Considered one of the most articulate and formidable social commentators in calypso during the tumultuous Black Power era of the ’70s, circumstances of a tough life in San Juan guided Explainer (Winston Henry) to the art form. “I left school prematurely through poverty,” revealed the calypso elder. “My parents couldn’t even afford to buy books for me. I grew up in the rough days in San Juan. I could have gone either way—be very bad or try to be good, and make something of myself. I always had the belief that something was out there for me. I chose the calypso art form as I believed in myself that I had the ability of composing and was blessed with a good voice. Also, I thought I was better looking than many of the calypsonians back then.”
Upon dropping out of school prematurely, Explainer worked as a welder/straightener in the bus company. He said: “Anybody who worked there then would tell you that I was always singing calypso. As a little boy, I played football and cricket, but preferred being a footballer. People in San Juan would remember me as a goalkeeper. I was called ‘The Flying Dutchman’. My heroes then were Clive Burnett, Malvern’s goalkeeper, and Lincoln Phillips, from Maple. “As for the best cricketer I have seen, I can’t pick one. I love some of them for different things. But, the last best cricketer I’ve seen was Brian Lara. I had the opportunity of seeing the ‘Master Blaster’ Sir Vivian Richards, Conrad Hunte, Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith play for West Indies, and they were among the best ever in the game.
“On the English side my favourite included Ted Dexter, while men like Richie Benaud and Allan Davidson, a great swing bowler, were two of my favourites in Australia. “I have always had a passion for sports and, it’s no secret that horse racing is my hobby. I love seeing horses run. My first wife left me for horse racing and gambling on the horses.” Seeking to clear the fallacies behind his calypso career, Explainer said: “There are a lot of myths surrounding my career, one of them being that I was teacher. Some people even swear that I taught them in school. The truth be told, how could I have been a teacher when I left school in third standard?”
Explainer began his professional career as a calypsonian in 1969 with the South Zone tent. He explained: “In those days it wasn’t easy to get into a calypso tent in Port-of-Spain. In town there were just two tents, run by Sparrow and Kitchener. Filled with all the stars and big guns, a small, new calypsonian now coming out there had to be extremely talented and dynamic to even step foot on a stage. “In 1970 I came to town when there was a break up with some of the top calypsonians going to Blakie’s tent. I made my move with some of the young bards. I am the only one who’s lasted till today.
“My first song was called The Thoughts of the Inventors, and I sang it in the Calypso Revue, then located at Legion Hall, on Independence Square. The tent was run by Jazzy (Pantin) and Sonny (Woodley), with Kitchener as its star. Black Stalin was the emcee/singer.
“Most people don’t know that Stalin, Valentino and I lived by Kitchener, in Semper Gardens, Diego Martin. Kitchener was a hard task master and he instructed Stalin, in his stuttering manner, ‘doh give dat boy any songs to sing. Let him learn to write his own calypsoes’. That was one of the best things he ever did for me. “Kitchener was a mysterious man, and he had a comprehensive knowledge of calypso history and how to compose and sing a good calypso.
He could simply watch a young singer and know whether he would be a successful calypsonian, or would be a one-tune, flash in the pan. I think Stalin has that same kind of gift, as he learned that from Kitchener.” Disclosing that he has shared a “special” bond of friendship with Stalin and Valentino, Explainer said: “Dr Leroy Calliste is the best person to go to find out anything you want to know about Kitchener, or calypso. Most of what I have learned I learnt from Kitchener, Stalin, Superior and Sparrow.” Explainer lamented the lack of respect, contempt even, young calypsonians have for their elders. He said: “Today, young singers do not look at old singers. Some of them venture into this art form with a certain degree of animosity towards the older guys. In this country, plenty people feel that once a person passes 70, they should simply find a hole and die, with their knowledge and talents dying with them.
“We are a people who believe that you must destroy before you can build. In the more developed world, when you enter a university, you encounter professors at 70, some approaching 80, still teaching. “I want to place emphasis young people as, when the new era begins, to change you have to look at the youth. When I was coming out, people like Stalin, Bro Superior and the late Ras Shorty I, always tried to give me an open space. I am merely giving back the kind of reception I walked into as a youth. “Back in the day, calypso had hardcore, seasoned calypsionians. When 18 kaisonians were selected for a contest, it was the real deal, everybody came with a gun. It was much harder then for a youth to enter calypso arena than it is today.”
Explainer said there are a few young calypsonians today who have any hope of longevity in the art form, but he is optimistic that they can take it further, especially internationally. “Calypso is not dying,” he said, but it is suffering with some complications that if not properly attended to with good medication will truly become deceased. For instance, we have to change our attitude and strategy of operating. We need to attract, what I would to call, ‘international attachés’, to our organisation, whereby we could make plans to internationalise the art form and take it worldwide.
“We cannot only depend on the organisation being only filled with calypsonians, and not necessarily embrace people who have corporate and marketing skills, to take the art form to another level. We cannot continue to only think about competition. Where has competition taken calypso? Nowhere! Calypso is just suspended in the air, going nowhere fast. “I honestly believe Lutalo Masimba (Bro Resistance) possesses the leadership qualities to take calypso and Tuco forward but he must have the affiliation of skillful and knowledgeable expertise around him, something which he doesn’t have in abundance.
“Everybody’s complaining about the lack of airplay for calypso, which is true. Calypso needs to have its own radio station, but the trick is how Tuco goes about achieving this milestone. This is one of the reasons why the organisation badly needs to include experts in the corporate field. The transition must begin now if calypso is to be stronger and have a chane at longevity. “I intend to take a two year course in radio, and I am going to produce my own programmes on calypso. I have enough knowledge and experience to impart and share the wealth of what is within me.
• A Blast From the Past celebrates Explainer’s 43 years in calypso. The one-off production is scheduled for next Wednesday at De Nu Pub (The Mas Camp) in Woodbrook. Opening for Explainer are Black Stalin, the first man to put him on a calypso stage; Singing Sandra, who was his neighbour in Belgrade Street, East Dry River; 2012 Independence Monarch Chucky; 2011 National Monarch Karene Asche; Devon Seales, and two youngsters—Rondell Donawa and Lady Melody. The show will be emceed by Godfrey Pierre, with musical accompaniment by Cummings & D Wailers.