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Pink Panther sings the blues
For those who may not know him, Eric “Pink Panther” Taylor has toiled long in the vineyards before reaching the pinnacle of calypso success this year. Taylor fulfilled a destiny ordained by the Lord Kitchener more than 30 years ago, when he lifted the 2013 Calypso Monarch crown on Carnival Thursday (February 7).
But having achieved that goal, Taylor is not sitting easy as he believes he was disrespected by National Carnival Commission (NCC) boss Allison Demas in the wake of his victory. Saying he was not invited to a single event after taking the $1 million monarch prize with his songs Travel Woes and Crying in De Chapel, Taylor told the Sunday Guardian, “It is a disrespect by the Carnival commission to the calypso monarch.
Besides not inviting me to Dimanche Gras, which is the NCC show, PanTrinbago didn’t invite me to Panorama finals, (William) Munro didn’t invite me to Soca Monarch finals, so it’s a disrespect to your calypso monarch.
“Maybe the calypso monarch has lost its edge, because even though she (Demas) didn’t invite me to Dimanche Gras, she could have invited me to the parade of the bands, or invite me to something, you are the NCC and this is your calypso monarch.” Taylor said he believed Demas’ decision was politically motivated, since Travel Woes had knocked the Government for its poor performance thus far.
“Allison Demas struck me at one time as someone who could maybe make a difference in the NCC and sadly, by what unfold there, she is driven by the political forces, because it is a political appointment in any case, so we could understand she may be under orders that you can’t embarrass the Government.
“So with all respect to Allison Demas, she play the game with them, so I don’t have that respect for her that I had because there is no way you could have your greatest show on earth (Dimanche Gras) and don’t have your calypso monarch in it.”
Accustomed to being underdog
Yet Panther, who celebrates his 53rd birthday next month, is accustomed to being an underdog. In fact, he had been blanked when he first tried to launch his professional calypso career during an audition at the Calypso Revue tent in Port-of-Spain in 1983. Then Revue tent manager, Jazzy Pantin, now deceased, listened to Taylor’s offering, a song titled Why We Ketchin We Tail, but gave him his marching orders.
The song had helped Taylor beat the seasoned Scrunter (Irwin Reyes Johnson) for the 1982 Sangre Grande Calypso Monarch crown as a youth a few years out of school.
Luckily for Taylor, also sitting at that rehearsal was Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts. The two crossed paths as Taylor was leaving the tent and Kitchener, perhaps seeing something no one else saw that day, since Scrunter too, saw his talent and invited him to the audition in the first place, reached out to Taylor.
“It was coincidence or divine ordinance that I met him (Kitchener) coming down the steps and he asked me the question ‘who wrote that song for you?’ Kitchener, from what I gathered, he always have that respect for the creativity in people, so once he find out I wrote that song he decide to take me under his wings. And that is where that journey started with Kitchener, until he died in 2000,” Taylor said in an interview at his Sangre Grande, home.
Taylor said for the next several years Kitchener accepted him like a son and taught him everything he knew. Lord Pretender and Chalkdust, two other bards who were close friends of Kitch, also often contributed to lessons Taylor received at Kitchener’s Rainorama, Diego Martin, home every Sunday. In fact, Kitchener and Pretender were so much a part of his life he had to take his wife, Eleanor, to them for their approval before their wedding and they also became godfathers for his first child, Ayanna, now 31.
Taylor believes, however, that he benefitted from all of Kitchener’s experience because of the respect he showed the legendary calypsonian. “I maintained that respect for him, that humility in his presence from 1983 until he died. I never say damn, and I could curse and thing eh, but I never say damn, or smoke a cigarette or anything like that in front of the Lord Kitchener.
“I want to advise the young ones, you might sing a song, you might get a few claps, but have respect for the elders, and possibly the elders will feel comfortable enough to pass on the knowledge they have about the art form to you. Don’t expect them to pass it on just so, it’s a two-way street, you have to show that respect to them.
“And sadly, I notice some of the young calypsonians, because they might go on stage and get a clap and win a title, somehow they forget that trajectory. That (disrespect) is something I think they could do without and it will help the art form eventually.”
Under Kitchener’s tutelage, Panther would go on to make a name for himself as a political and social satirist at the Revue. In creating his own brand, Taylor often mixed humour and aspects of dramatisation into his performances of songs, which all carried striking messages about the issues affecting society.
