So, that historical snapshot that is calypso is back. Calypso is back to preserve the mood and experiences of a people, of a time. The songs have been trickling in, the calypsonians have been teasing. The controversies have begun, anticipations have ripened. The calypso maestros–the Swinging Stars band, signaled to us that yes indeed, calypso is back.
It was a slow drizzle of calypso patrons when Stardom Tent opened its doors at the Sisserou hotel, but in no time at all, a swollen crowd was out in full force, ready to get a sense of what the 2013 calypso season could be like. Granted, a few calypsos have swirled through the air, but with Quarter Finals quickly approaching, many were anxious to skip the appetizer and bite into the main course. With Val Young Bull Cuffy as our waiter, dinner was heartily served.
All draped in uniformed variations of black, the calypsonians greeted us on stage so we could savour what was about to come. What was to come was a series of animated highs, and pensive, somewhat resigned and perhaps self-imposed lows. As a fitting hors d’oeuvre, young Rhea Lloyd, the Sting Ray, took the stage. In the words of Val Cuffy, she represented what could be paralleled to the Von Trap family as she was the first of three Lloyds to come. Later, we would be treated to her brother, Black Diamond, and her father, Explosion. The crowd warmly received her, as an indication that we recognize that her talents could be homed and pureed to perfection in the near future.
She was followed by Chris B’s Violence. Within a few lines, he had the crowd gently rocking and singing along while appreciating the message he was conveying. Also in the mood for messages, was Third Eye, with Jah Know Who I Am. His audience sensed the solemnity of the tune and listened intently as he sought refuge in Jah’s omniscience. Another longstanding calypsonian came next. Intruder swiftly informed us that despite not being recognized and rewarded for his steadfast efforts in this arena, he will always have a Passion for Calypso. His confident energy, like so many who would grace the stage throughout the night, does deserve a mention. Well, Intruder isn’t the only one determined to hold on to his love affair with calypso. Mighty DBS, armed with a new writer, presented to us People See You Coming–Take out a Picture. He did not deviate from his usual hyped style of music and his audience politely cheered him on.
Having whetted our appetites, Val, the Bull Matador, rolled out the various options for the entrée. He began with Black Diamond. Few have stood at attention for the National Anthem as they did to hear what this recent favourite was bringing to the table. With a blest voice, an authoritative, unapologetic delivery, he suggested the purpose and the resource that calypso is with his rendition, The Power of Calypso. An impressive song that may desire a bit more punch and bite for impact as it goes along from verse to verse, but the potential of this young man is distinct evidenced by the rousing applause he received. Succeeding him was Comforter but not before a break for entertainment from Dyno, Energizer and Big Jeff. Colourful amusing acts, Dyno mused on the Presidential switch with Mwen Ka Alle and Comforter, a fun feast for the eyes birled and swayed as he lamented over unsavory Characters in his orange and black marching band outfit. Sadly though, Engergizer had nothing on Big Jeff, who donned women’s clothing, complete with accessories, hair, blouse and a brazenly short skirt–which confirmed to any doubters that it was not a woman underneath– singing on Bef!
The first of two songs playing on Dentistry, Comforter, like Checko who would close the show, used the play on words of teething to imply tiefing. Although a better, more successfully structured mask than Checko’s, something seemed to be missing to win the crowd’s favour. Perhaps it’s one of those songs that has to grow on you, perhaps the patrons were at a point of mental intermission, and perhaps next week he will be met with a less lukewarm response. The heavy weights continued to be rolled out with Observer’s socio-political fear of losing his Sanity, Lady Star’s outrage at the inconsistencies in Bail, and Checker’s moral compass for When I Die. They all received an attentive audience who listened closely to assess for themselves the degree of competitiveness. Each was calm and confident in their presentations.
Then came the ladies. Three very different ladies they were, but each effective in their own right. Elektra, wife of fellow competitor Daddy Chess, was convincing in her discussion of a Woman’s Worth. She carried herself as a woman worthy of respect, demanded with her powerful voice that we listened as she schooled us on the beauty and accomplishment that is womanhood. Twanna, on the other hand, quite paradoxically in fact, drove home, with very accurate lyrics, appropriate illustrations, and relevant humour that although Man Bad, Woman Bad too. Lady Claudine, took us to Church. She broke down many political divides that might have been, because two verses later, she had everyone ignoring their rainbow-colour preference to join her in singing that her Prime Minister is Blest.
The possibilities for the main course continued on with a series of seasoned performers. Explosion, though not as heavy on the satirical puns as other years, presented an exposition on the need to Unite as a people as divisions solve little problems. Following in his theme came Beno who warned us that we, in the Caricom community are On the Same Boat, hence the need to unite as well. It proved to be quite a mouthful in the sense that although it was wordy, there is a lot of merit and food for thought in the song. Hunter poured out his soul as he grieved over Another Brother, Another Youngster making Mama Crying. His concerns for the lost young men of society seemed very genuine to an audience who was clearly touched by his presentation. The more somber part of the Tent was wrapped up with Caressa’s very witty Gentle Rest. His skillful play on Gentle Rest leaves the door wide open for the theatrics he has come to be known for. Because of Logus we now know that we can’t Eat Concrete. It was an interesting look at the priorities of development, but like Comforter before him, what he offered may need some time to marinate in our minds a little more before full consumption.
Then the madness begun. Energies were starting to wain slightly but there is nothing like desert to perk people up. Daddy Chess’ Madness sent the crowd loco. Then, Shadow Flow, aka Skinny Banton then whipped up an insane senseless frenzy to the point that he was recalled for three encores. His ‘I Come for the Rum and the Party’ caused sensational excitement in its brutal honesty. He admitted that he wasn’t a calypso fan, barely knew what was going on on stage, but as a typical West Indian party man, he was just there for the rum and the good time. Certainly not in the realm of more serious topical calypsos, it did remind us that calypso can be beyond just the politics and seriousness of it all, and that the art form takes many forms in its role of social commentary. Checko brought it all to a close with his own version of Dentistry. While the song itself struggles with coherency in maintaining the thread of the mask it begins with, he definitely continued the hype with his “teething song” as we chipped out to our homes.
The season is short, the topics are plenty. The unveiling of the calypsos has begun. Stardom gave us a taste of things to come. As the calypsonians go into their armories to sharpen their weapons, into their kitchens to season their dishes further, we wait with hopeful taste buds, for a worthy calypso 2013..
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