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Calypso line-up makes for a great contest

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Indications that the calypsonian has not completely lost his/her way as the voice and conscience of society came from Calypso Fiesta last weekend. The tunesmiths also demonstrated that there are still a few lovely melodies to have the nation singing sweetly, that there are, too, young commentators learning the craft of calypso, and a few bards with wit and hilarious imagination were also in evidence. What was particularly encouraging was the political commentary without the invective which reached its peak during those periods when the People’s National Movement was out of power. 

Then the political calypso was infected with the rancour and aci-dity of a political platform and a few calypsonians sounded like hired character assassins. The difference was first experienced as Cro Cro, with legitimacy and with good style, fired acceptably poignant barbs a the black consciousness voice of the 1970s, now lost in the PP Government, unable to articulate a position against the installation of a foreign, white Police Commissioner. Irony of ironies, the “Mighty Midget” observing that the February Revolution pushed the Wil-liams administration of the day to respond to the incongruity of a white and foreign Police Commissioner by instituting Eustace Bernard as the first local and black commissioner; today, a white Canadian is in office and there remains silence from the black power leaders in the PP Government, indicts Cro Cro. 

It is a theme also raised by the doctor of history, Chalkdust. Chalkie takes a different road to make his point, noting that while nationals have succeeded in every possible sphere, locally, regionally and internationally, yet “after 48 years of independence no Trini could run the police force…and we still calling two lil white boys boss.” For those who experienced the image of the khaki-clad figure in a cork hat leading the “muscle,” it was a stinging reminder and an indictment of the society that has not progressed beyond that image and reality. There may be those who would wince, or better still “cringe,” on Dimanche Gras night. Fortunately the calypsonian is still sufficiently virile to continue raising a voice for what is perceived to be backwardness of succeeding political administrations: the PNM changed the law to achieve its goal of a foreigner in office; the PP meekly allowed the law to stand when an alternative was possible. 

It should be a great calypso contest on Sunday (that is if Chalkdust does not change his song on the night) with the audience having the opportunity to enjoy differing approaches in lyrics, melo- dy and presentation. Sugar Aloes, who for years left out the sweetness from his sobriquet and was stingingly virulent, adopted a clever approach to his favourite subject of bashing non-PNM governments by merely articulating what the voice in his head was telling him, in the pro-cess too making fun of his old protagonist: “My fingers on meh lip, meh mout’ have a zip, ah want to find Sasha to ask she who rocking…” 

Pink Panther did a similar thing, placing the blame on Chalkdust for guiding him into the political sentiments he articulated. It is a technique he adopted a few years ago in Misprint—blaming the printer for getting his lyrics wrong, all very much part of calypso tradition. On the other side of the political platform, Karene Asche supported the ubiquitous man of action of the Government, Uncle Jack. Without making political commentary on the Government itself, she praised the minister with the capacity for getting things done: “...the people’s king, the minister of everything.” Perhaps the judges had in mind seeking out to get another political opinion in on Dimanche Gras.  

Mr Shak did not make it into the finals, but he indicted Magic Jack, the handlers of Calder Hart and all sides of the SIA disaster. Brian London displayed depth of thought and skill in his clever take-off on how he perceives Sha-dow would be mocking “decent” society chasing after ephemeral and less than important matters: “While SIA, SIA rule the news every day, ah lie…poor people suffering, suffering, suffering.” Not only this year, London has demonstrated that he understands his role and responsibility as a calypsonian to make the comfortable uncomfortable. 

Of the young unknowns, Guidance had an interesting take on disloyalty and denial, charging some of us for living in the “and” between Trinidad and Tobago, and there were others young commentators worth a listening ear. Valentino, one of the strongest and most revolutionary voices of the 1970s, almost as his duty to do, compared the bikini thing of today with the great portrayals of Bailey, Saldenha, McWilliams, Hart, Lee Heung and Minshall, the true designers of the mas. I happily admit to the debt my generation owes to Valentino when we were coming of age in the 70s. Although not making it to the Big Yard, this society needs to listen to the voice of the likes of Valentino: “Stay up,” brother.

Francine too was a nice throw-back to the past, her voice still crystal clear and piercing the evening at Skinner Park. Benjai is a wonderfully natural performer without affectations, even in his dress. His melody is sweet to the ear and rhythmic sensibilities especially in this age of soca. Not the sweet melodious rhyme and rhythm of Shorty, Merchant, Maestro, Blueboy and others of that age, but rather the unmelodious jamming at breakneck speed of the jump and wave generation. Ah is ah Trini: the lyrics are almost unimportant, except that he expresses in them love and pride with something of an affirmation of a few national characteristics: “...and they love Trini woman walk…” 

That the arrangers leaned heavily on Ed Watson’s music of the 1970s into the 1980s is an indication that they are willing to plumb the depths of their musical heritage. When you add reigning mon-arch Kurt Allen to the line-up, Dimanche Gras night has promise. For those who worry about striking political balance on the night, that has not been the tradition; it has always been that the bards save their pointed and most tren-chant commentary for the government in office, whether it be a colonial administration or those during the 30-year rule of the PNM.


Calypsonian has not com-pletely lost his/her way as the voice and conscience of society.

There may be those who would wince, or better still ‘cringe,’ on Dimanche Gras night.


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