Antigua Carnival Stories
One Good Thing About Music (Workshop Review)
What was the last calypso to hit the Antigua and Barbudan airwaves that created a lasting impression? A no brainer, right? The immediate answer would definitely be a calypso from yesteryear according to the Minister whom I suspected felt compelled to discard his prepared script to protest against the conspicuous absence of key stakeholders at the much publicised Calypso workshop.
Every statement punched the air with enough force to make a dent in the egos of those condescending no-show artistes “whose music wasn’t selling just because they were so good!” Even the calypso hierarchy received a few jabs for its seeming lethargy.
The Minister’s cutting remarks registered his discontent with the attitude of “flash-in-the-pan” artistes and other singers who present shoddy work consistently expecting handsome returns from the government’s coffers. In justifying his outrage, the Minister chronicled his dedicated actions to date in providing the much needed shot in the arm for Calypso: extensive renovation of Barrymore for year-round use by calypsonians interested in honing their craft, government guaranteed funds in the bank to assist artistes, calypso literacy in the schools, etc.
He lamented the fact that since last carnival the artistes had not held a single calypso show or calypso-related event at Barrymore despite his serious efforts in assisting them with the enhancement of their product. The Minister underscored the need for practice as a prerequisite for excellence and made it pellucid that failure was not an option. Against the backdrop of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of Carnival this year, the Minister insisted that the emphasis should be on rebuilding the Antiguan brand in order to become relevant on the global stage. He posited that a culture of excellence was paramount to national success.
And as he took direct aim after aim at the sacrilegious calypsonians, he totally shattered the notion that ‘we are bigger than them’. The Minister’s frankness was staggering as he gave a haunting state-of-the-Carnival assessment grade. And each time he surveyed the almost empty room he seemed to reel in disbelief. It appeared that whatever music the absentees were contemplating had already hit him and had given him unimaginable pain. The Minister pulled no punches though.
And Mama Calypso smiled coyly! She whispered to me, “Look what they’ve done to the Minister!” She was surprised to hear the Minister declare that it was society (her mother—not her!) haemorrhaging because of the annual assault by calysonians who kept feeding her (society) a regular diet of negative lyrics. It suddenly dawned on Mama Calypso that there was nothing innately wrong with her! Quickly, she dabbed some make-up on her face full of ‘Jacop’. She was ready to shine like a diamond! I gawked as Mama Calypso leapt out of her seat no longer looking like an old woman winding down...
The timeworn SOS had been sent instead to first responders (lyricists/arrangers/musicians/judges) to rescue the calypsonians from themselves!
Then, in a moment of epiphany, I listened awestruck as Mr Herbert Burga Joseph--who later presented as producer-- offered a startling remedy for encouraging growth, creativity and continued renewal among the self-destructive calypsonians. He announced that, contrary to popular opinion, there will always be a space for the ‘stupid’ calypso and what was important was constant renewal. He advanced the view that every calypso served a particular purpose but what was essential to penetration in the market was an understanding of the power of collaboration among stakeholders and across related sectors. And so it was that Mr Joseph had very graciously ushered in Stupid Calypso whom he cautioned to not overstay his welcome! He must not take over!
Well, dim-witted Stupid Calypso (often ridiculed by Calypso Bigot), found the pluck to move straight up the aisle and took a seat right beside Mama Calypso. Well, that was a spectacle! And I mused, “Calypso Bigot, don’t beat Mama Popo!”
In short, the very interactive sessions with the Minister and Mr Joseph proved as divergent as they were informative and instructive. Both admonished senior calypsonians to take responsibility for developing their craft since marketability was essential for success. But the parting punch from the Minister resonated: The Department of Culture must re-focus on junior calypsonians and the creative arts to achieve cultural sustainability; and, the schools were the perfect nursery for nurturing appreciation of calypso as a musical art form. I suppose that perhaps youth, by its sheer nature, would give Mama Calypso swifter and stronger ‘legs’ on which to limbo in pursuit of a culture of excellence. Well, the next time I see the Minister my question to him will be: Should judges raise or lower the bar in order to accomodate calypsonians? Or, even better: Should calypso adjudicators be professors of music and every calypsonian a graduate?
My Designated ‘Hook’ for the workshop: No music lover wants to flinch in pain when calypso hits the airwaves. Music can be positively impactful. And that’s one good thing about music.
By Vellie Nicholas-Benta