BECOME CALYPSO WARRIORS

Brian FrancisBy Dr. Brian Francis

By now, everyone in Grenada must at some stage in his/her experience heard of the popular saying: “if it is not broken, do not fix it.”

In his career as a professional calypsonian, Ajamu has demonstrated again and again that not only does he fully understand the meaning of this adage but also that he is prepared to live as it now seems by this motto and has done wonders when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of those given the authority to judge our calypso finals – a phenomenon that to this writer has now become a national fiasco particularly in respect of some of the results we have had over the years and culminating in the winner of the competition for 2015.

Once more, Ajamu, with yet another in an elongated series of songs within the general theme of “calypso warriors,” has walked away with the calypso monarch for 2015, taking his tally to nine – a national record. Congratulations, King man!

Despite knowing that I had an early flight to catch in order to make my way from St. Lucia to Grenada to guarantee that I get in the last on show of Spicemas 2015, I still made it my duty to sacrifice my sleep in favour of listening live to the twenty offerings by the calypsonians in this year’s competition.

I was generally pleased with what I heard, particularly the contributions during the first round of the competition. Although not formally ranking the performers in order of merit at the end of the first round, I nonetheless concluded that Ajamu could not feature in the top-three at that stage in the competition.

But before you go off the deep end, I am very well conscious that a second round was still to come and that the entirety of the body of work by the various artistes for the night is what ultimately would determine the eventual winner. Logically, therefore, I could not afford the luxury of shutting my eyes.  I had to be fully awake to take in the second round of the competition and so I did.

To cut a long story short, my conclusion at the end of the first round was only reinforced. To me, the defending monarch had just been dethroned! Of course, that was strictly my unofficial conjecture. For those out there who are familiar with my forecasting ability regarding this particular competition whenever Ajamu is a participant, the huge disparity between my conclusion and the official results would come as no surprise.  Guess what?  The results did not surprise your humble servant either!

Let me say upfront that I am not the biggest King Man’s fan but equally I hold no feeling of resentment toward our new calypso monarch. Ajamu has worked extremely hard over the years to improve himself as an artiste and is an extremely talented singer and musician. I am a huge lover of his music.

On the other hand, I am a huge Scholar fan.  But Scholar has to do a better job in seeking guidance from those who know in relation to the selection of songs for competition.  He also needs to clean up his act when it comes to diction. His second song about “F-up” was definitely too fast and hence many of his words were lost, at least to me.

Further, to the best of my knowledge, others determine the ultimate winners of our calypso competitions.  They are the ones who have to shoulder all responsibility for the ensuing chaos we see so many times after a new calypso King or Queen is crowned.

The only question I usually ask is: As the official judges, are they evaluating performances based on declared criteria (melody, lyrics, rendition, presentation…) or are they “picking” specific calypsonians to be so honoured from one year to another?

After all, how could Ajamu beat Rootsman Kelly by more than 30 points? As far as I am concerned, Rootsman Kelly won that competition hands down. Are the judges making “mock sport at us,” if I may borrow a Barbadian slang?

But worse, only last week in this very newspaper, I wrote a piece called saving carnival in which I said: “Why is it that year after year we have to create controversies of all kinds?  While I will not comment specifically on the hullabaloo surrounding the selection of the calypso finalists because that matter is being handled by local attorneys, I can’t help but reveal my amusement over the level of nonsense I heard from some quarters in justification of the decisions made in that respect.”

Well, history has simply repeated itself.  The results of this year’s calypso competition have generated the kind of controversy we have all learned to associate with that event.  As for the commentaries on the recitals of the various artistes, well, let’s just say we seem to be judging calypsonians not calypsos or the overall presentations of the songs!

Going forward, what can serious calypsonians do to effect changes with respect to the outcomes vis-a-vis our annual calypso monarch competitions?  To this writer, the remedy is quite straightforward: like King Ajamu, become calypso warriors.

Please do not disappoint me by asking me to expand on this suggestion. Our calypsonians are experienced and sufficiently competent to figure out exactly what has and must be done to protect themselves, their yearly investments of time and money into competing, their intellectual property rights and, above all, their beloved artform!

Ajamu had nothing new to offer.  “Sparrow” was weak lyrically.  The song was not properly developed despite there being so much publicly available information on the Mighty Sparrow in and out of Trinidad and Tobago.  “Provocation” was even worse.

With respect to Scholar, he has to determine whether he wants to win the crown or whether he wants to continue to be the voice of the voiceless.  If the latter is true,  I don’t think we as a people, and especially the judges, are mature enough to reward him with such lyrics.  And the proof of the pudding has been in the eating for the past three calypso competitions in which Scholar participated.

Clearly, if our judges and by extension we the people continue to reward mediocrity, as we are doing, then the quality of what we produce will only continue to deteriorate and that is quite evident in the fact that our carnival is “going thru”.  Grenada’s carnival is in urgent need of a Saviour!

(Dr. Francis, a former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies)

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