The British Association of Calypsonian's UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012 show was billed as 'doors open 7.30, show starts 8pm sharp.' Regrettably, through no fault of theirs and for reasons to be explored further a bit later, this was not to be, and it was well after eight that admission to the auditorium finally began, and at least another half an hour before the show got under way. The auditorium was, of course, packed to the rafters, with the exception of four VIP seats that still remained unfilled.
But what a show the UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012 turned out to be! Breath-taking barely begins to describe this fabulous extravaganza. Sure, if you were expecting Dimanche Gras in Port of Spain's Queen's Park Savannah, you had clearly come to the wrong place in the wrong country. But this was London, UK, so you cannot expect the kind of spectacle that is Dimanche Gras in Trinidad, and comparison would be wholly inappropriate and above all, unfair. The British Association of Calypsonians celebrated twenty years of staging the London Calypso Tent, and they did so in style and with class.
The UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012 was sensibly divided into two halves. The first half consisted of the ten finalists competing for this year's crown.
Here came the big - and highly delightful - surprise, in that the standard of all competitors and their calypsos was of an unprecedented high standard over all. Political commentary in the lyrics was especially notable for its quality, aptness and outspokenness, and at least four calypsonians distinguished themselves thus. The sound engineering also was very good and hard to fault. And the presentation by the compere/MC was likewise hard to fault.
The stage lighting was excellent, although the odd moving floods strafing the audience were perhaps not the most desirable thing. Where computer projections were used by competitors, these were politically relevant to the lyrical content of the calypso and not too intrusive.
Now, to the cause of the delay in the show getting started. Please not that parts of this were not revealed officially in the show and are based on 'unofficial information received,' but even without this one could easily have arrived at the full story. About halfway through the first half, the four empty VIP seats were finally filled to great fanfare and bitingly ironic commentary from the compere, with four unidentified individuals. These were apparently given the seats after guest of honour The High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago still had failed to turn up with his guests. It would seem that, after a certain time, parking reserved for the High Commissioner could no longer be held (without causing a great deal of annoyance in the neighbourhood, understandably). And thus, when he finally did arrive, parking could only be found a few steps around a corner.
Sadly, it would seem, this was not good enough for His
Excellency, and he and his party left, presumably to attend to more important matters! Now forgive me, but I have always laboured under the impression that a High Commissioner was a servant of his people and his nation. And what task, surely, could be more important than for a High Commissioner to support and promote the culture of his country, of his people? But, apparently, His Excellency thought differently and considered the slight inconvenience of parking around a corner (never mind arriving on time!) too much to represent the cultural interests of his people. (I don't recall any such problems previously, with a previous incumbent of the post - I understand that the present one is a new appointment.)
This is a very sad state of affairs indeed. Much mirth and merriment was derived from it, true Trini style, throughout the rest of the evening. Defending Monarch Alexander D. Great even made an impromptu reference to it in his performance. No doubt some calypsonian will make this incident the subject of a future kaiso (calypso), for which it certainly seems eminently suitable. (It certainly would seem a shame to miss out on such an exquisite topic!)
However, the fact remains that the British Association of Calypsonians and the UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012 did in no way deserve such derogatory treatment, and nor did the audience.
Hence, if you were greatly inconvenienced lining up in the heat of The Tabernacle's bar to be admitted to the auditorium, you now know at whose feet to lay the blame.
However, let us return to more pleasant matters such as the competition itself. The first contender was Trini born twelve times winner of the UK crown, Lord Cloak, with Shabaka Gone. Although an excellent song and vastly better than his effort the previous year, I still felt this still wasn't Cloak at his best. His eventual 4th placement in the results matched my own scoring.
Contender No. 2 was Music Man, a still relative newcomer, with Genuine Love. An excellent effort, I had this scored tenth, rather than the joint-ninth he achieved in the final results.
The third contender, Nikisha and Strong Woman, a good solid song and a huge crowd pleaser especially with the female constituent of the crowd, placed 5th. My own scoring had this slightly lower.
Far and away the strongest contender yet, Helena B and Retire And Die came next. Like last year, she had chosen a strong political comment, only stronger still. With a superb performance, Helena B placed an, in my opinion and my scoring, wholly undeserved 3rd in the results. In fact, my own scoring had her just marginally ahead of the eventual winner.
