By Oscar Wailoo
Last Sunday, calypso, the music that is the heartbeat of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, took centre stage for the “Calypsoca Extravaganza 2018: The Evolution.” The annual show is staged by Organization of Calypso Performing Arts (OCPA), the outfit that maintains and nurtures one of the Caribbean’s most loved art forms.
This year Calypsoca Extravaganza 2018 replaced the Calypso Monarch competition So there was no judging, no nervous expectation – just a straight up show that featured some of Toronto’s best calypsonians in the first half, and a “young brigade” that took the stage in the second part.
“This year,” explained Eulith Woods, president of OCPA, “not enough calypsonians registered to sing. This has been an ongoing problem as the old guard is gradually withdrawing from the stage. In any case we realized that if calypso is to survive in Canada, we have to find a way to bring youth into the tent, because soca is driving the art form in the international arena and the young artistes are singing soca, not calypso, as we know it. That is why we went with this format this year – a taste of everything. And from the enthusiastic support we received here tonight, we can develop this formula, make it grow, and move calypso to the big stage where it belongs.”
If calypso gets there, then it’s certain that Woods, when she performs as Macomere Fifi, will have a lot to do about it.
At the show, Macomere Fifi led the veterans in the first half with her elan that is her hallmark and, together with Joel “Connector” Davis, primed the audience for a raucous evening of kaiso and soca. The second half featured the next generation of calypsonians, the youth wing, and gave star billing to Helon Francis, the 2018 Calypso King of Trinidad and Tobago, and Rondell Donawa, who placed third in this year’s (Trinidad) monarch competition.
Both in their 20’s, Francis and Donawa, showed why they are among Trinidad’s top calypsonians. Belying their youth, their stagecraft matches the old greats we have come to know over the years.
Francis is fluid and cool and possesses a wonderful voice that, like Sparrow and Baron, can run the gamut of calypso, soca and ballads; but calypso was his beat at the Extravaganza. The audience lapped him up, no doubt sensing that the future of calypso/soca is in good hands.
Sharing the stage with the two young Trini champs were local soca firebrands. Stefan “Jaxx” Bindoo and Miguel Maistre, who lit the stage up with the driving tempo supplied by a topnotch horn section under the guiding hand of the incomparable Ozzie Gurley, Toronto’s finest kaiso/soca music arranger.
While the audience may have been split on the new format (many yearned for the old cut and thrust of competition), they generally agreed that it was a wonderful show and hopefully will return as part of a sold out, rub-down-shove-down kaiso jam next carnival season. Others felt that there is room for both a monarch competition and an extravaganza, given that the carnival is a season and not simply a parade.
While it was a wonderful and rollicking night of kaiso music, the diehard patrons of kaiso recognized the yawning gap once filled by the late Dick “D’Juiceman” Lochan, calypsonian, folklorist, composer, author, educator, and master of ceremonies extraordinaire.
For many years Dick carried calypso everywhere he went and was a stout pillar on which the organization rested. So it was right that Bill “Crooner” Newman, emcee and a man of considerable wit, led off the proceedings with a bow to Lochan, and for Roger “Rajiman” Gibbs to render Lochan’s “Calypso History in Canada”, a number that encapsulates all that Dick Lochan stood for.
Now on to Pan Alive at Lamport Stadium on Friday night.