Dilemma of the Calypso Writer and Composer
With the Calypso finals on this weekend and with it the small number of song writers and even in shorter supply, composers, I wish to draw reader's attention to the dilemma that these writers and composers face annually. Some of our best and most prolific calypso writers such as Pat Aaron, Freddy Mendes, Tim Durand, Trini, Noche, Pelam Jno Baptiste, Patrick John, Norman "NC" Cyrille, the late Allan Jno Baptiste and Ian Jackson (not in any particular order), have not been treated fairly by many of our artistes.
There are some who sing compositions and do not let the public know who the composer is and thus take all credit for themselves. There are others who employ five or six composers and don't even have the courtesy to inform him that his song was not chosen. Quite a few writers have painstakingly put their all into composing for a calypsonian who approached them sometimes in desperation, only to hear from the grapevine, or witness the artist themselves on stage, delivering another composition. Quite a few calysonians are guilty of this. This demonstrates not just a lack of respect for the writer but also a lack of confidence and borders on dishonesty.
Most composers, fortunately or unfortunately, do not have control over an artist as Pat Aaron has; he actually presides over his tent, Mas' Camp, and so has a level of control as to the use of his compositions on stage and in the calypso competitions. Many composers do not sign contracts and hence don't feel committed to pay writers or to honour verbal agreements following the receipt of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for their performance or as cash prizes. In Dominica once you try negotiating an agreement with someone, particularly when it come to intellectual property, that person tries to tarnishing your name by stating that you are greedy. Most see nothing wrong if a finalist makes say $5000 and the writer receives almost nothing or nothing at all! Hence composers like me, have been vilified for requesting just 15-20% of the prize or performance intake when international standards dictate that composers should receive anything from 40% upward. For instance, composers in Trinidad and several other countries in the region and of course internationally receive 40% and to prevent exploitation of the writer and /or composer the artist is asked to pay a deposit up front.
It is obviously much more courteous to work with the writer that you have approached to get the final production to the point where you feel comfortable; there is no need to have Trini, Pelam, Freddy and Pat writing for you all at the same time, and then you discard their work, at your fancy, without giving any consideration for the effort and dedication they have put into the song.
Performance rights societies realize that without the composer there is literally no song or artiste; hence both are given equal respect and remuneration. Copyright, one would expect, resides with the author or composer for a whole generation, for 40 or more years.
Who then compensates the writer and or composer for work rejected by calysonians who sometimes literally beg for calypso compositions? Dice, Hunter, Daddy Chess, Observer, Karessah, and indeed Bobb in recent times, I have found to be quite capable of doing their own compositions even if they need to consult some more experienced writers to tweak their compositions. Certainly the writing pool needs to be broadened because stereotypes are beginning to show up in the political satire of Pat or in the melodic lines of NC or the non- partisan instructive lyrics of Tim Durand or perhaps, the witty deliberate compositions of Man Himself. We lack confidence to move away from the mindset that anything written by a particular writer will have more weight than another. That may be so to some extent because writers are gifted persons who have a God-given way with words; but what is even more significant is that mediocre songs have made it big based on the artist and his/ her execution of the song. The timing of a composition also makes it relevant. These are all factors that can earn you a spot in the finals.
Good compositions, conversely, get lost if they are not rendered effectively. It is difficult to determine, for instance, if it's Pat or Dice himself who is more responsible for the latter's success. If it's the writer are we saying that if anyone else writes for Dice he will not win the crown? Or vice versa; that is, if someone else sings Dice's compositions will he/she win the crown? I believe that if Dice had Vigilante's compositions last season or Soul Puss' a couple years ago, he could still win the crown. Hence both the performer and the writer are equally important. Therefore, calypsonians should focus more on their artistry as opposed to employing numerous writers hoping to prop their own performance deficiencies.
I also believe that a complete calypsonian is one who composes and executes his lyrics just as Solo, Haxey, NC, Musician, Ras Kelly, Senator, Rabbit, Wizard and so many others have done. If one does not aspire to do so, then, you will always be singing someone else's lyrics, beliefs, and political persuasions. You can even be manipulated by being used as a vehicle to vent opinions that you do not necessarily agree with.