Newcomer in the calypso arena Richard ‘Benno’ Christmas had a plan to use calypso to bring exposure to his bouyon band Xcess Groove, but in the process of executing that plan he has fallen in love with the art form.
“..Coming into the arena, meeting the guys and getting into the whole calypso mood it’s like a movie where a guy is paid to go out with a girl and he ends up falling in love with the girl,” Benno told a Dominica News Online reporter.
“I feel like I have to carry the torch with me because I am the lead singer, I am the band leader. So I think if I get my name out there … you know get my face out there, the popularity that would boost my band as well,” Benno said.
In his song, ‘Once, twice’, the calypsonian speaks to a girl names Nica, who is in an abusive relationship. Like many calypsos, the song has an underlying meaning. The political connotations had prompted calls for Benno to change the words.
“Basically I’m telling her to get out. However, the song was composed during election time so that has been a problem I could say, because people have been calling me asking me not to sing the song. People have been telling me to change the words of the song… it’s a masked song … it’s political but to me when I sing it I sing it for the people in abusive relationships telling them to get out,” the calypsonian remarked.
The song was penned by prolific calypso writer Pat Aaron.
Benno was taught by Aaron how to play the bass guitar and sing, has a longstanding relationship with him.
“I grew up with Pat. I was around when Pat wrote for Scratchy, I was around when he wrote for Dice because we grew up in the same village, Morne Prosper. So I know Pat like a brother or an uncle because I call him Uncle Pat, and I’ve always been asking him to write songs for me; he showed me how to play the bass guitar, he showed me how to sing and now he’s my writer,” Benno added.
In his calypso performance, the upcoming calypsonian endeavors to emulate the charisma of four-time monarch Dice’s and the ‘unbelievable voice’ of calypsonian Scratchy. He considers such a combination “dynamic.”
His involvement in music includes being a former member of the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers under the supervision of Senior Cultural Officer Pearl Christian. Benno has also been a coach to others, training them how to control their voice. Since then his writing skills has improved; he gives credit to band member Madison Etienne for that. Benno participated in the 2009 Soca Monarch competition.
“The progress it wasn’t a slow process, it was rapid. I think I’ve gotten better in terms of usage of the stage, projecting my voice … I still have a lot to learn, in life you never stop learning, everyday is a lesson …from back then to now I have improved greatly,” according to him.
Benno will compete with 31 other calypsonians at the quarter finals competition carded for this Saturday at the Newtown Savannah. Former calypso kings like Daddy Chess, Hunter, Scrunter and De Observer will be among that group of contenders.
Benno said he will be able to accept defeat if he does not make it to the semi-finals since he is competing against many experienced performers.
“I see it as fun, I don’t really take it serious. You know some people they deliberately do things to hinder your chances from winning… I look at it as fun … if they win they have way more experience than I have, so it’s just an honour to be in the realm with guys like Hunter and Dice … and to be competing against them it’s just like reaping the spoils I should say.”
The 20-year-old is a former student of the Saint Mary’s Academy (SMA). He is employed at the Scotia Bank.
(Edona Jno Baptiste – News Coordinator/Reporter)