Calypso Commentary- Ethics and Judging
When a Calypso writer spends hours and sleepless nights putting a song or composition together and in a few seconds or minutes a commentator or a so-called critique or analyst goes on the radio because he has access, unfettered or otherwise, and tears a song or a performer to threads, the Calypso art form suffers.
As a leading writer, I feel I have a duty and a responsibility, having been blessed with a voice as a columnist on the arts. I write in defense of Pat Aaron (our leading Calypso writer) Pelam Jno Baptiste, Tim Durand, Jerry Lloyd, Hunter, Karessa, Man Himself, Noche, Allan Jno Baptiste, Patrick John, NC (living or deceased, prolific or not). They all contribute and have contributed to this great art-form of Calypso.
It is easy for one to critique because you don't have to be qualified to do so. The only qualification required is being on the air with a microphone and possess an invisible label called Calypso fan. Praise God, there is one so-called critique who has reduced himself to making calls via the telephone after tons of unsavory and damaging comments in the past.
In my view, critiquing is good for the art but it must be done within certain parameters: (a) One cannot search out a song to present to the public before a competition, to indicate that this song is a replica of another. This is a blatant effort to destroy as no composer seeks out to copy material previously produced. It must be noted since music only has seven letter names that melodies may sound alike from time to time, but once it does not go overboard (four musical bars) it cannot be determined to be a copy.
(b) A critique particularly in a small country like Dominica should (if he feels so strongly) approach the said writer or performer on his concerns but should never air them publicly before a competition. Even if the writer ignores him because the competition is being judged, ethically he should refrain from a comment which has the potential to taint the composition and skew the judge's pens accordingly. After the said competition one has a free reign to go all out publicly.
I can tell you if Duncan Stowe, or Ossie Lewis, says something about a composition, one should be concerned. They have shown over time the knowledge, ability and reasoning to support claims. Though when the latter likes an artiste, you know. So I stick with Duncan as my best comments-man on the subject.
I note "Wackers", as a musician of long standing, and Degallaire are developing nicely as regular critiques. Personally I won't go further than those mentioned. (c) A critique should know what constitutes a musical bar or be musically knowledgeable enough to know when someone hits a wrong note. In Dominica such ability is, at most, questionable because there are guys who say every year an individual has the same song but the commentator can't point out structures in the composition to support his claims.
(d) There are quite a few critics who mistake style for plagiarism. Dice has a style unique to him, and so before he sings his melodies, musical arrangement, rhythm and structure prepares you for his entrance. For instance, all Sour-Sour composition has a conch shell as part of the arrangement- this is the music composer's style but surely all Sour's songs are different in terms of melody, topic and message. Style can be influenced by drum patterns, minor or diminish chords, progressions, as in calypsonian Bingo's "Kaiso Workshop" or Mighty Chalkdust or Shadow with his pronounced basslines. There is nothing wrong with this!
No wonder Tronada felt aggrieved the year before, when unwarranted critiques of his song was meted out and he took the culprits to task in song. This year Bingo is again warning the judges and based on that warning they still seem to not have gotten it when Mighty D, the 19-year-old was omitted at the expense of better known calypsonians. Ironically it was to my mind a boldface omission to leave out "Boldface thief" at least for the semis. This is a qualified opinion. I was flabbergasted when I heard one critic comment negatively about the structure of a particular song. Then in his summation gave him a ridiculously high score for the same song…confusing!
This is why the commentator should not cast judgement. He is to comment...make informed comments. He is like a judge providing guidance, painting the picture as it unfolds and the Calypso adjudicator is like a jury in the court room to decide on fate- guilty or not. Commentator can't, or should not, search for evidence to compare a singer's composition. Yes, they can comment that this melody does not sound authentic to them having equipped themselves with the knowledge of musical bars and patterns and what is acceptable in the competition. However, it is out of their jurisdiction, to provide or seek out evidence as a prosecutor would. This is unethical.
For instance, years ago when a calypsonian repeated a line or even an entire verse it was scored down by judges only to find there is nothing in the judging criteria that justifies removing points for repetition. This misnomer was propagated by commentators themselves and swayed public opinion.
One calypsonian who was deemed to be guilty of this many years ago defended this by saying it was done for emphasis-now who could disagree with that as long as the lyrics are cohesive and make sense? After all choruses are repeated and sometimes composers customize them to suit the verse in question.
Still it is noted that there are, and have been, calypsonians who are repetitive with themes and so could justifiably score low in creativity, lack of imagination, in contrast to a Jaydee who would score very high in that category this year. But this is just one analogy and one category; there is more to Calypso.
Finally, commentators do have power. We listen to them and almost take it for granted that they know what they are talking about. That is why Calypso talk-shows are very popular. Therefore, one must be careful with distasteful commentary. They must not skew comments based on their political or social standing.
The Calypso must be assessed and commented on based on the song, nothing more, not even the presenter is the Mighty DBS or King Dice. Show respect.