Calypso music is alive and well, and it’s definitely in good hands, chairman of the Junior Calypso Committee Thora Best has said.
“Calypso is not dying, once we have children singing, once we have people willing to write calypsoes for children, calypso will not die, calypso music will not die,” Best told Guardian Media in a sit-down interview.
And the children are singing.
Today, the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO)/First Citizens National Junior Calypso Monarch final will be held at the Grand Stand of the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain.
There are 16 children in the competition including the defending champion Duane Tazyah O’Connor.
The semifinals of the competition featured children from all across the country; North Zone- 9, East Zone-8, South Zone-7, Tobago-6.
The preliminary rounds of all the zones saw children come out in their numbers.
Best said the competition has built a strong foundation in the children and this is evident in the success rate of those who graduated out of the competition.
Earlier this week Ronaldo London was crowned this year’s Young King.
London was a previous Junior Calypso Monarch competitor.
His brother Rivaldo London is in the final of the Junior Monarch final.
This year’s reigning Calypso Monarch Helon Francis was also a previous Junior Calypso Monarch competitor.
“I can’t stop telling Helon’s story. Helon did not come to us as a junior calypsonian, Helon came to us because his sister Nicola was singing calypso, and then when the parents brought Nicola he came along, then he became one of the backups and in his third year he had a calypso,” Best said.
“He was a very shy child and calypso brought him to what he is now self-assured and confident,” she said.
Some of the notable Junior Calypso Monarch alumni are former Calypso Monarchs Karene Asche, Devon Seale, and Duane O’Connor.
Other notable alumni are Soca Monarchs Machel Montano, Kerwin Du Bois, Olatunji Yearwood as well as soca sensation Patrice Roberts.
TUCO’s Junior Calypso began in 1976.
Best said she believes the competition has done well over time.
“It will take time, it has taken time but it is happening,” Best said.
Best said, “Calypso is storytelling at its finest.”
Some of the senior calypsonians write songs for the juniors.
Winston Scarborough, known as “The Original De Fosto Himself,” who passed away last year was a great supporter of junior calypso, Best said.
Three-time Road March winner Christopher “Tambu” Herbert has written for some of the junior calypsonians too.
But what Best said has been heart-warming to her is seeing the some of the youngsters write their own compositions.
Of the many trophies up for grabs in the Junior Calypso competition is one for the person who sings and writes their own composition.
Desle Julien who participated in the Junior Calypso for the last time last year wrote for three of the competitors in 2018.
He has written for other competitors again this year.
Best said calypso is “literature in music”.
The genesis of calypso music
“Calypso has earned its place in history as the national folk song of Trinidad and Tobago and the music of the Caribbean after the emancipation of the slaves. However, even before emancipation, there is evidence that the artform had begun its growth,” the National Library and Information System Authority (Nalis) states.
Errol Hill, the noted Carnival historian, suggests that West African Tribal songs were the precursor to the calypso.
The winner of the most Calypso Monarch titles in this country Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust) said that calypso had its roots in the West African custom of griot court singing. The griots usually sang songs of praise and derision and were storytellers.
It is believed that these songs were introduced during the French settlement of the island of Trinidad.
Gros Jean, an African slave, is reputed to have been the first calypsonian, having been named ‘Mait Caiso’ (Master of Caiso) by the Diego Martin estate owner Begorrat in 1790, Nalis stated.
“The year 1914 was a milestone in the history of this great indigenous musical artform. This was the year that the first calypso recording was made by the Victor Gramophone Company of New York. By the Second World War, the presence of American servicemen in Trinidad and Tobago ensured that calypso was propelled even further into the international arena. It was also during this period that the first recording studios were established in Trinidad,” Nalis stated.
The late 1920s saw the rise of the first calypso tents. At that time, bamboo structures and tents were used as the venue for calypsonians to practice and perform during the Carnival season. Today, calypso tents are housed in more permanent structures and showcase the new music of the Carnival season.
Almost 100 years later and the calypso tents are struggling to remain relevant.
One of the tents that has been in existence for a long time is the Kalypso Revue, the baby of the late Grandmaster Aldwyn Roberts, best known as Lord Kitchener.
National Calypso Commission chairman Winston “Gypsy” Peters opened his own tent Back to Basics this year.
John Allister a visitor from the United States who travels to T&T every Carnival says he continues visiting the tents because he loves calypso.
“I will continue to visit the tents because that is what I love. But I think they need to try to manage them better. Calypso is amazing and it just needs to be packaged properly,” he said.
Best said calypsoes can be used as a teaching tool in schools.
“Teaching is taking something from the known to the unknown, and we know calypso,” she said.
Calypso Fiesta the semifinal of the Calypso Monarch competition was held at Skinner Park on Saturday.
There were 40 contestants in the competition and 15 contestants moved on to the final to challenge the current Calypso Monarch on Thursday.