $$ reward to get this to where it is. I can only pray that these individuals (I’m calling no names on purpose) will get their just recognition very soon – that’s what true national awards are for – at least I think so. And finally, I pray that these folks become billionaires from this project. Apple has already accepted and endorsed the app!!!! Let that sink in. WE CAN DO BETTER THAN WE ARE DOING IN ALL AREAS! We should be proud

  2. Tego TV is having a go at streaming events.

  3. Eric St Bernard is on point. Carnival 2003 – 2005 all the major shows along with Monday and Tuesday were streamed worldwide and solid revenues earned. I dint know what has happened since. There was a whole project at beautifying the Savannah with modular color coordinated booths reflecting our older architecture. There is now an app called Caziq which will become the platinum standard for all Caribbean music and will also include live shows. The beta version of that app can be found in the App Store (free). I believe however that once the final version arrives there will be a charge, and rightly so. This app is very high quality- I’m really proud of the developers.

  4. There was already a music portal like the one Mr. St. Bernard is suggesting. It was called Trinidad Tunes and it had even partnered up with the Government. I used to buy a lot of music from there. I eh know what happen to dem. They Facebook Page still there, but like de website gone through.

  5. But what if there was a portal that catered for specifically for Caribbean music? Would there be a market for it?
    I don’t see anything wrong in considering creating our own platform.

  6. Not everyone wants to be on iTunes or Google Play Store or Spotify to purchase anything…

  7. well said. plus soundcloud and you tube for promotion.

  8. The technology exists and many artists already use it. It’s called iTunes, Google Play Store and Spotify.

    What’s needed is education on the part of the artists themselves, which is a function of either their own entrepreneurial spirit since Google exists or their Management team.

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