Arriving early at the wonderful Tabernacle venue, an additional delight awaited and was to be heard a block or two away. Half of the Tabernacle's front yard had been turned over to Mangrove Steelband, who were pleasantly practicing for the London Panorama two days hence. (And which they won - congratulations Mangrove!) I have to say, Mangrove didn't sound too too bad at all, in fact surprisingly good for a non-Trinidadian band, ignoring one or two of the slightly out basses and the fact that they still can't 'jump up' - but hey, you can't have everything. Indeed, despite a perhaps slightly jaundiced view of bands from outside Trinidad and Tobago, I have to confess they compared quite well to other small bands in TnT. Well done, Mangrove! I always, for several decades, was of the opinion that Mangrove and Glissando were perhaps the better of UK pansides. Mangrove not only impressed but also managed to induce an intense homesickness and yearning for the panyards and 'de big yard' back in Trinidad.
A pleasant surprise also awaited inside The Tabernacle's auditorium. Gone were the huge tables remarked upon in a previous review, instead to have been replaced with (obviously pre-existing) sensible, tiered rows of seating. Excellent!
The venue filled up to capacity, including standing room, and admissions had to be stopped. This could not be better! But then, this was the Association of British Calypsonian's UK Calypso Monarch 2011 Finals. Perhaps the sad thing was that this wonderful event could not have taken place at an even larger venue, with an even larger and more 'mixed' crowd instead of one that consisted largely of ex-pats and descendents. Kaiso (or Calypso) deserves and needs much wider exposure to a much larger and wider audience! I am not arguing that Kaiso should become part of the 'mainstream' music scene, far from it, but there is another wonderful resource in London that needs to be tapped. And that is a huge and diverse world music scene and audience. (The same case, of course, could be made for pan.)
Raising public awareness through media exposure, and not just during the Carnival season either, would be a good move to start with. London for a start has a superb world music radio show, DJ Ritu's A World in London, which has a huge following and has now moved from BBC local radio station BBC London to SOAS Radio (every Tuesday at 4pm and available online on demand from the following day as well as from iTunes as a podcast). In addition to featuring tracks from submitted CDs, the show also features a London gig guide and studio guests. What better resource to promote Kaiso (and pan) to the wider world music audience?
When the UK Calypso Monarch 2011 Finals eventually got underway (only some fifteen minutes late, quite acceptable for a show of this kind), it was introduced with a lengthy preamble by an MC whose name I regrettably didn't catch. Sprangalang he certainly wasn't. (The funniest, wittiest MC/comedian to ever grace TnT stages.) But then, sadly there was much I wasn't able to catch for my notes as things were generally hurried along at almost breakneck speed. So apologies for missing names and/or titles of songs, point scores, and more. Equally sadly, an advance programme was not available on the night, nor any information online pre- or post-event. A very sad state of affairs indeed that, to some extent, detracts from the general excellence of this event. It would have been nice also to credit the individual members of the generally very good eight-piece ABC Band (Association of British Calypsonians Band), for example.
Alas, it was all too obvious from the first competitor onward that the sound engineering was less than perfect. One also has to wonder whether proper sound checks were made prior to the show. Especially the pans in both Alexander D Great with Debra 'Pan Diva' Romain's Trials Of A Pan Woman and particularly Giselle's Pan Fever were near inaudible in parts.
While the lighting could hardly be criticised, regrettably a few competitors relied on using computer presentations and/or video. Sadly, this does not work, and besides is surely long passé. Presentations have their uses, but the stage surely is not one of them.
Opening the competition for the UK Calypso Monarch 2011 crown was Arima, Trinidad born Cleopatra with Save The Children. The weakest part of this was the lyrics, the strongest perhaps the vocal performance. This placed 10th in the final results - one of two positions I was in complete agreement with the judges (having marked competitors myself). Surely the standard could only get better after this. And it did.
The judges, incidentally, included Nestor Sullivan, manager of Pamberi Steel Orchestra from San Juan (pronounced 'Sar-wah'), Trinidad, and Dr. Vijay Ramlal, a trained judge also from Trinidad.
The second competitor, Rev B from Oxford with Trinidadian roots with Foreigners, set a much higher standard with witty lyrics and a good tune. He eventually placed 3rd.
The standard rose even more with competitor No. 3, Sheldon Skeete, who has also competed at regional level
in Trinidad. His selection, King Of The Tent, offered a good, solid song and performance, but although tipped as a strong contender, I thought this was still far from real competition for the eventual winner and placed an undeserved lowly 8th.
De Admiral, competitor No. 4, is Barbados born and also had some success in Trinidad. His entry, True, if notes can be relied upon, likewise offered a good, solid song and performance and placed a likewise undeserved lowly 9th. However, this may have been partly due to one verse of the song having been repeated, if memory and notes serve.