Sheldon Skeete with A Sightless Nation was the fifth contender. Unlike last year, this year Skeete, who has competed at regional level in Trinidad, did prove a real contender with an excellent kaiso with good political commentary that certainly seemed the most popular with the crowd. And of course, this proved the eventual winner of the 2012 UK Calypso Monarch crown with the judges. So, congratulations to Sheldon Skeete! The King is dead, long live the King!
The next contender, No. 6, Trinidadian rooted Oxford man Rev B, came out with good political commentary and wit with We Not Taking Dat. Eventually placing 8th, I felt this was somewhat undeservedly low.
At No. 7, it was the turn of defending Monarch Trini born Alexander D. Great with a kaiso most appropriate for this year of Trinidad and Tobago's 50th Anniversary of Independence, Fifty Years (Living Independently). (See also review of the album, The Night Watchman.) A strong, deliberately 1960s style melody, and supremely well crafted lyrics, this also proved a big crowd pleaser. Now in my own scoring and opinion I had this as the - very - marginal winner, with just half a point each separating the top three. Utterly incomprehensibly to me I have to admit, this placed only 7th!
However, two-years' running Monarch (2010, 2011) Alexander D. Great was nothing less than perfectly gracious and generous in defeat and happy for the winner.
Arima, Trinidad born Cleopatra was contender No. 8, with Sleeping With The Enemy. An excellent singer, and a good song, Cleopatra eventually placed 6th. A tad higher than in my own scoring.
Contender No. 9 saw another relative newcomer in Dave B, with the excellent Riots In London. Placing an eventual joint 9th, this certainly seemed a bit undeservedly low.
The first female calypsonian to win the UK crown two years running, Trini born Brown Sugar was the last of the ten contenders. A strong performer, but her Children somehow didn't quite come up to the mark for her for me. Although she placed 2nd, I felt this was somewhat optimistic.
Of course, rarely does anyone agree with judges! I almost never do (using the same judging criteria). However, as it says on the tin, as it were, the judges' decision is final. And so, my heartiest congratulations to all the winners - big ups to them all. Indeed, just to make the final ten makes everybody a winner.
The judges this year were Ava Hutchinson, Len Homer, and Debora Alleyne De Gazon. With the standard over all having been as high as it was, they did not have an easy task.
However, unless I completely misheard, those three point scores that were given when the results were announced in the second half of the show actually had the winner on a lower point score (266) than last year's 10th place (301)! Surely some anomaly? Especially given that the over all standard this year was much higher than last.
The ABC Band provided excellent backing throughout, and the Soca Divettes equally excellent backing vocals.
Following the brief interval, the second half of the night's programme opened with The Soca Divettes and Soca Jumbie. These three young ladies seem to be getting better with each passing year and put on an excellent performance.
They were followed by the 2012 UK Junior Calypso Monarch, Latoya, with Fairy Tales. If this is the future of British calypso, then indeed there is hope.
What came next came as a huge, and hugely pleasant surprise. Though no longer strong of leg, but still strong of voice, veteran of the British calypso movement The Mighty Tiger graced the stage with one of his songs and a brief chat. For anyone who could remember this great man in his prime this was a pure delight, as well as a huge privilege for everyone present.
Perhaps not the best way to follow such a momentous appearance, The Englishman - a one-time long time resident of T & T - gave us Trinidad And Tobago Through The Eyes Of An Englishman. A sincere effort, and popular too, but not of the kind of calibre to follow as huge a figure as The Mighty Tiger.
Canadian reigning Calypso Monarch Structure followed with a slick and sleek performance of the highest standard. With both style and substance, this was a highly enjoyable performance.
But then, the much anticipated highlight of the evening at last made his appearance. Celebrating his 65th birthday that day, none other of course than T 'n T's great calypso and soca legend Explainer, still looking good and doing great! He had lost none of his charisma and charm and had the audience in the palm of his hand the moment he stepped out. His voice may have changed a little in the twenty-something years since I last saw him live, but then the arrangements had changed to allow for this, and his performance was as enjoyable as ever, with not a note missed.
