Nationals agree that the calypso art form is an indispensable part of carnival. Calypso tents have had the full support of the community which considers tents critical to the perfection of the art and provide that momentum which has kept the carnival spirit alive through the years. Competition night has always attracted mammoth crowds.
It is widely believed that calypso had its origins in slavery.
Composers used dialect to convey veiled messages that were understood only by the slaves. Their calypsos served as a medium to make fun of the planter class, expose social weaknesses and comment on issues such as infidelity, infertility, incest and cruelty. It was, perhaps the one domain in which they enjoyed a measure of superionty.
Some researchers have linked the evolution of calypso lyrics to the call/refrain pattern of orthodox church services and the choruses of traditional hymns.
Formal calypso competitions, in St. Kitts began in the 1950’s and developed over the years, influenced by factors such as the socio-economic climate, national accomplishments and the introduction of other forms of music such as soca.
Our Veteran calypsonians have undoubtedly, made invaluable contributions to calypso.
The Mighty Saint intrigued audiences with the latest ‘melee’, Lord Harmony produced hits fort he road, King Monow, Lord Mike and Elmo Osborne sang on topical Issues.
The Mighty Kush, though witty, drew attention to problems that needed to be rectified. In one calypso he sang of a woman who stepped out of her house to dump garbage, but ended up sailing down College Street Ghaut on the garbage pan. Although the audience laughed, the point was well taken.
The Mighty Professor, calypso King of the 1960’s, is gifted at extempo. “Santa Claus is coming to Town” provoked mixed reactions. Professor Insists that his calypsos were not demeaning to women but were varied, ambiguous, creative and humorous.
Having no stage props, the veterans relied heavily on strong lyrics and stage personality for effectiveness. Their bands were small and had limited volume.
Today criticisms are levelled at calypsonians who feel that props and a large dramatic crowd on stage perfect the presentation. Although there is room for this, many agree that props must serve to complement rendition, delivery and stage presence.
Former King Mallet sees lyrics as a group of words or lines or stanzas that are meaningful and directly relevant to the sub-theme or overall theme of the calypso, with literary elements such as rhythm, rhyme, metre and figures of speech. Lyrics can be very simple, yet effective. Musical rendition is equally important. Composers such as Val Morris, Will Richards, Wingrove, Kenrick and Nigel Williams, Ellie Matt, Vincent Byron Junior, Gairy Knight, Geoffrey Brookes and Adrian Lam are to be complemented for the calypso music they arranged.
It is felt, that from 1987 when road march winners were the popular bands and not the calypsonlans, road march tunes have seldom captured the merriment of carnival but have encouraged violence in the bands.
In reflection, we cannot underestimate the role of the Junior Calypso contest as a training ground for calypsonians. in this respect, Starshield, Monarch, Contender, Keebo and Singing Janet have stood out. Seasoned calypsonians who have given unselfishly of their time to go into the schools and assist the youngsters deserve our admiration.
One area of concern is the limited involvement of women In calypso. Among the reasons advanced are: calypso is still a male domain; women do not have the time; they are shy; avery high pitched femalevolce, no matter how melodious, provokes laughter from the crowd and is very discouraging. Even though the name of the show has been changed to calypso Monarch contest, the public perceives the show as a calypso King competition. Women therefore feel excluded under that title. Everyone agrees that there is much women can contribute and they should be given every encouragement.
Another concern which has been expressed relates to the tendency for many senior calypsonians to attack politicians, sometimes almost to the point of libel. Nothing is wrong with political commentary but it should not suggest a dearth in topics neither should It be used to create monotony. Our calypsonians have to reach for that holistic blend of rich and varied lyrics and “bouncy” lively music.
1977 to 1987 stand out as a ten year period of ‘stiff’ competition between Ellie Matt and Starshield. Ln thls period, hundreds of dollars changed hands through betting. Supporters of ElileMatt and Starshield went to Warner Park hours before the start of the show to support their idols. Starshield describes this as the period when “calypso was at its peak and the spirit of competition was at the highest level ever”.
We acknowledge the sterling contributions of past sub-committee chairmen Hugh Rawlins, Ashton Leader and Thomas Williams who encouraged greater participation and improved calypso standards.
Former King Sweeney fittingly summarises the2l year period thus: “Calypso has served as a vehicle for change, progress and national development, a medium for education, a source of entertainment, a voice for nationhood and a catalyst to promote the advancement of our rich cultural heritage”.