By Oscar Wailoo
Kaiso returned to one of its old haunts last Sunday after years in the wilderness, trying to cleanse itself of its bacchanalian roots.
The Latvian Canadian Cultural Centre last staged the calypso monarch competition in 1997 when Beginner was crowned for his great tune “Calypso Pressure.”The return to this venue for the 2016 competition was just the right move to invigorate an art that remains in the heart of Caribbean (Wo)Man.
This year’s competition was also energized by a new format that allowed 15 singers a crack at the title with one song (the previous format was eight calypsonians singing two songs each). The new arrangement opened the door for a number of performers who may never have gotten to the finals under the old rules. It also added a sense of unpredictability to the race and made an upset a real possibility.
And so it was that the crown that had adorned the head of the incomparable Macomere Fifi (Tara Woods) six times, went to Connector (Joel Davis) who performed out of his skin and in a close fitting evening frock to become the 2016 Calypso Monarch.
Connector’s performance of “The Dress”, a statement that said that the way to win the crown is to be like Macomere Fifi by wearing a dress, energized the audience as he came on stage wearing what the fashion cognoscenti might call a sassy little, body-hugging number. He did this over some clever and witty lyrics that rode smoothly over an up-tempo melody; it brought the audience, already enlivened in an intimate setting, to its feet after every suggestive jiggle.
Yes, it took all that to defeat the great Fifi, who performed her “Soca Quest” as only she could…superbly and provided many serious “calypso people” in attendance with strong arguments that she should still be wearing the crown. But the judges and most of the house saw it differently.
Some well-worked calypsos performed with few flaws came within striking distance of the lead. De Carra (Leslie Carrabon), the master of the double entendre, again showed why he remains one of the finer purveyors of the kaiso art with “Dick President of OCPA”. Dennis James and Mr Wonderful (Steve Clarke), who tied for fourth place, maintained the quality of the night. Mr. Wonderful’s hilarious tribute to “Mankind’s Best Friend”, with the dress and performance of a well-nourished Dalmatian, kept the house in stitches.
Lady Scorpio (Norma Core) may be justified in feeling that her “Ten Commandments” did not feature higher than sixth place. It was a finely crafted calypso that was lyrically more sophisticated than most of what was on offer last Sunday – a night that also featured a couple of new faces -Brown Sugar (Coleen Trotman) and Antz (Wendell Ramdeen)-who showed that they could deliver a good calypso.
The Calypso Monarch Finals 2016 will go down as one of the most enjoyable nights of calypso in Toronto in recent memory. The venue provided the kind of intimacy and atmosphere that lifted the quality of the performances.
Ozzie Gurley, one of the finest arrangers of calypso music, led an all-star band that kept faith with the singers and got the house a-dancing at every turn. There was the usual animated chat after the results were announced but nothing to seriously question the final order.
Gloria Rolando, a Cuban documentary film producer who attended the show, remarked: “It was a magic moment when Macomere Fifi sang. She was singing with her soul…a beautiful melody…she is an expression of the African experience…”
“The people enjoyed the spirit of their Caribbean roots through the voice of Emcee Dick Lochan. He was the animator of the event. But the big winner was the Caribbean identity…the Caribbean experience was in the hearts of all the people who were there that beautiful Sunday.”
“For that reason, I danced. Even this Cuban who come from Son and Danzon (two main strains of Cuban music) was able to feel the calypso because its root is African.”
The results: 1.Connector (Joel Davis), 2.Macomere Fifi (Tara Woods), 3. De Carra (Leslie Carrabon), 4. Tie – Dennis James & Mr Wonderful (Steve Clarke), 6. Lady Scorpio (Norma Coar)’ 7. Antz (Wendell Ramdeen), 8. Web (Hamilton Alexander), 9. King Cosmos (Henry Gomez), 10. Brown Sugar (Colleen Trotman), 11. Scotty (Hamilton Scott), 12. Kenny C (Kennedy Caliste), 13. Loveman Kent (Kent Merchant), 14. Dynasty (Alfred Caton)