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Carry on the tradition
Posted: Monday, January 26, 2009

By Derren Joseph
January 26, 2009

I read that before he passed on, the Mighty Duke spent his last days in the studio of his Cocorite home, where he penned a calypso called the Dying Art. It apparently tells of the dying calypso culture being replaced by soca music. My old pardner, Marty Raymond, also believes that the culture of Trinidad and Tobago is in transition, and as such, calypso and old mas culture is seeing its sunset.

Marty went on to say we are blessed, in that during our lifetime we experienced part of the "old time" Trinidad and Tobago, which so many seem to yearn for again. Marty really got me thinking. Would calypso soon be forgotten? I thought that it would be helpful for me to speak to Aiyegoro Ome about the National Youth Action Committee (NYAC). I met him before, and I remembered just how passionate he was about cultural development and our young people. So last Tuesday after work, I took a walk to 40 Duke Street in Port-of-Spain to chat with Ome, as well as to have a look at some of the talented young people auditioning for its calypso shows.

Ome sees artistic expression as the soul of a nation, and the key to its social and moral development. In that context, calypso is a key part of our artistic expression and also a way of helping young people battle external influences, which he believes are more powerful than ever. He reminded me that most, if not all, of the top soca artistes of today started off with calypso. In fact, many of these artistes got their first exposure in competitions and shows organised by the NYAC. He called names like Machel Montano, Destra Garcia, Denise Belfon and Shurwayne Winchester. Ome explains that they moved to soca for a number of reasons, including the financial rewards of soca as well as the apparent decline in popularity of the tents. But Ome firmly believes that calypso remains the secret ingredient in the soca art form.

In fact, not only does he believe that calypso is alive and well, he also believes it will soon return to its previous levels of popularity. He cites as encouraging the way in which artistes like Montano and Winchester have collaborated with calypsonians like the Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose in recent years. Personally, I am not sure that traditional calypso would return to the prominence it once enjoyed, but I can clearly see that the art form is not being forgotten. My friend Bose talks of the need to attract the right people. We need more like Cyril Diaz, Joey Lewis, Duchy Brothers and Roy Cape. We want to fall in love with calypso again. We want to smile at the lyrics, the way we did when Birdie and Melo had their great "battles." We need to make it a little more difficult for the artistes to think of deserting calypso.

The NYAC has five competitions for young artistes: the Calypso Pioneers Competition for youngsters aged five to nine; the Calypso Jewels Competition for youngsters aged nine to 12; the Calypso Juniors Competition for 12 to 15-year-olds; the Pathfinders Competition for 15 to 20-year-olds; and the Stars of Tomorrow competition for those up to 30 years old. I was able to view some youngsters auditioning, and I remember seeing this tiny little girl, who looked three or four years old, singing with the confidence and presence of someone many times her tender age. I was amazed. I also saw a line of young potentials going all the way down the stairway and almost pouring out onto Duke Street. Ome explained that everyone will receive constructive feedback on their performance. I saw some tickets in the NYAC office for the Pioneers and Jewels competitions, which will be held on February 5 at Jean Pierre Complex from 10am.

I was glad to see the competition was being partly sponsored by First Citizens. I feel so good when I see companies being good corporate citizens! I was a bit disappointed that February 5 is a Thursday, though, because I would have liked to attend with my two sons. Tickets and information on shows at Generation Next, Kalypso Revue, Icons Calypso Tent, and the various Tuco tents are available by ringing 821-5855. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful country. We need to remember and acknowledge just how much uplifting work is being done all around us. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country, as we move towards Vision 2020.

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