The strongest contender thus far for me came with competitor No. 5, G-String, of Guyanese roots. His One Shot For No Reason surely deserved better than the 5th it eventually placed. Even so, I could not see this as serious competition for the crown and the eventual winner.
Competitor No. 6, Trini born twelve-time winner of the London crown Lord Cloak proffered a for him and even kaiso in general perhaps somewhat unusual subject with One God. Placing 6th, this really wasn't quite par to his usual standard.
The audience went wild with the announcement of defender of his crown, Trini born Alexander D Great with co-writer and pannist Debra 'Pan Diva' Romain, with Trials Of A Pan Woman. Performing at No. 7, this far superior song and performance in every way, more than deservedly retained the crown for Alexander D Great. This always had seemed unbeatable even before the competition started. (See also separate review of the single.) Trials Of A Pan Woman is at once a worthy homage to the Grandmaster, Lord Kitchener - with a tune that cries out for arrangement for pan! and that, together with the superb interpretation and performance, so reminded of Kitch - as well as a tribute to all panwomen everywhere. This song and performance would truly have been worthy of competing at Dimanche Gras. And going by the noise levels generated by the crowd at the end of Thursday night's performance, it was certainly also a popular choice for the crown.
The last three competitors, all female, saw Trini born Brown Sugar performing at No. 8, with Before We Die (if notes are to be believed). The first female calypsonian to win the UK crown two years running, Brown Sugar gave a solid performance that placed 4th.
Competitor No. 9, Helena B's kaiso was Con Dem. The quality of her performance was inescapably excellent, with a good, strong political commentary. The eventual runner-up, I personally might have disagreed with this placement a little.
Trini born Giselle, initially a frontline vocalist for Trinidad band Kalyan, closed the UK Calypso Monarch 2011 Finals competition at No. 10. Her selection, Pan Fever, also featured a pannist (sporting, if eyes did not deceive me, a Despers t-shirt - yay, Despers forever!) and placed an in my opinion wholly undeserved lowly 7th.
A much needed interval followed, after which four of the contestants of the Miss TnT UK contest, to take place at The Tabernacle on September 22nd, were presented. Pretty li'l things all of them but definitely in need of feeding (good solid Trini food!), and not one had ever been near TnT, apparently.
Next, the backing singers The Soca Divettes gave a solo performance of one of their own songs. This was followed by the young female 2010 Junior Calypso Monarch with My Remedy.
A further special guest came in the shape of 2010/11 Canadian Calypso Monarch Macomeh Fifi with Mother And Child and a further song whose title escaped my notes. I regret to say I wasn't particularly impressed, certainly less so than by most of the night's competitors.
At long last, the MC got around to announcing the results of the UK Calypso Monarch 2011 Finals but then proceeded at such a pace that it was near impossible to keep up. Especially the announcement of the winner, Alexander D Great, could have been handled with a lot more flair and a bit of pomp and ceremony. Certainly, some kind of presentation by some special guest personality (for instance, the High Commissioner for TnT was in the audience, as was actor Rudolph Walker) would have been in order. Of course, an even half decent prize for the Calypso Monarch would also be more than in order, surely. And I'm not even talking about the kind of spectacular prize money awarded in TnT nowadays, just something decent, something that provides a little financial incentive and makes kaisonians feel a little more appreciated, and thus also helps raise standards. Surely, even in these difficult economic times this could be achieved through some kind of sponsorship, with a little effort.
However unceremonious, it was very obvious that winning all the same really meant something, meant an awful lot to the worthy Monarch Alexander D Great and collaborator Debra Romain. Never mind that this always did seem like a one-horse race. 'Big ups' to them both for a most memorable song and performance. The King is dead. Long live the King!
To round off the evening we were treated to a - rather brief - performance by Trinidad and Tobago's 2011 Calypso Monarch, Karene Asche, and her winning kaisos Careful What You Wish For and Uncle Jack. Not only a first rate singer and kaisonian, but cute as buttons to boot. Karene Asche is the first Calypso Monarch to have won the new TT$ 2 million (app. £ 200,000) top prize.
Time flies when you're having fun, as the saying goes, and it really didn't seem that the time could already be approaching one o'clock in the morning! Overall, this was an excellent show, and the organisers/promoters did a very good job of it. The fact that ultimately perhaps the only two acts truly worthy of sharing the same stage were Alexander D Great with Debra 'Pan Diva' Romain and Karene Asche should not be allowed to detract from this in the slightest. I had a very enjoyable good time, and I dare say so did the rest of the audience.
© 2011 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.