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A Real Surpriser: Obscure monarch, 86, still loves calypso, performing
Clevin “D. Surpriser” Romero sings on the porch of his daughter’s home in Mount Lambert, looking every bit the classic calypsonian in his trilby hat, shades, and a brightly colored Kaiso Karavan t-shirt. With an energy rare for someone in his eighty-seventh year, he wraps out the rhythm on the table with his knuckles and palm. “My instrument” he says, holding up his hand when he’s done. It is the only accompaniment Surpriser has ever used to compose the dozens of calypsos he’s written during a career that began in the 1950’s.
Dubbed “the oldest performing calypsonian” as of the end of 2017, crowned southern calypso monarch in 1971, and acknowledged as “my mentor,” by the widely-known Gypsy, few people know Surpriser today beyond a dwindling group of calypso contemporaries, his admiring family and friends, neighbors in Mayaro, and a handful of calypso aficionados. Despite the lack of recognition, Surpriser is as passionate about calypso now as he ever was, waking each morning, he says, “me mind hummin’ with calypso.”
A diminutive man with features reflecting his Amerindian heritage, Romero’s love for calypso began as a child growing up in the Gran Lagun community of Mayaro. A neighbor of the family with a gramophone gave the young boy free access to both the record player and record collection which included recordings by Growling Tiger, Roaring Lion, Lord Iere, and others. Surpriser’s performing sobriquet was discovered when as a young man Romero was asked to compose and perform a song to celebrate the return of actor and Mayaro native son Edric Connor to act in the Hollywood movie Fire Down Below.Following
Romero’s performance, the crowd enthusiastically congratulated the young singer as he climbed down from the truck that had served as his stage. One man pulled him aside, exclaiming “Clevin, boy, you really surprise me today.” Shortly after adopting his new moniker, Surpriser spent two years singing around the Caribbean as part of a traveling troupe that included an acrobat.
Surpriser made his Port-of-Spain debut in Growling Tiger’s tent in 1960. In addition to winning his southern monarchy crown in 1971, he took multiple calypso crowns in Chaguanas and Couva. In the 1960’s he ran the Chaguanas tent for five years with fellow calypsonian Alligator, employing a band made up primarily of musicians of East Indian descent. Surpriser reached the National Calypso Semi-finals in 1970 and 1971.
So why is Surpriser relatively unknown today? In the words of his daughter Carmsen Merrique, also mother of singer Ozy Merrique, “Dad was never interested in celebrity. He performed because he loved calypso.”
Another major reason for Surpriser’s relative anonymity is his lack of recordings. He entered a recording studio just once, in 1970, and it is unclear whether the song he recorded, Old Age is a Disaster, was ever released. Fortunately, a wonderful live version of the song, performed by Surpriser in Kitchener’s tent in the early 2000’s, does exist and has been aired on “Short Pants” MacIntosh’s radio show.
Surpriser is scheduled to appear tomorrow, Friday, January 19, in the Kaiso Karavan tent, La Joya Complex, Eastern Credit Union, EMR, St Joseph. The show starts at 8 pm.
BY J. HUNTER MOORE
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