A CALYPSO IS A CALYPSO… IS STILL A CALYPSO
The Caribbean is in crisis! Serious crisis! The 2 things we have owned, dominated and excelled at is now being transformed before our very own eyes, in less than a generation a once proud people can no longer claim Calypso and Cricket as the two most definitive traits of a true West Indian, that which made us famous, gave us soul, pride, rhythm and a general sense of belonging.
There is one striking parallel between the two that further compounds the abyss we have found ourselves in. The West Indies Cricket Team is number one in the World in the new and exciting 20/20 format; our players dominate international leagues as they share in the lucrative spoils this new form of cricket brings. However, in the longer more traditional versions of the game we are the laughingstock of the sporting world. Embarrassing defeat after embarrassing defeat even as our cricketing administrators grapple with an over-abundance of power and authority, neglecting Caribbean pride and passion.
Similarly, the more up-tempo (power soca) version of Calypso has been the dominant music of choice among carnival lovers and revelers in the past 20 years or so. And with a minute number of exceptions (Arrow, Kevin Lyttle and Rupee) who have enjoyed ‘cross-over/international’ acclaim, that brand of music for the most part has been confined to the sprint that is a carnival season. Once the season is over with, there is the return to other genres of music while we await another round of hits in the impending carnival season. Previous to the ‘power movement’ Calypso enjoyed international success and acclaim. In fact, the first ever album to sell a million copies was one entitled ‘Calypso’ by Harry Belafonte. And before that there was the Andrew Sisters adaptation of Lord Invader’s Rum and Coca Cola.
The decision of the CPF, the organizers of the International Soca Monarch competition, to eliminate the two-competition format (power and groovy) is viewed by this author as a welcome development. The varying categories of Calypso have hurt more than help in the sell of the art form. From raga to chutney; from groove to power we have made Calypso less and less attractive by changing its complexion too often and too suddenly.
How can a fan of calypso explain to a perspective fan the nuances of the many categories of an art form that is already internationally recognized and associated with the Caribbean?
While Jamaicans can distinguish between dancehall music and one-drop and lover’s rock and conscious, the Grammys and the World at large has labeled all of these sub-genres as what is already internationally known- Reggae Music. Beenie Man and Sean Paul won in the same category as Ziggy Marley and Bunny Wailer – Best Reggae Album.
If Caribbean Carnival music is to receive the same international attention and success as Reggae music, it will be in its best interest if we – Caribbean People – recognize it as Calypso, while still allowing the space for the sub-genres that inevitably will come out of new ideas and the region’s penchant for pushing the creative envelope. But Calypso should be the over-arching, all-embracing theme.
Likewise if the West Indies Cricket Team has to return to the status of World-conquerors, we must at all times field our best players and groom said players to play cricket for the West Indies. We cannot continue to groom 20/20 players or make administrative mistakes that push our best talents in that direction while the One-day and Test teams continue to be remarkable failures and embarrassments.
The new rule at the International Soca Monarch Competition lessens the emphasis on Carnival music and re-establishes the focus on just making a song. Three verses that tell a story, a catchy complimentary chorus and danceable music, that which made this particular genre of music unique and appealing, the way calypso was meant to be.
All might not be lost. The island of Dominica continues to produce quality calypsos and full calypso and tent seasons that should be the envy of all the other islands
The 20/20 version of calypso – the repetitive hooks, 3 minute songs with 2 verses that use the familiar topics of ‘winning on a bumper’ or ‘rum’, do not have much of a shelf life and outside of the Carnival season does not create much of an emotional connection an key ingredient in securing a life-long fan base ala the Mighty Sparrow or Lord Kitchener.
The Caribbean has two unique, indigenous exports – Reggae and Calypso. The value of music and the entertainment industry is well-known and extensively documented. The Caribbean has not come close to realizing the potential of these two distinct sounds, feel good music, festive music.
Calypso, however has some catching up to do in relation to Reggae and with the International Soca Monarch reverting to a ‘one-song’ competition, maybe, just maybe the genre might be well on its way to sustained and global success.
7-time Calypso Monarch of Dominica, King Dice
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