Calypso—the proud parent
Posted: Sunday, September 20, 2009
By Derren Joseph
September 20, 2009
During the last few weeks, there has been some healthy and much-needed debate on the state of our national instrument. As I browsed the various pan articles I wondered about calypso. Some say crowd numbers in tents are not increasing; some say radio airplay is down; some say the average age of calypsonians is growing; some say some performers are racist. As fate would have it, I bumped into Tuco (Trinbago Unified Calypsonians' Association) President, Eric "Pink Panther" Taylor, at an event a couple Saturdays back. We could not talk at the time, but during the following week, I rang him. Not only was he available to speak, but he was actually with Dr Hollis "The Mighty Chalkdust" Liverpool, our 2009 Calypso Monarch.
Sitting in the UTT offices in Barataria, Panther started off by explaining that calypso is just like the mainstream media, in that artistes simply report what is happening.
logoSo if there are racial tensions, one would find that reflected in calypso. In that sense, it is wrong to blame the messenger. Panther then went on to describe calypso as a parent that helped give birth to many children in the forms of gospelypso, soca, chutney soca, soca parang, raga, rapso and, so on. Parents do not seek to compete with their children—they just share in their children's joy and always wish them the best in whatever they do. It is one family. Jazz is a parent to genres such as R&B, hip hop, rap, and so on. Like jazz, calypso perhaps finds its place with a more mature crowd. Young people have energy, so they enjoy music that provokes movement. Mature crowds, according to Panther, prefer music that provokes thought with powerful lyrics, rather than provoking movement with its fast beats. All music has its place. Chalkie agreed with Panther, and went on to tell us a story to illustrate the point. Some years back, he bumped into Machel at some event, and Machel approached him and said: "Uncle Chalkie, ah could get a hug?" Chalkie was, at first, a bit confused, but then Machel said: "if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be here."
At first, Chalkie thought that Machel was simply acknowledging the fact that soca was born out of calypso, remembering pioneers like Garfield "Lord Shorty" Blackman. So Chalkie was pleased that Machel acknowledged this musical heritage. But Machel reminded him that it was more than that. An incident happened during one of his first competitions. According to Chalkie, back in the day, Machel Montano was one of the 200-plus children in the first round of a competition. With so many children, the judges were forced to assess competitors quickly. Chalkie's own daughter got knocked out in the first round for hitting an incorrect chord. So Machel comes on stage and his mother explains that he does not need back-up, as she has a tape with his music. Back in those days, having a tape was a big deal.
Chalkie was on stage with his guitar, providing back up for some of the previous contestants, and for some reason, he decided to stay. It surely was divine intervention, because after the first verse, the tape stuck. Chalkie quickly shouted: Don't worry, boy! Just continue!
If it was not for Chalkie, Machel may not have progressed to win that first competition. History could have been very different. After that reminder, Chalkie gave him an extra hug. In so many ways, calypso is truly the proud parent of many children—especially soca. October is Calypso History Month. Month-long activities include church services, lectures, junior calypso workshops, performances, and exhibitions. There is even a local film called Divine Echoes, which will be screened at Queen's Hall on October 19th.
I expect that full details would be released in the press shortly, and the TUCO website - www.tucott.com or from the TUCO office 623-9660. Calypso History Month is being supported by the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Information. The Vision 2020 document acknowledges the importance of culture. It recognises that "over the years our calypsonians and other artistes have sought to share societal insights through their art form." I firmly believe that our cultural expressions are part of what bonds us together.
We are truly the land of festivals. Eid Mubarak to my Muslim brothers and sisters.
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