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Valentino still fiery

...no compromise from veteran calypsonian
Published: 
Sunday, January 14, 2018

For this Carnival season, Anthony Phillip, better known in the Calypso arena as Brother Valentino, is lighting up Kaiso House (at what used to be the Globe Cinema on St Vincent Street) with his vintage classics such as Life Is A Stage, Change The Formula and Stay Up Zimbabwe.

Kaiso has been good to the 76-year-old bard; he lives with his wife, Peggy Castanada, at their extensive stonework house in Adventist Street, Sangre Grande and their children have their own families now. The house is filled with mementos, photographs and awards, including his Humming Bird gold medal, he has collected over the more than half-century he has been in calypso.

Kaiso has allowed Phillip to travel the world and meet people from presidents, performers and fans.

They include Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Grenadian President Keith Mitchell, former Grenadian president Maurice Bishop, US singer Roberta Flack and the Jamaican “posse”—Bob Marley, Gregory Isaacs, Bunny Wailer, Freddie McGregor and he performed with Peter Tosh, Big Youth and Knowledge at Reggae Sunsplash in Trinidad.

Despite the accolades, putting out eight CDs and having two books by Zeno Obi Constance written about him, “The Man Behind the Music,” and “The Man And His Music,” the outspoken Phillip is still rankled how he has been treated and sidelined by judges in calypso competitions over the years.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian at his home on Tuesday, Phillip said, “Kaiso has been good to me, but not the judges. I’ve been singing conscious songs on behalf of the poor and downtrodden long time, since “No Revolution” back in 1971.

“Since then, it’s blatant discrimination and victimisation by judges to my songs through 2005 with “Where Kaiso Went” up to today.
“Kaisonians also are too political, once you on a political side, they sing a certain tune. I am not like that, I don’t compromise, I sing for the people and that’s why they call me the people’s calypsonian. I don’t sing for the judges to like me.”

Phillip said, “It’s sad to say, from that high from the “Rum and Coca-Cola” golden era of the Andrews Sisters and Harry Belafonte in the 40s and 50s kaiso has dropped to its lowest depth.

“I wonder if kaiso will ever catch itself again, the music that was there before many genres—from jazz, rock and roll and meringue.”

He said the stakes were so much higher in the Calypso Monarch competition now compared to when Sparrow won his first crown in 1956 with “Jean and Dinah”—the first prize was $40, a cup and a bottle of Carmen Jones, another name for Fernandes Black Label Rum.

Phillip said several years ago, a “child” won the coveted title and the record-breaking $2 million first prize.

He was referring to then 27-year-old Karene Asche, who won National Calypso Monarch in 2011.

Phillip said it was more cut-throat competition now in the industry, only the monetary price had risen and not the quality.

Calypso Monarch competition did so much damage to kaiso

He said the Calypso Monarch competition did so much damage to kaiso, plus some performers would use sabotage or resort to necromancy to win.

Phillip said some calypsonians were superstitious and did not even want to shake your hand or wish you well in competition.

He said he did not want to call it “spiritual wickedness” but some calypsonians would have the names of their rivals in the competition written down under their shoe.

Phillip had warned composer Grant to desist from maligning his reputation in the industry. He said that came about when Grant gave Kenny Phillips of WACK Radio a “serious letter” of what would happen if he played his song and the consequences. Phillip said Grant was a “big time” lawyer who had no right in kaiso business.

When asked his opinion on the Soca Monarch competition, Phillip said it came off more like an X-rated show where the performer who could express himself more with antics wins because it was just “wine on a bumsee” and cheap lyrics.

He said one of the young soca stars he admired and to keep an eye on was 2017 International Soca Monarch Aaron “Voice” St Louis.

Phillip said although Voice could step in Machel Montano’s shoes, it will take some time.

Phillip said the future of soca was in good hands judging by the school competitions—the standard and superior lyrics of some of the junior singers were higher than some soca artistes and they needed to be guided by veterans in the art form.

Brother Valentino’s bio

Calypsonian Brother Valentino, born Emorold Anthony Phillip on July 7, 1941, spent his first five years in Cherry Hill, Grenada.

He arrived in Trinidad on a Carnival Monday, which was very fascinating to the five year old. He grew up at Long Circular Road, St James.

Phillip attended the Mucurapo Boys’ RC Primary School and moved on to a private secondary school, but his father’s death and the family’s inability to fund his schooling forced him to drop out.

Always skilled with his hands, Phillip worked several odd jobs before he decided to focus on building a career as a calypsonian.

He tried his hands as a printer, electrician, mechanic and was a very good tailor. He started his calypso career in 1962 with an appearance at the Big Bamboo Calypso Tent on Park Street, Port-of-Spain.

Initially using the sobriquet, The Mighty Robin, he was forced to find a new sobriquet when another calypsonian started using the same name. It was Lord Kitchener (Aldwin Roberts) who gave him the name “Valentino”.

A man poured a shot glass of Carmen Jones rum over Phillip’s head to christen him as a kaisonian.

Kitchener gave him the opportunity to stay by him for a year in his Semper Gardens, Diego Martin, home along with Explainer and Black Stalin.

After more than 40 years performing, Phillip won his first official title in 2005 when he was crowned Veterans Calypso Monarch at the National Women’s Action Committee’s (NWAC) inaugural competition. He was dubbed “the people’s calypsonian” for expressing his political and social awareness.

Known for his tell-it-like-it-is style and as one who pulls no punches, Phillip has over the years penned a number of classics including; “Life is a stage” (1972), “Barking Dogs” (1974), “Dis Place Nice” (1975), “Stay Up Zimbabwe” (1979), “Birds That Fly High” (1982), “Time And Space” (1986), “Calypso In Trouble” (1992), “Time To Love Again” (1996), “The Radio” (2001) and “Where Kaiso Went” (2004).

Phillip now spends the Carnival season performing at Kaiso House, doing veteran calypso shows and guest lecturing at UWI.