This week I gave birth to my latest alter-ego: De Mighty Sobriquet. I have written poetry since I was ten. And admittedly I tried (and failed) at being a calypsonian before in High School although in one particularly memorable year I sang (attempted to sing, whatever!) my own tune, sang back-up on two more AND made an important appearance as 'Soca Smurf' during yet another performance. Its not that calypso has ever been my first choice for artistic expression - but in this island you sometimes need to give something a try before you decry it.
So its been two decades since I was pelted with wet toilet paper and booed off the stage (by my own classmates mind you!) and since that time I have not put pen to paper once (out of jest) but I cultivated a serious appreciation for Calypso as an artform.
Now, I love Machel as much as the next guy but please be mindful that Soca and Calypso (as characterized by calypsoes in its heyday) are at best third cousins, twice removed with suspicious grandparents all round. What passes as music nowadays is utterly disposable and largely forgettable. Even now as Carnival fast approaches I am still experiencing a great deal of difficulty in discerning between this year's crop of 'jump / wine / jam' songs and those of prior years. It says alot that the favorite for this year's Road March competition (for the uninitiated, the Road March is simply that one song played the most times during the Parade of the Bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday) is the first attempt by two renowned radio DJs with no past pedigree or linkage to the industry. As infectious as Palance is this year, will people still be palancing down de road two, five or even twenty five years from now?
Even the main competition among more traditional calypsonians appears to be suffering the effects of a combination of the creative drought and the shortened collective attention spans. Not only are the songs largely unoriginal and oftimes fall far short of the double entendre brilliance and rebellious protest of past masters such as Sparrow, Kitchener, Cypher and Spoiler, but the format of the competition has now adapted so that modern day calypsonians need only expend the energy of producing just one worthy calypso to be judged upon. Needless to say - this has not helped at all.
I am certain that I am not alone when I say that I miss calypsoes of yesteryear and their ability to make one laugh, to titillate, to tell a story, to reflect the ills of society, to build up heroes, and to tear down would be kings. Calypsoes are the original rebel songs born from the ribald tradition of the European minstrels crossed with the rhythms of Africa and India. They were a means of expression for the generations before now. And a way to make the world around us seem so much closer.
Certainly the world started to take notice and for a while came to us. The Andrews Sisters hit 'Rum and Coca-Cola' is originally a calypso written and sung by Lord Invader. And calypso was popular enough for actor Robert Mitchum to record an LP of them in 1957. I have long held that Calypso was on the crest of becoming a very relevant, popular and international artform in the 1940's and 50's and were it not for Bill Haley and the Comets it could have well been. In reality, Rock 'n' Roll became the choice of the mainstream and Calypso was duly consigned to being an exotic and niche delicacy known and appreciated by a dwindling number of admirers.
Even here locally, and in spite of this being its birthplace, Calypso is underappreciated and overlooked routinely and like the traditional mas that I wrote of in my previous post, appears to be facing a certain death. But as with my other ambition (playing Bookman) perhaps there is still time (and place) for De Mighty Sobriquet to bring aid to Calypso and ultimately play a part in its revival.