Among his notable songs prior to this year were A Captain’s Prayer, Mr Big Stuff, Laughing in de Ghetto, A Black Boy’s Reply, The Apology, and Misprint, which ranked 168th on the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation’s (Tuco) 200 best calypsoes of the 20th century list.
Chalkdust fills void after Kitch’s death
Taylor said Chalkdust, the man who penned both his winning compositions this year, filled the void after Kitchener’s death in 2000 and was like an uncle to him. He was quick to note that it was not until 2011, after Taylor unsuccessfully contested the Toco/Sangre Grande seat on a PNM ticket in the 2010 general election, that Chalkdust helped him out by writing songs for him.
Recalling he had to give up everything to fight the election—his Ministry of Community Development job, board positions at the NCC and TSTT, and a Tuco executive position—Taylor said Chalkdust first penned a song about his loss, then decided to help him on the road to recovery. Up to that point, Taylor said, he had written all his own songs.
“I want the world to know that the Misprint, the Apology, all them songs, I wrote my songs. But Chalkdust decide to help me, you understand, because he is an eight-time calypso monarch. He know the ropes with that Monarch thing, that Dimanche Gras thing, and he feel sorry for me then, to see how I lose everything... The following year, he say ‘come, ah go help you’ and he start to write lil songs for me and thing.”
Yet last August, while on vacation in New York, Panther said he had already written some 2013 material when he e-mailed Chalkdust and was told he too had a song for him.
“And when I came down I went by him and he singing this song for me with this ship, boy. ‘Ah walk the whole ah the waterfront...’ You know sometimes the Bible is right you know. Sometimes you have to accept things by faith, because I’ll tell you the truth, when he (Chalkdust) coast that song for me I ain’t feel nothing. I wasn’t impressed,” Taylor said with a beam in his eyes.
“And he realised that too, you know, because he tell me after ‘I see it on your face because like you didn’t ketch it.’ But I accept the song because I know he is Chalkdust and I know that he ain’t go write nothing stupid, you understand. So I accept the song by faith, I didn’t like it. And the rest, you know the history of that.”
He said Chalkdust knew he had the ability and experience to bring Travel Woes, a song highlighting the PP’s inability to deliver on its promise of good governance as it promised, to life. Chalkdust gave Panther only one tip on delivery. “Is like you have a tailor and he make the suit to suit you because you have your own way you does look. So he make the song for me cognisant of my style and how I deliver, especially them double things, them double meaning things, I love that too bad,” Taylor said.
“He only say ‘make sure you stress on the whole, because the whole have to tell ah story, about your stress, how you looking for this ship.’ So if you listening to the song you will hear how the whole coming out, ah kind ah lament.”
He thanked God for giving him the ability make adjustments to both songs so they would fit into the Pink Panther mould. He also cleared a misconception about Crying in De Chapel, noting it was written by Chalkdust in 2011 and not this year. The song had been written as a back-up for Savannah Kaiso, as Chalkdust felt he would have made the monarch final, but Taylor only reached the semi-final at Skinner Park.
Hours after his success this year, Taylor told the Sunday Guardian he planned to celebrate by donating some of his winnings to charity. During the interview, he said he plans to donate money to five schools which played a role in his development over the years—Diego Martin Government Primary, Upper Sangre Grande RC, North Eastern College, Bates’ Memorial High School and Tunapuna Girls’ RC.
He said while he attended the first four institutions, he was lifted by the support of pupils at Tunapuna Girls’ RC on the morning of the Calypso Monarch final, when he went there to judge at the school’s 2013 Carnival competition.
At the end of the event, Panther recalled, “The teacher say ‘well we have Pink Panther here and he is one of the finalists tonight in the calypso monarch, so who you rooting for?’ And the whole school, they bawl out, they scream out ‘Pink Panther!’ That might seem like nothing, but to me it give me a kind of pep in my step. So that’s my kind of official charity thing (to these schools).”
Taylor, who founded and runs the Sangre Grande Foundation, a charitable body which helps the needy, said he expects other people will come for help too and he will try his best to help them. Over the next couple months, however, he will spread himself thin at events across the Caribbean, England and the United States
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