Calypsonians ‘ready’ for war
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, February 19 2012
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Leslie-Ann Ellis... representing Tobago...
Carnival 2012 shifts into full gear with tonight’s staging of the Dimanche Gras show at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain.
A highlight of the Carnival celebration, the event features the National Calypso Monarch and King and Queen competition, with the calypso competition being the showpiece of the event.
The calypso competition, if it goes ahead, will feature several seasoned bards alongside a few rising stars in the art form, all vying for the crown and a new grand prize of $1 million.
Last year’s winner, Karene Asche, created history when she became the first calypsonian to walk away with a whopping $2 million first prize courtesy the People’s Partnership Government. This year, however, the prize money has reverted to the smaller sum, and still only came about after the participants complained that the other national competitions had bigger prize incentives.
Asche, 27, who was the fourth woman to win the crown in Dimanche Gras history, has put her competitors on notice that she will be pulling out all the stops to defend her crown.
“I feel very confident,”she told Sunday Newsday during a brief interview on Wednesday.
At tonight’s competition, Asche will sing “Against All Odds”, a tune chronicling her life growing up in Laventille to her triumph in becoming the first calypsonian to take home last year’s $2 million first prize in the competition. She refused, however, to give the title of her second offering for tonight.
Saying that she was pleased with the calibre of this year’s calypsos, Asche regarded her competitors, both seasoned and burgeoning, as being on a level playing field
“I don’t look down on anyone,” she said, wishing them the best of luck.
The cast also includes veterans Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool), Sugar Aloes (Michael Osuna), Singing Sandra (Sandra Des Vignes-Millington), Cro Cro (Weston Rawlins) and Kurt Allen.
Like Asche, Chalkdust, told Sunday Newsday he was satisfied with the quality of this year’s offerings. “This year there were some nice calypsos, tougher than last year,” said Liverpool, who has been in the finals of the competition for the past 39 years and has been singing competitively for 45 years.
Chalkdust said, however, that finding a fresh topic to sing about has been his biggest problem “because everything people singing, I have sung already”. The calypsonian, who placed fifth in last year’s final, is expected to sing “How’s Dat” and another tune he is yet to decide on.
Chalkdust, who began singing calypso in 1967, has won the monarch title eight times and is going all out for a record ninth title. His winning compositions include:
“Three Blind Mice” and “Ah Put on Meh Guns Again” (1976), “Juba Dubai” and Shango Vision” (1977), “Ah Can’t Make” and “My Kind of Worry” (1981), “Chauffeur Wanted” and “Carnival Is the Answer” (1989), “Kaiso Sick in de Hospital” and “Misconceptions” (1993), “Fish Monger” and “Trinidad in the Cemetery” (2004), “I in Town Too Long” and “Ah Doh Rhyme” (2005), lastly in Doh Touch My Heart (2009). While he, too, is pleased with the quality of the offerings, controversial Sugar Aloes, who won the title in 2009, said he was surprised that “certain people” did not get into the finals.
“What is happening is that the playing field is kind of imbalanced. It is not level. I think they making it easy for somebody. I don’t know who it is,” said Sugar Aloes, a heavyweight at the Calypso Revue. No stranger to the “Big Yard”, the dapper Aloes has opted to sing a political tune, “Doh Force Meh Hand” and a social commentary titled “Chinese Kidnapping”.
Some of his memorable hits include “Party Time”, “I Love Being Me” and “Signs of the End of Time.”
Singing Sandra, a leading act at Kaiso House, thanked God for giving her the opportunity to experience yet another Dimanche Gras.
“I give thanks to God. I give him all the praise,” said a tired sounding Singing Sandra, whose signature tune, “Voices From The Ghetto”, earned her the monarch title in 1999 and became an anthem for poor and disadvantaged in depressed communities. Four years later, in 2003, she won the crown yet again with “For Whom The Bell Tolls”.
The veteran female performer, known for her powerful messages, is often remembered for her song “Die With My Dignity”, which tackles the issue of sexual harassment, primarily in the workplace. Tonight, Singing Sandra will perform a nation-building selection titled “On Reaching 50” in tribute to Trinidad and Tobago’s upcoming 50th anniversary of Independence on July 31 and “Why I Sing”, a tune about her decision to sing calypso several decades ago.
But don’t expect any syrupy, nation-building contributions from four-time monarch, Cro Cro.
The highly-controversial calypsonian and founder of the Icons Calypso Tent told Sunday Newsday on Friday that he will be continuing in his “traditional” vein of biting commentary on the political happenings of the day.
One of his songs, “Say Something”, targets several members of the ruling People’s Partnership Government, including Labour Minister Errol McLeod and Cultural Ambassador to Caricom Makandal Daaga and others, whom, he said, “are just sitting there (in the Government) like dummies and not saying anything”.
The straight-faced Cro Cro regarded tonight’s cast as “weak” by way of lyrical content, but said he was looking forward to the competition.
Former Young King, Kurt Allen, who won the monarch title in 2010, has also received much acclaim for his cleverly-written political and social commentaries.
Allen, who started singing calypso at Curepe Junior Secondary School at age 11, has also dabbled in soca. In 1999, he won the International Soca Monarch competition with his hit “Stampede — Dust Dem”. An accomplished writer, Allen also composed the song “Heroes”, which won the 2001 Calypso Monarch crown for Denyse Plummer. Tonight, he will sing “When Will It End” and “Long Live Calypso”.
