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Daniell: Upgrade needed in calypso judging
Calypso enthusiast Alvin Daniell contends that the time has come for a comprehensive upgrade in the adjudication system of calypso competitions.
Daniell made the comment in a paper titled Calypso 2014 delivered at A National Citizens’ Conversation on the Carnival, presented by the Artists Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago at Queen’s Royal College, Port-of-Spain, on Sunday.
Daniell was the first presenter at the event which began two hours later than the advertised 9 am start time, before a meagre audience of just 20 persons.
“Thirty years ago, the calypso tents held their opening night at the beginning of January and even as early as Boxing Day of the previous year,” he stated. “This allowed the tents to run for as long as six to eight weeks depending on the dates of Carnival. Thus, the preliminary judges could visit each tent twice, allowing them to better assess the songs and the performances by the calypsonians. Today, the judges are lucky if they get to visit a tent once, far more twice, as many of the tents open for just three to four weeks. The result of this is that many calypsonians are forced to sing to the judges on an assigned day, outside of the tent environment, when as many as a hundred artistes may perform. This hardly represents a fair platform for the assessment of the best songs at preliminary level.”
According to the organiser, the event was staged with the aim of “creating a Citizens Action Committee to intervene in ways that will rescue the Port-of-Spain Carnival from collapse.” It was carried live on Gayelle The Channel.
A number of speakers were expected to present on a range of topics on all aspects of the Carnival traditions and their current state. Confirmed speakers, the organiser said, included members of the steelband, mas, soca, chutney, and calypso fraternity, UWI and UTT lecturers, and activists from east Port-of-Spain.
Daniell went on to state that the selection of the 40 calypsonians for the semi-finals, increased from the former 24, was another bother. “No marks are released, just the names of the qualifiers,” he said. “If a calypsonian requests his marks, he or she is allowed to see it, but in isolation. This does not tell the inquirer where they placed and why.”
He said it was an exercise in secrecy for the competitors and the public, as even the judges were oblivious to how the final 11 to face the defending monarch were selected.
“Not that I doubt that a method is in place, but the transparency is not there, leading to widespread speculation that some sort of fixing of results may have taken place.”
He was also critical of the system that allows for separate judges to adjudicate lyrics, music and performance. “I am yet to understand how one can divorce lyrics from music in assessing the quality of a calypso,” he argued. “If that be the case why not put the judges in a room with the lyric sheets and let them mark it like a composition? Or when judging performance let them wear headphones to block out the song, so that they can concentrate on the performance only. Calypso is about the intimate marriage of lyrics and melody and many simplistic lyrics work best with the right melody. Truth is that it is not the system that is at fault but the quality of the judges.”
His recommendation for an upgrade in the adjudication process includes going back to 24 contestants in the semi-final, singing two calypsoes each, and selecting 11 to compete against the reigning monarch.