By Raffique Shah
CALYPSO, the unique art form that defined Trinidad and Tobago for a hundred years, that clever, creative combination of lyrics with rhyme and melody to haunt the living and awaken the dead, is dead. Gone to a great cultural mausoleum that exists somewhere between the Bassman's Hell and cyberspace. Thirteen years into a new century, a new millennium, I cannot write, "Long live calypso!"
After you would have cussed me for daring to challenge the cultural status quo, more so on the day after forty calypsonians sang at the semi-finals in Skinner Park, six of them former monarchs, twenty of them women, answer me a few questions. When last have you heard an original calypso (not vintage) that grabbed you by the ears, forced you to listen to its lyrics, to hum to its sweet melody and, overwhelmed, you cried out, "Kaiso, boy!" When last?
Look, I do not mean to belittle or disrespect the bards of today and some giants of yesterday who, against immense odds, are trying to keep calypso alive, albeit on life support systems. Calypsonians like Mudada, Chalkdust, Sandra, Aloes, Pink Panther and De Fosto deserve plaudits for their tenacity, for having survived for decades in the gayelle even as the past masters retired, many of them hurt, and their contemporaries fell by the wayside.
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Defosto is repeating his songs for over 8 years now. Aloes is very boring and predictable with his hatred for Indians. Singing Sandra still looking for someone to give her a 'good song to sing'. Pink Panther, a one tune man, gives some humor in his songs, whenever he compose a song and all his songs are mediocre. Mudada is good, but he rarely releases anything. Chalkdust is singing the same songs, but his lyrics is still much better that the new guys, and that says a lot. Gone are the days we all could not wait for Kitchner, Sparrow, Mystero, Blueboy, Shorty, Duke, Merchant, Terror, Rose, Francene, Explainer and Crazy albums. Today no one cares, these calyposians sing without melody and talk politics all day and expect to be paid a million dollars.
I wish that all the people commenting on the demise of calypso should get together and compose some songs for these calypsonians. The main problem is, calypsonians have to compose at least two songs every year for competition and that is difficult to do every year. Most performers world wide take long breaks after each record and do sing songs from many producers and they are more about dance and parties. Rihanna gets most of her songs from various composers.
So commenters of the art should get together with the calypsonians and organize workshops on how to write and compose lyrics. There should also be a permanent pan tuning school using the present day tuners as instructors.
Take this step ASAP
In response to Raffique Shah's article "Calypso dead", let me begin by declaring my concurrence with his remarks concerning the demise and decline of quality calypsoes that in one way or another touch you, and are able to elicit expressions of approval for their lyrical content, wit, humour, political and social commentaries, lovely melody and rhythmic, infectious beat. Unfortunately, and sadly and disappointingly so, the overwhemingly vast majority of calypsoes nowadays do not contain these quality characteristics, with the exception of a few.
Traditional and vintage calypsoes belong to that 'Golden Era' of fifty years, which I would say encompasses the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. Trinidad & Tobago was blessed to have enjoyed the fruits of the labours of Calypso Greats such as The Mighty Spoiler, Lord Invader, Lord Kitchener, Lord Melody, Mighty Dougla, Sparrow, Lord Nelson, Duke, Scrunter, Black Stalin and a host of other Luminaries, too numerous to mention here, some have passed on and some are still with us today.
We have to come face to face with the reality of change, as change permeates the very fabric of our being. According to the adage, "The only thing constant is change itself". Calypso is no exception. The art form has transitioned, just as music on the global stage has. We may not embrace this current style of calypso after having been exposed to so many years of traditional or vintage calypsoes. There is always that unwillingness to compromise our expectations and high standards to accept something else that we deem different or inferior. And in this case, it may well be justified.
Let us not be quick to rush to judgement and declare 'Calypso dead'. Let prudence prevail and desist from putting the final nail in the coffin. Calypso is not dead, but alive, even though not well.
I agree with everything you said. However I personally think that there is a whole lot of people who can still create this type of music. The main problem is, the last two generations are very lazy and love short cuts. It is happening in all areas in Trinidad and Tobago culture. Take the Soca Bands for example, they are all using computerized loops and are singing on recorded music through their apple computers and sound system. When I played with Sparrow and Trinidad Troubadours and a whole lot of brass bands in Trinidad we practiced and performed all our music live.
The only bands doing this now is the Army and Police band, Roy Cape and Errol Ince and other calypso tent bands.
In the Soca Music Genre, Bunji Garlin is an excellent composer and l am sure he can write calypsoes.
No No No No, Americans are still today composing country music as they were many many years ago. Right across the border Venezuela, you visit and hear their same latin music as was heard years ago. Yes these countries moved on the rap, contemporary, but they still maintain their own music.
One has to admit that the changes in the calypso artform coincides with changes in all genres of music, which have become youth driven disposable pop music.
As soul music and r&b become hip hop, and roots reggae became dancehall, so calypso became modern soca.
I guess we old timers hope to hear something in the music that isn't there. Whenever I see Roy Cape's name credited to a piece, I expect to hear sweet horns, and I'm disappointed when I don't. Roy Cape is a professional and he's adapted.
As a music lover I don't have to, and fortunately there is a wealth of classic calypso ,reggae and r&b for me to enjoy; the library is extensive.
This is not to say that I don't enjoy some of the modern stuff; I've enjoyed some dance hall, soca and hiphop - some of it is very good.
But you must admit much of this music has no staying power. Can you imagine Machel Montano jumping around on a stage and singing his hits into his sixties?
Even Hip hop.
I really liked some of the early stuff by the likes of Biggie , Tupac and Dre, and Snoop etc, but can you imagine them singing about hos, bitches, cars, gangstas and guns into their sixties?
That's why they hang it up in their thirties, becoming record producers and admen (Dre) or exploring different genres (Snoop Dog)
And as Raffique Shah stated and I concur, this is by no means meant to disrespect, the older calypsonians who keep soldiering on, trying to keep the culture alive against all odds - lack of air play and support, financial or otherwise, from the younger generation.
But I'm listening once again to Merchant's "Pan in Danger" and I'm thinking- that's what's missing, the combination of sweet vocals, music, tempo , and memorable lyrics.
Tell me why America still sing their country music and no other country sings American country music.
I SORRY FOR CALYPSO/// IT IS DEAD//// THE PNM PARTY KILL CALYPSO/// THE JUDGES ARE ALL PNM AND TO MAKE IT
TO THE BIG STAGE OF THE FINAL YOU MUST BRING DOWN WHO EVER GOV. IN POWER.. SO ALL CALYPSOES THAT WE HEAR ON THE BIG STAGE IS JUST WHAT TAKING PLACE IN TRINIDAD.... AFTER THE COMPETITION, IT ALL DEAD DEAD DEAD WITH NOWHERE TO GO SAD SAD SAD