Eight-time finalist, Devon Seales, feels “confident and comfortable” that his two selections, “One Is One” and “Snapshot”, will resonate well with the Dimanche Gras audience and judges. However, the TSTT employee made it clear that winning will not be his sole focus.
“I am going there to give a show and enjoy myself,” said Seales, one of the outstanding young talents at the Calypso Revue.
In “One Is One”, Seales reflects on the decision by Machel Montano and Rikki Jai to re-enter the calypso monarch competition this year. Both artistes, however, eventually did not participate.
“I was just giving them advice as to what takes place in the calypso arena and using a comparison as to what takes place in the soca and chutney arena. At the end of the day, I said to them, ‘Let’s come together with one brand and stop the fight down.’
“For years we have been hearing about the problems between calypso and soca and I think it is time we stop that and move forward with one brand,” he said of “One Is One”.
His other tune, “Snapshot”, simply celebrates the country’s 50th anniversary of independence on July 31.
Making her third appearance in the finals of the calypso monarch competition is Tobagonian Leslie-Ann Ellis with her social commentaries “Mothers and Others” and “Street Justice”. “Mothers and Others”, she said, addresses the issue of irresponsible mothers.
“There is a difference between mothers and baby-makers who are neglecting their children and seem to find no time for them,” said Ellis, one of four women in the line-up.
Ellis told Sunday Newsday that the song was inspired by a personal experience.
“I actually knew a woman who has been constantly neglecting her child and it is ridiculous because she is always well-dressed and her child is not going to school. So I gave my writer the idea and he came up with the tune,” Ellis said.
Ellis proudly revealed that she began singing calypso while she was pregnant with her daughter, Garve Sandy, some 16 years ago. Garve has since followed in her mother’s footsteps and was a finalist in last week’s junior monarch competition.
“So she (Garve) has been my inspiration,” Ellis added, noting she was proud of her fellow artistes on the sister isle.
“Tobago has some very, very good calypsos and I expected at least four of us to be in the Big Yard. But not everything you expect you will get.”
Nevertheless, Ellis said she intends to do her best.
“I am going to do my best to be in the top three,” she said with a laugh.
Singing “The Adjective”, a poignant commentary about greed in the society and “One Gone”, a tribute to several national icons who passed away in 2011, Heather Mac Intosh is making her sixth appearance at the Dimanche Gras show.
A former junior monarch (1995), Mac Intosh has won the calypso queen title on two occasions, 2002 and 2011, as well as a host of other competitions.
Mac Intosh’s father, Llewelyn Mac Intosh (Short Pants), himself a seasoned calypsonian, functions as her manager. He told Sunday Newsday on Thursday that his daughter was glad to have been selected for the finals.
“We feel it was a good crop of calypsos and as a consequence, we feel very proud to have made it through to the finals because we felt that generally, the calypsos were quite good this year,” Mac Intosh said.
“Skinner Park (Calypso Monarch Semi-Finals) is always a tough stomping ground. So to have gone there and gotten through, we feel very good about that. We feel that just making it to the finals is an achievement in itself.”
The last time Mac Intosh appeared in the line-up at the Dimanche Gras Show was 2007.
Policeman Dexter Parsons, otherwise known as Stinger, continues to be one of the more consistent entertainers in the art form. He began singing calypso as a child in his native Sangre Grande and has been selected to the finals of the Dimanche Gras on six occasions.
Stinger, who will sing “Advice In Song” and a “surprise” tune in tonight’s competition, has also won the Police Calypso Monarch competition on five occasions. Last October, he also won the Caribbean Calypso Monarch title in St Lucia. Confident of victory, Stinger said his focus will be to educate, inform and entertain.
Like Stinger, south-based calypsonian, Brian London’s modus operandi is to showcase the diverse talent of Trinidad and Tobago to the world. He has been to the “Big Yard” eight times over the past nine years, delivering thought-provoking messages on topical issues. His calypso this year, “Don’t Complain, Come Plain”, a socio-political commentary, is no exception.
“It is about a conversation I had with Benjai (Rodney Le Blanc), where he is telling me to stop singing calypso and start to sing soca because of all the years I have laboured in the field,” London said of the tune.
“It is about telling the leaders to come plain about issues.”
However, London, who won the Young King competition some years ago, refused to divulge details about his other selection, “Not Brian”.
Young King, Duane O’Connor, still on a high from winning the title, feels confident going into tonight’s event.
“The song is a song that I have had for the past couple months and it is not a song that is weak. It is strong, lyrically. The melody is excellent and the presentation that I put behind it is superb. So I feel very confident going into the finals,” he said.
O’Connor, who has been in the art form for the past 17 years, said he felt honoured to be among a cast which includes several former monarchs and other strong competitors.
One of his tunes, “The Hunt Is On”, which highlights the work of “Crime Watch” host Ian Alleyne, has been hugely popular with the audiences. Tonight, he will also sing “Long Live Calypso”. Asked about his future in the art form, O’Connor told Sunday Newsday that he intends to take calypso music throughout the world.
“I want to get people to love and understand the art form. But before we could get the music out there, we have to get our own people to understand and love our music,” he said.
O’Connor, who had made it to the finals of the competition in 2007 with a tribute to late calypsonian Mighty Duke (Kelvin Pope), feels the art-form is still only being embraced by a few people. “But we, as artistes, have to take the music out there some more,” he added.
See Pages 18 & 20