The Trinidad Calypso Monarch 2017 competition
By Carlton Joseph
The ladies dominated Dimanche Gras 2017 and although Chalkdust won the Calypso Monarch title, the evening was a statement of the power of the female calypsonians, their consciousness, artistic development and overall rise in a once male-dominated genre. Interesting that this rise seems to be in sync with the recent French Award to Calypso Rose for her contribution to the arts.
My choice for Monarch was not Chalkdust, although his lyrics were strong and the topic relevant. I thought there was many other strong contenders whose topics were more issues-oriented, had wider appeal and called on the citizens to take action. Chalkdust ‘s lyrics were excellent and topical, but I do not believe that Trinbago is going to be influenced by Sat Maraj’s wanting the country to allow 75-year old-men to marry 14- year-old girls. As a result, I believe it was not as critical as the other serious topical presentations. Also, years ago I would have ignored his lack of melody, but after 50 years an artist, he must seek to improve his main instrument. In Chalkdust’s case, his voice should have been developed to deliver his excellent lyrics.
My top contenders were Rondell Donawa, Terri Lyons and Karen Ashe.
Rondell’s presentation, “Lip Service,” was excellent; the lyrics were well thought out and well interpreted, the tempo, although upbeat did not detract from the song and the message was clear. “Stop the talk, talk aint mean nothing, get up and do something.” This was a complete calypso and, more important, exhorted the citizens to take action, if they want change in the country.
Terri Lyons’ “The Phrase” was another excellent composition that is one of those forever people of color songs, in keeping with great lyricists like Bob Marley. Her delivery was great and although we would like to think that this was irrelevant in 2017, I want to disagree with that notion. Maybe it was nostalgia for me since this reminded me of a conversation I had with my grandfather about 50-plus years ago. I don’t remember the exact context but I remember him telling me that some people might call me or folks like me “black, ugly and stupid.” He then related that as far as ”Black” is concerned, I had no choice in the matter of my blackness; “Ugly” was a very subjective opinion and that I should pay no attention to that remark; but “Stupid” he emphasized was a choice I had to make and that was entirely on me. “So don’t ever let them say you are stupid,” he told me. I have never forgotten those words.
Karen Ashe’s presentation “Caught in the Whirlwind” was another excellent presentation. Lyrics were very strong, delivery and interpretation were one of the best and her melody was very good. She also called on the citizens to take action with her call to “stand up and be counted.” Totally relevant and more important to the issues in our society today she, like Rondell, exhorted the citizens to get involved.
Lady Adana’s “Social Media” was not very social but more antisocial as far as she is concerned. Her presentation reminded me of a “Shadow” delivery.
I was also very impressed with Kurt Allen’s “My Corn Tree.” Excellent delivery, with great lyrics and interpretation. I did not expect him to place since the media had banned his song from being played on the radio during the season, and the tents had rejected him from appearing in the tents. They claimed he was too expensive although he agreed to sing in the tent free of charge. That is TUCO confusion that I would address at another time.
Also impressive was Sacha Moses’ “Main Witness.” Excellent delivery and great commentary on the justice system, where the witness becomes the accused in the futile attempt of the law to deliver justice.
In general, this year’s competition was a breath of fresh air. The artists delivered what the Mighty Duke described in his presentation years ago: “What is calypso?” But to paraphrase Chalkdust’s remarks in an interview with a Trinidad Guardian
reporter, the judges needed training in literacy and in world affairs because Calypsonians sing about world affairs. The judges needed to know the difference between a simile, a metaphor, and a hyperbole; the judges need training.
So although I do not agree with the results of the competition, I remind myself that it is not the judges’ fault; they just need training.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States. He recently visited Trinidad.)