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One rule of calypso

Monday, February 12, 2018

By now Voice should be calypso monarch, ushered into last night’s Savannah final by Skinner Park’s wave of voices, despite an audio catastrophe of a Kaiso Fiesta performance, with a punctuated vocal rendition more suited to a fete crowd than a judging panel.

I tuned in simultaneously to the hour-delayed video broadcast on government television and whichever of the four or so simulcasting radio stations’ audio signal hadn’t momentarily dropped.

As I have for much of the last decade, I took to social media to judge the calypsoes, with posts of picong and praise.

“Third World” technology remains a predictable hallmark of the semifinal broadcast—and, Voice can testify, a reliable gremlin in the stage amplification itself. Interrupting a performance in progress to broadcast Play Whe is a rule of thumb, so much that CTV honoured the tradition even in its delayed broadcast.

Commentator misfit is another sacred convention: broadcasters must pick people based on their capacity and commitment to wilfully display ignorance and share misinformation. And their chatter must run into the performances.

Beyond the broadcast, the Skinner Park home of Fiesta demonstrates as powerfully as the Calypso Revue tent’s balance sheet, our neglect and visionlessness for calypso.

The eight-hour ritual of bringing my own chair to eat dust-seasoned oildown in hotsun has never worked for me. The one year I sat in VIP, I was further from the point of the show than everyone else.

But, like so many of our other Carnival shows without the slightest care for modern production values, where the torture is part of the sacrament, I cannot resist consuming the entire thing—from the comfort of my home.

All the cherished points of pointlessness. The slipshod MCing with the canned jokes. The delayed entrances and missed cues. The hammy dramatisations and ole mas placards. Counting the tempo for the band. Still, faithfully, the sagaboy outfits. The geles of lament.

The soaring rolls of Fay.

This year, I began for a second to take the whole thing far too seriously and Facebook my own scores for the calypsonians. Not only did it ruin most of the fun.

But it brought home how pointless that other Carnival fetish is—judging. Assigning points across 40 performances on five scales with up to 30 points of difference is just not something that seems meaningful.

Objective scoring of a calypso isn’t something I ever want to try again.

I realise that, unlike Mikey Hamit, I fearlessly have just one, simple rule for a good calypso: I should remember it. Half of the 15 Skinner Park songs judged fit for the Savannah final I have already forgotten, or barely remember. With a one-song competition, there was no need to listen to suffer them all again last night. It’s the case year after year in Skinner’s Park—as it is renamed each Fiesta—a series of unmemorable laments about social pathology and governance.

I will remember the brands of SpiceY’s grooming tools. I’ll remember Vicky Boodram’s fondness for ship. Most Hendrickson family performances you want desperately to forget: but I will remember Shirlaine’s as the only smut to make Fiesta. I will remember the crassness of Stinger’s resort to ridiculing Chinese diction in 2018: Toi-yet Pei-pah for him! I’ll remember Duane O’Connor’s swipe at the CJ. I remember swaying with Stacy Sobers, and not a word she sang.

The judgment of a calypso should be: was it memorable—whether lyrically, musically, or its performance. Don’t bother and tell me who the judges picked. Whether he’s crowned or not, years from now, I’ll be singing Year for Love (and remembering Renegades’ Duvonne Stewart arrangement of it).


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