Home / View Point / Earl Best / What’s in a name—Pt 2: Black Power, Calypso, Soca and pumpkin vine

What’s in a name—Pt 2: Black Power, Calypso, Soca and pumpkin vine

What, a young British schoolboy was asked somewhere in the early 1980s, is Black Power?

His response was a name: ‘Clive Lloyd.’

As the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago emerges from Carnival and begins a largely muted celebration of the anniversary of the epoch-making 1970 Black Power Revolution, some other names come to mind.

Photo: West Indies legend Sir Clive Lloyd lifts the 1975 Cricket World Cup trophy at Lord’s in London.

First, Roy Lewis, still a student at QRC when we first met 50-plus years ago. Then John Carlos and Tommie Smith who, in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, raised black-gloved fists in a famous salute. Kelvin ‘Mighty Duke’ Pope the following year won the Calypso King title with ‘Black is Beautiful.’ And another short year later, Raffique Shah and Rex Lassalle in Teteron and, in Port-of-Spain, Geddes Granger and his UWI contemporaries, among them Dave Darbeau, stepped on to the national stage.

Granger became Makandal Daaga and Darbeau, schooled at my alma mater, became Khafra Kambon. And Lewis became Lutalo Masimba.

Powerful as was the urge to wear one’s blackness on one’s sleeve—and on one’s ID badge—fathering Rapso, Calypso’s outside child, Masimba adopted the stage name Brother Resistance. His ‘Ring de bell’ made his name a household word and he has now risen to the head of the calypso class.

As TUCO president, Resistance is likely to be sympathetic to the argument that ‘Black is Beautiful’ fed the ferment that became the 1970 Revolution; he’d certainly agree that it did no harm. Nor would he dispute that that watershed year sent ripples through the calypso world.

The Mighty Chalkdust began his calypso life in 1967. By the time the now nine-time monarch won his first title almost a decade later, he was simply Chalkdust. And adjusting to the new post-1970 reality, the original Mighty Stalin and Lord Valentino became Black Stalin and Brother Valentino respectively.

Photo: Five-time Calypso Monarch, the Black Stalin.
(Courtesy NCCTT.org)

Black Power, however, gets none of the credit for Garfield Blackman ditching the unrighteous tag he had used for a couple of decades. Lord Shorty, Father of Soca and celebrated singer of ‘How to prevent horn’ and ‘A man for Kim,’ became the Ras Shorty I of ‘Watch out, my children’ and ‘Dat eh good enough’ fame.

In that latter number, he upbraids Duke, saying, “Yuh lyrics get so skimpy /Like yuh wearing mental bikini /Showing yuh lack of integrity /All your songs they taught sensuality /Teaching my children vulgarity…”

No more than in his classic signature tune, here ‘my children’ was not a reference to all the Blackmans who now grace the performance stage. But these blood descendants can all convincingly point to the Shorty legacy to explain away their non-compliance with the stage name convention.

Given the recent Panorama success of her work, the large clan’s most acclaimed member is now arguably the second generation Nailah. Lord Shorty, one feels, would almost certainly have approved of her ‘stuff.’ But it seems fair to ask whether she would have escaped (dis)honourable mention by name in ‘Dat eh good enough.’

Shorty’s children are not the only ones to follow their sire into the entertainment world. Already mentioned are the top three in the 2020 Calypso Monarch competition—Terri-Ann Lyons, Karene Asche and Heather Mac Intosh—as well as Ronnie McIntosh. Like Sekon Sta, Merchant’s son, the 1995 and 1997 International Power Soca Monarch winner would not have had the benefit of name recognition. But neither Sharlan Bailey nor Kernal Roberts has the same problem.

Photo: Soca singer Nailah Blackman.
(Copyright Buzz-Caribbean)

Might the possibility of name recognition have played a part in another Roberts, first name Patrice, declining to adopt a stage name? What of Michelle Henry, whose links to Winston ‘Explainer’ Henry do not form part of the public record? Time, every Trini knows, is longer than twine but no true Trini underestimates the length of the pumpkin vine.

Denyse Plummer, Chris ‘Tambu’ Herbert, Shurwayne Winchester and Sanell Dempster, whose ‘De River’ swept all before it in the 1999 Road March race, can convincingly offer the Rudder rationale for ignoring the stage name practice. Ditto Alison Hinds, Destra Garcia and Nadia Batson. But Rudder himself confesses to cringing when he hears that ‘the next contestant is Enrique Thompson Phillips.’

Rudder, it is worth noting, won with ‘Bahia Girl’ three-quarters of a century after Lionel Belasco was credited with a Road March win in the early 1900s. King David’s 1986 triumph brought to six the number of no-stage-name artistes to walk away with at least a share of the title.

Since 1995, however, only five stage names have made that Winners list: Superblue (thrice), Shadow (2001) Ultimate Rejects (2017) and Skinny Fabulous and Bunji Garlin (2019), with the 2000 title shared with Neil ‘Iwer’ George and, in 2018 and 19, with Machel Montano.

Unsurprisingly, stage names have fared better in the Calypso Monarch competition. Some records show Growling Tiger and Roaring Lion winning in ’38 and ’39 respectively and Atilla the Hun in ’46 and ’47. And every Calypso King between 1940 and 1975, with the exception of 1965 Monarch Sniper, was either Mighty or Lord something.

Photo: The Mighty Chalkdust in his early hey-day.
Now a record nine-time Calypso Monarch, he is just ‘Chalkdust’.

Had Chalkdust and Stalin retained their original appellation, between 1976 and 1985, the year before Rudder’s spectacular arrival, the number of Lord/Mighty winners would have risen.

But although the Mighty have fallen, after Rudder’s 1986 triumph, it took almost a quarter of a century for the first sobriquetless bard to win the crown; Kurt Allen’s ‘Last Badjohn’ designation was only added his subsequent to his 2010 victory. In the ten years since then, however, six singers without sobriquets have tasted success.

So I’m curious about current reactions to hearing ‘the next contestant is 2016 Monarch Devon Seale.’ Or Duane O’Connor or Helon Francis. Or Kizzie Ruiz, Maria Bhola or Rondell Donawa. Or Kerwin Dubois or Erphaan Alves or any of the soca practitioners who have simply not troubled to find themselves a professional appellation but who, in a good year, can end up on the Savannah stage.

Would King David, singer of ‘Calypso Music’ and ‘Madman’s rant,’ still cringe if next year we were to hear that ‘the new Calypso Monarch is Aaron Duncan’?

What would be Brother Resistance’s reaction to a 2021 Kaisorama announcement that ‘the winner is Sharissa Camejo’?

Rising calypso star Aaron Duncan.

Or an announcement that ‘the 2022 crown goes to Kees Dieffenthaller’?

Because, as every Trini knows, yuh cyar play mas and fraid powder.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One of What’s in a Name.

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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