Of course, no evening with Explainer could ever be complete without what is certainly my, and probably most Trinidadians' favourite soca anthem of all time. I speak, of course, of none other than Explainer's legendary Lorraine! A monster hit some thirty years ago, it has maintained its popularity, and its huge appeal, every bit. Not merely a supreme fete (party) soca anthem, Lorraine runs much, much deeper. With its lyrics about being irresistibly drawn to having to return to Trinidad for the carnival season and all its joys, it pulls the heart strings, hard, and makes any 'Trinbagonian' expat anywhere instantly, achingly homesick. (And if it doesn't at least moisten your eyes, you really don't know what you're missing...) But more than that still, Lorraine is probably the universal migrant's song, expressing the bittersweet pain of missing one's original home for any migrant, from anywhere, to anywhere else. With the strength of its lyrics, this is the greatest soca anthem of all time, none come even close, often being preoccupied with little more than 'wining' and waving something and the like.
Thus, it will come as no surprise that Explainer had the crowd on their feet with Lorraine, and I dare say with many a moist eye too. For a big time crowd pleaser, the Association of British Calypsonians could surely not have done better than with Explainer.
Finally, it was the turn of the results of the UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012 to be announced. Sheldon Skeete proved a popular and worthy winner and was clearly overcome with emotion. Once again, congratulations to the new Monarch! Sadly, again there was no proper presentation, and the show concluded with Skeete repeating his performance of A Sightless Nation.
The British Association of Calypsonians must be congratulated on staging such a brilliantly delightful and thoroughly memorable extravaganza as the UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012. Well done, this was a most enjoyable experience.
However, that is not to say that there isn't room for improvement in some areas. There is, and plenty. This is not, please note, meant to be simple criticism, but rather an attempt to be as constructive, fair and objective as possible.
Take, for instance, publicity. Yes, the event sells out easily as it is. But that is missing the point. There are plenty of people in the first place who would like to keep in touch with what is happening, or going to happen, without necessarily coming to the show. But trying to google for anything relating to 'UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012' or similar would have proved, at the very least, a most arduous task, and one would expect at least one or two relevant results at or at least near the top of the first page of results. Pointing to a well maintained, relevantly informative web site. Likewise, one would expect to find a well maintained, easy to find page on Facebook. Professional PR would avoid such pitfalls and ensure that excellent information could always easily be found.
However, this also leads to a second, equally weighty matter. As excellent as The Tabernacle venue is, it is simply too small, far too small, for the UK Calypso Monarch Finals. Calypso in general, and the tent and the Monarch Finals in particular, need to grow, and expand to a wider, general public and thus to be inclusive, as they surely ought to be in a healthy multicultural society, rather than being confined to a small community of (largely) expats and their decendents and thus, exclusive. With the aid of a well-managed professional PR machine, it should prove easily achievable to move to a larger venue and easily fill it.
A well-produced programme, with its cost calculated into the price of admission and freely distributed on admission, would also be highly desirable.
It should also be possible to charge more realistic, i.e., higher, admission prices. These in turn could also help, perhaps with some additional sponsorship, to better pay calypsonians (which in turn could perhaps help them in putting out recordings - not easy for most under present conditions in this country, where none can make a living purely out of calypso, I'm sure), and to award a proper prize to the Monarch. Not necessarily the kind of mega prize awarded in Trinidad, just something decent. And presented with appropriate pomp and fanfare.
Such expansion could, and indeed should, also include aiming at and achieving wider media coverage, such as radio and television coverage of the Monarch Finals. This event surely is a national treasure of the multicultural United Kingdom, and deserves and needs to achieve this recognition.
If the kaiso scene fails to expand, I fear it will eventually wilt away as a small, exclusive kind of club, a novelty at best.
Everything is achievable, with determination, professional PR, and good over all, professional project management. I have an impression that the British Association of Calypsonians is slowly taking first steps in the right direction, and certainly hope this is so. They did a wonderful, admirable job of the staging of the UK Calypso Monarch Finals 2012, but I fervently hope that they will take the art form much, much further in the future. I sincerely wish them well.
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