Kaiso No 34 - 5th April, 2000

I'm just back from another wonderful couple weeks Carnival in Trinidad.  As always, there was way too many things to do every night and often I wished I could be in five places at once.  If your focus was exclusively pan or soca or mas or calypso you could never begin to see everything much but if you like more than one itr is hopeless.  For the calypso maniac, the choices are more difficult every year.  There are more calypso tents and more calypso and soca competitions and not enough nights to see them all.

This year the defining event for Carnival was the death of Lord Kitchener a few weeks before Carnival.  His death left an enormous hole in the Spirit of Carnival in the country.  Carnival was strewn with tributes and the papers filled with editorials and articles on his legacy, which is truly too complex to easily appreciate at this time.  Peta Bain suggests I think rightly that he has been for many years the living standard for calypso and with his death where things will go is less certain.  The tribute that seemed to always carry great power came from visionary David Rudder.  He added a new verse to his powerful Send in the Ground Troops made up titles to Kitch hits but done in a way that fit the song and seemed every time I heard it to conjure up the Grandmaster.

Other deaths and serious illnesses cast a further pall over Carnival.  John Issaacs of 3 Canal died in the weeks before Carnival and left one of the most exciting young groups in Trinidad diminished though they pursevered in his absence with their powerful two numbers for this year, Salt and Las' Carnival.

These were just two of the many recent deaths.  1999 proved a year in which many calypsonians died from the legendary Roaring Lion and the leading composer Merchant to lesser known calypsonians whose passing appears to have drawn little notice like Viking, Clipper, Romance and Sad Sack.

Winsford Devines, who continues to be a great composer with powerful songs for Crazy and Trini this year and a great pan tune for Wayne Rodriguez, is recovering from two strokes and still going strong despite loss of motor skills that has led him to compose by keyboards rather than his earlier style using a guitar.  Watchman one of the leading commentary calypsonians though in good health was absent from the Carnival this year as he is the legal advisor to the UN police commissioner in East Timor.

Shadow won the monarchy and many people myself included feel he long deserved the recognition this brings.  He was masterful at Calypso Fiesta in San Fernando and he so captured the crowd at Dimache Gras that the crowd started chanting and M C Tommy Joseph was not successful in having them stop.  Shadow's Scratch My Back about growing old with a very catchy melody and simple lyric is a delight and is already a classic.  His other, What's Wrong with Me with its twinkle was refuted when the public and the judges concluded that nothing was wrong at all!

While everyone seems happy that Shadow won, there was great controversy as to other placements in the finals and as to various singers left out of the finals.  Sandra again had two power Christophe Grant numbers especially his song about the Trinidad flag and what the 'True Colors' in the flag reflect.  Crazy who rarely gets the respect he deserves had a great year and had two delightful Devine songs, the entertaining vision of the new century In Time to Come and The Judges Like That noting that there has been a trend in the judges giving strong marks to calypsos that attack the government.  Similiarly, Pink Panther who always carries a twinkle of humor in his commentary did two great numbers this year.  Laughing in the Ghetto was a reply song to Sandra's winning number last year and one of many songs on the paving of the Savannah by Carlos John, Mr Big Stuff.  Sugar Alloes carries the most direct attack on the government in his Why Ah Stay.  Chalkdust had a song about the tug of war and 50/50 split in people's interests in Trinidad.  He introduced a new song for Dimache Gras, as he regularly does when he makes the finals, this one focuses on what in Kitch's memory we should do.  Gypsy had a strong showing in the finals especially with his positive message in Get Involved in Something Good and he regained handily his crown as the extempo king.

Defosto took second with a strong pan tune, Pan For Evermore and a nostalgic call, One More, Kitchy, One More.  Two who didn't make the finals were the other members of the United Sisters Lady B and Marvelous Marva.  Both gave strong performances but I was very impressed with Lady B's wonderful Dollar Waste taking off on Lucas's Dollar Wine but questioning on the dollars wasted by certain government expenditures.  Clever and well done, it was one of my favorite songs of the season.  Marva had a song focusing on the representation of Trini life in a local soap opera called Westwood Park.

One of the strengths of calypso is the focus on junior competitors.  This year Karene Asche took the crown for a second time with another great song by Larry Harwood, It Leaves Me Wondering and she seems to me one of the young stars whose careers must be watched.  Journalist David Cuffy reported that the event I missed that he found most wonderful was the Junior Soca competition.  He had served as a judge at semi-finals and found the performances filled with all the freshness and exurberance of soca without the endless posturing.

Superblue showed his dominance again the Soca Monarchy and his pan tune Jump for Joy was featured by many at Panorama.  He was declared winner of road march though second place finisher Iwer George has taken the matter to court.  I didn't attend the Soca Monarch this year because there were still calypso tents I needed to see but the video shows many amazing performances.  Bajan singer Red Plastic Bag had one of the most popular soca songs with his great Volcano that I heard regularly on the streets blaring out from radios and then on the road during Carnival.

The calypso tents continue to present rich, magical evenings of entertainment and excitement.  Kaiso House was its strongest these days with its focus on big lyrics calypso.  It has the calypso monarchs of the past few years, Shadow ('00), Sandra ('99), and Prowler ('98) as well as five time winner Black Stalin.

Revue was strong as always though recovering from the fact that its leader, Kitchener had died in the midst of the season.  Spektakular added extempo at the beginning with Big B and Black Sage which is great and had as always a diverse and entertaining show.

The new comedy calypso Yangatang led by Nicki Crosby and Errol Fabien proved one of the hottest tickets in town.  I caught it on a beautiful Friday evening outside at the Naparima Bowl in San Fernando.  The tent has found a new niche in focusing entirely on lighter comedy material.  There is still commentary but the emphasis was to keep away from the more big lyrics approach of the other tents.  Many of its cast were new performers although Bill Trotman, Relator and Zandolie performed classics from their repretorie.  Its popularity is such that it will be presenting shows after the season.

I regret that scheduling and transportation kept me from seeing the other tents this year, the Kaiso Showcase in San Fernando, Classic Russo led by legend the Mighty Duke, the roving Kaiso Karavan with Penguin, and the Tobago tent.  I got reports of many fine calypsos in each.  An index of results, tent appearences and recordings is in the works for a future newsletter.

Complete back issues of the Kaiso newsletter can now be found on the web at the excellent on-line world music journal, Musical Traditions.  If you missed any, check them out at: http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/kaiso.htm

Keep those email messages and news coming to the cold and Frozen North.  

Ray Funk - 21.3.00
POBox 72387, Fairbanks, AK 99707, rfunk@ptialaska.com

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