By Carlton Joseph
Trinbago’s carnival 2019 is now history and indeed, history was made when the London family captured four monarch titles. Rivaldo won the Junior Calypso Monarch title ; Ronaldo was crowned Calypso Monarch and won the Young King title; and mentor Brian went home with the Extempo Monarch title. It was the first time members of one kaiso family have won so many titles in the same year.
This year’s competition started with 40 calypsonians in the semi-finals from which 15 were selected for the final round. Interestingly, Brian London, who wrote the winning songs for the junior and calypso monarch competition, did not make it to the finals with his song “Who to Call”. As it turned out, he gave his nephews his best compositions.
Many of this year’s calypsos praised Trinidad and Tobago Police Commissioner Gary Griffith for his excellent work in addressing the nation’s crime problem and demonstrated that the art form was still playing its role as the voice of the people. Another popular theme was the influx of refugees from Venezuela and the issues it presented to the men and women of the nation. Several other calypsos reflected on the problems in the society such as crime and corruption.
According to Rinaldo’s calypso, man’s imagination was responsible for the bad and the good in the world. Although I thought his presentation at the finals was not compelling, his lyrics more that made up for the deficiency. He took us through the journey of oppression, rape and plunder and in the final verse insisted that if man imagined positive and great things, he would fulfill the Master’s plan.
By far, the most professional and impressive performance came from runner-up Karen Ashe. Karen commanded the stage and delivered her lyrics with the precision of a professional boxer; landing her lines with punch and clarity. Men in Trinbago have been forewarned of the Spanish women invasion: If they are not careful, they would end up “Loco and Broco”.
Last year’s monarch, Helon Francis, was also impressive. His composition focused on the chaos in the society and as he said, he didn’t know “What was Coming Next”. And Alves’number, “I am”, in which he asked citizens to acknowledge and accept authority and responsibility for correcting the ills in the nation, deserved high marks.
Chucky went international with his composition “The Wall”. Claiming that President Trump did not care if the world falls, “he want he wall”. I suggest that kaiso aficionados listen to this well constructed composition Chucky didn’t win but this calypso will likely stand the test of time. In Kurt Allen presentation “Wha yuh Say”, he asked the society for their thoughts on the legalization of same sex and marijuana, exhorting them to join in the discussions and have serious conversations on these issues.
Winston Peters’ presentation, “When Elephants Fight” seemed like a summary of his experience in politics as Minister of Culture in the previous government. I felt that his participation in the competition was a conflict of interest since he is the Chairman of the National Carnival Commission (NCC). Nevertheless, his presentation was a good synopsis of the ongoing political situation in which every government blames the previous administration for the problems in the society. The result, he says, is that it’s only the grass (poor people) gets trampled when elephants (politicians) fight.
I would be remiss if I did not check out the Power Soca and Groovy Soca Monarch competitions, especially since the prize money for the Power Soca was $300,000.00 more than the calypso monarch competition and $500,000.00 more than Groovy Soca Monarch. I am not certain of the contribution from the government and private companies for this particular competition but this difference in prize money is ridiculous, especially when you listen to the “composition” of the Power Soca monarch.
Mapp beat out Iwer in the Power Soca competition to win one million dollars. His composition, “Run Wid It”, was void of lyrics and relied on the beats produced by the real creative force in this competition, the beat creator. How the singer of such lyrical nonsense can take home one million dollars is beyond my comprehension. It begs the question: Are we serious about using our culture for economic gain? This genre, in its present form, will have a difficult time making it internationally.
Trinbago and the NCC must seriously think about the future of this cultural exposition and how it can be developed so as to maintain and improve calypso, which represents the voice of the people. Its lyrical content is essential for the development of the people and the nation. Calypso lyrics discuss national problems and issues and if politicians listen carefully they will be able to focus on the issues and address them instead of resorting to what Gypsy identified as “each government blaming the other government.” The government would also recognize that its choice of Griffith to deal with the crime is well appreciated by the general public.
The public too would understand that “False Alarm” detracts from Griffith’s focus on the crime situation and should act responsibly. Then too the individuals who are suffering from depression can obtain good advice and benefit from Tigress’ “Who Feels it Knows.” The nation would also benefit from a serious discussion of topics that are discussed internationally such as LGBT and marijuana.
Discussions on medical marijuana, and the benefits of the legalization of this product, are essential to our economic interest. The public – and men in particular -will benefit from “Loco and Broco.” Finally, because calypso is the voice of the people, Chucky assures us that the public is against Trumps’ wall and understands the implications of regime change in Venezuela for our nation.
Power Soca is void of messages that make us think. That may be good for the carnival season, but to give it a financial reward greater than calypso is prioritizing what appeals to our very basic animal instincts. We must reward creativity and lyrics that elevate the nation and encourage our citizens to think. Calypso must be financially rewarding so that artists would want to remain and improve the art form.
Groovy Soca should also be encouraged because it is probably the genre that will gain international appeal and generate economic benefits for the country. We must understand that West Indians in the United States, England and Europe support the artists. Not many foreigners purchase their records or attend their concerts. The time is now to seriously explore the marketing of our culture so as to generate economic benefits for the artists and the country.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph has been promoting Caribbean cultural events in Washington DC since the mid 1970s.)