As a country, T&T has lived off the fat of government-funded subsidies for much of our post-independence history.
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Calypso tents open doors
You know you are in the heat of T&T Carnival when calypso tents premiere their programmes and four of them are opening this weekend.
Calypso tents were introduced to the fabric of Carnival back in the ’30s by calypsonian Walter Douglas (Railway Douglas), the 1934 Road March champion. Prior to this, preceding World War I, chantrels bore the melodies of the season, sung by men like Norman Le Blanc, Julien White Rose and Henry Forbes the Inventor. After the First World War, calypso’s flag bearers included Douglas, Houdini, Lord Executor (Philip Garcia), Atilla the Hun (Raymond Quevedo) and Roaring Lion (Raphael de Leon).
The art form, regarded as “the mouthpiece of the masses,” has traditionally rubbed those in authority the wrong way. As far back as 1938 officials have been trying to muzzle calypsonians.
Then Port-of-Spain mayor Garnette McCarthy said: “It is not right that any individual should be held up to calumny. If a man errs, I don’t think that person should be held up to ridicule by persons singing questionable songs about him. This practice must definitely stop.”
The mayor further recommended that the lyrics of calypsoes be submitted to the Carnival Improvement Committee (CIC) for vetting.
Seventy-five years ago CIC announced the first “official” calypso king competition. It was actually staged on Saturday, February 11, 1939, one week before Carnival Monday. Coming from Siparia, Growling Tiger won the title and the $20 first prize. He defeated Atilla the Hun and Pretender, singing The Labour Situation.
At Tiger’s crowning, then Port-of-Spain mayor Captain Arthur Cipriani said: “I am asked, ‘What is calypso? ‘A calypso is not the music of the masters of the past; it is not the music of the maestro of today. It is the long-lost art of the Muses.”
Calypso tents have come a long way, progressing from the days of earthen floors, thatched roofs and palm frond partitioning. Beyond Independence in 1962, we have seen the art form served by knowledgeable custodians like Syl Taylor, Carl “Jazzy” Pantin, Sonny Woodley, William Munro, Leon Noel and Claude Martineau.
This year, Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco) is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first calypso recording, “a historic milestone,” according to Tuco president Lutalo Masimba (Bro Resistance). The first tent to open its doors was Klassic Ruso, doing so last Saturday in Tobago. This tent features perennial crowd-pleaser All Rounder as well as Tuco North Zone officials Contender and Dr Will B, and former Road March champion Crazy.
Klassic Ruso Calypso Tent has scheduled its “official opening” at the auditorium of Port-of-Spain City Hall on Knox Street, tonight at 7 pm. The official opening of this tent will be a gala affair and it includes President Anthony Carmona who confirmed his attendance last weekend, adding that this was the first calypso tent he sang in, performing under the sobriquet of the Prophet of Sysiphus.
International Divas Calypso Cabaret, run by calypso historian Rudy Ottley, opened last Wednesday night at De Nu Pub (The Mas Camp), Woodbrook. The cast of this all-female tent includes former national calypso queen Karen Eccles Thomas, Stacey Sobers and Tenaj Smith.
Speaking to Pulse this week, former national calypso monarch Cro Cro (Weston Rawlins) was confident that he will have a calypso tent this year, though he previously said he was unable to produce a tent, because of being “victimised by Government,” by being denied funding from the State.
Cro Cro’s tent is being subsidised by calypso fan Denisha Mayers-Gardner, her family and supporters of Cro Cro. So confident is Cro Cro that he said he will hold “call-back auditions” tomorrow to decide on his final cast.
A mainstay at Cro Cro’s Icons tent since its establishment, Sparrow is again expected to be supporting the diminutive bard. If all goes well for Cro Cro, the People’s Icons Tent is expected to premiere its season around Valentine’s Day, February 14.
Traditionally Kalypso Revue has opened its season in Arima and this year is no different with the premiere billed for the Velodrome tonight. This tent boasts of having three national calypso monarchs on its cast including defending National Calypso Monarch Pink Panther, Chalkdust and Sugar Aloes.
Kaiso Karavan, home of Tuco East Zone chairman Johnny King and former national monarchs Scrunter and Kurt Allen, premieres tomorrow night at Eric Williams Auditorium, La Joya Complex, EMR, St Joseph.
On Sunday evening it is the turn of Kaiso House, which is travelling to south Trinidad for its premiere, at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, San Fernando. Like Kalypso Revue, this year this tent’s cast includes three national monarchs (Singing Sandra, Karene Asche, Duane O’Connor) plus 50th Anniversary of Independence monarch Chucky (Roderick Gordon) and former national calypso queen Twiggy (Ann Marie Parks-Kojo). The tent will have its Port-of-Spain opening at the Queen’s Park Savannah on Tuesday.
South tent Kaiso Showkase, led Ras Kommanda, will begin its programme on February 7, at Palms Club, San Fernando.
Kalypso Revue: SWWTU Hall, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain
National Calypso Monarch Pink Panther
de Mighty Trini
Kaiso House: Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain
Shradah Mc Intyre
Kaiso Karavan: Eric Williams Auditorium, La Joya Complex, EMR, St Joseph
International Divas Calypso Cabaret: De Nu Pub (The Mas Camp), Woodbrook
Karen Eccles Thomas
Lyncia Morris (Black Diamond)
Calika Grayson (Calika)
Lisa John (Diva)
Kalita Mayers (Kalita)
Heather Guerra (Simply Heather)
Kaiso Showkase: Palms Club, San Fernando
Akiel La Borde
Klassic Ruso: Calypso Tent City Hall Auditorium, Knox Street, Port-of-Spain
Dr Will B
Marva Mc Kenzie
Smurf D Jockey