Calypso needs to get its act together!
Minister Nyan Gadsby-Dolly did not think very much of TUCO’s handling of calypso in 2020 and she pulled no punches in letting the world know. Her unflattering comments on TV6 revealed disapproval of the decision to keep Kaisorama and the art form’s Carnival Thursday showpiece competition separate.
On the evidence of the attendance at the Queen’s Park Savannah events, that decision simply does not seem defensible.
Because if the showpiece can’t pass muster…
About one week after the Minister, the artiste who walked away with the competition’s top prize revealed that she too is not happy with the state of the calypso game. She targeted the behaviour of the calypso old-stagers vis-à-vis the crop of young singers trying to make their way in the calypso world.
Two ironies: Terri Lyons is the daughter of Austin ‘Superblue’ Lyons, winner of ten Road March titles, including three in four years (1980-1983) and four in five years (1991-1995). ‘Soca Baptist’ earned the then Blueboy his first title 40 years ago so I think he can fairly be deemed an old-stager.
The Queen got no help from him?
Secondly, ‘Meghan my dear,’ one of Lyons’ winning numbers, is manifestly an adaptation from Sparrow’s classic ‘Phillip my dear.’ Moreover, its punch line is inspired by Sparrow’s 1965 classic, ‘Congo man.’ Lyons called no names but, even if she credits someone else with assisting her in crafting the final version of ‘Meghan,’ surely she owes Birdie a little debt of gratitude?
Clearly, Lyons’ focus is elsewhere. Looking at the big picture, she’s complaining on behalf of those who are not fortunate enough to have a multiple Road March winner’s blood flowing through their veins. But is she on the ball or off the mark? Is calypso in the 2020s likely to benefit from the advice of those who date from before the massive media explosion of the early 1990s, its heyday?
I think not. If Chalkdust and Gypsy are the answer, as Mr Live Wire might say, we’re obviously asking the wrong question.
Let’s compare West Indies cricket, which also had its best days pre-1990. Of the three W’s, undisputed West Indies batting icons of a bygone era, Sir Everton Weekes alone survives. His 81 Test innings yielded 4455 runs, including five consecutive centuries but not one six!
Neither Garry Sobers, Vivian ‘Master Blaster’ Richards nor Brian ‘Prince of Port-of-Spain’ Lara has a consistent role mentoring today’s WI batsmen. So how helpful would old-stager Weekes’ advice be to Nicholas Pooran or Shimron Hetmyer, whose ultimate goal is a durable IPL place?
The reality is that, although Chalkdust’s ‘Learn from Arithmetic’ was deemed good enough to claim the 2017 crown and take his overall tally to nine, as a general rule, the calypso old-stagers have not given a particularly good account of themselves in the 21st century.
Superblue apart, only 2000 Monarch and 1974 Road March King Shadow, who scored with ‘Stranger’ in 2001, has a post-turn-of-the-century lien on the Road March trophy.
This year, neither Cro Cro, the self-styled ‘Four king King,’ nor 2008 Monarch Sugar Aloes could make it past the Calypso Fiesta semi-finals. On Thursday, Gypsy, whose first big hit was the 1972 ‘For cane man,’ finished seventh, with Chalkdust, who started in 1967 and was first crowned Monarch in 1976, in sixth.
In the Oughts, oldsters dominated the Monarchy but, after Chalkdust’s 2009 triumph with ‘My heart and I,’ his 2017 victory was the first by any old-stager. Will that win prove to be the last by a non-new generation artiste? Who knows?
It was almost 30 years ago, back in 1993, that ‘Kaiso sick in the hospital’ helped Chalkie earn his fifth win. Was that not a complaint about the quality of calypso his fellow singers were producing? Songwriters GB, Merchant and Winsford ‘Joker’ Devine were not spared while Sugar Aloes, Cro Cro, Rikki Jai, Drupatee, Arrow and ‘Iwer and he brother’ were in the pack that got dishonourable mention.
Iwer and Nyah had also been strongly criticised a year earlier when Ras Shorty I named names in ‘Dat eh good enough.’ In fact, Iwer, the 2020 Road March champion, is mentioned on three separate occasions, including a claim that he ‘regress further, singing extraordinary tata.’
Shorty’s name-calling continued in ‘Latrine Singers,’ where he praises Duke and Stalin for their efforts in defence of calypso but attacks a slew of others.
So, if you take Chalkie and Ras Shorty I’s point, calypso’s quality problems are not new. And the art form’s plight is compounded by the steadily increasing popular success of its offspring, Soca. Machel Montano’s now clear domination of the Road March arena began with ‘Big Truck’ in 1997.
Moreover, in an age when success is often spelled $UCCE$$, he developed the annual Machel Monday mega-event, which dwarfed everything in its entourage, including David Rudder’s Under the Trees, traditional calypso’s carnival concert pièce de résistance.
Where is Calypso’s equivalent to Olatunji Yearwood’s high-profile appearances on international TV? Calypso Rose’s accomplishments? How has calypso attempted to cash in on either achievement?
Is there a calypso plan for exploiting the opening created by the disappearance of Machel Monday—if disappearance it indeed is? Or has Kees Dieffenthaller’s ever-expanding Tuesday on the Rocks already made any such plan irrelevant?
Compare the massive Monday and Tuesday multitudes with the handful of patrons at Terrible Thursday. Guest artistes Scrunter and Blaxx publicly complained, independently of each other, about the lack of response coming from those sprinkled around the Savannah Grand Stand. But the television cameramen—presumably out of a misplaced sense of duty—declined to show viewers the size of the crowd.
So those who have ears to hear know what Minister Gadsby-Dolly was really saying. Who’s going to pay for next year’s financial flops? A cash-strapped PNM Government—if PNM it still is?
Which means, your Majesty, that you and Culture are probably reading from the same book, although perhaps not the same page; even if calypso is not yet breathing its last, calypso tents and calypso competitions may well be.
Either way, forget the old-stagers; they offer not salvation but certain damnation.