Dominica's Best Calypsos and Calypsonians… Ever
We have had, literally, thousands of calypsos over the past 54 years of calypso competitions in Dominica and as a writer of the Arts for two decades I feel it's incumbent on me to record for posterity what I think is the best in the art form coming from Dominica.
I have been motivated to provide that information because of the fact that DBS, the Nation Station, did not keep its promise to provide such a selection, hence I do this to provoke discussions on Calypso Night, with pundits such as Ossie Lewis, Ray Blackmore, Alvin Knight, Randy Aaron, Lennox Linton, Cecil Joseph, Mighty Robin, the Calypso Association President Ras Kelly and critics such as Duncan Stowe, Carlisle Jno Baptiste and the Calypso crew on Q 95 FM. Yes, I would relish your discussion.
Certainly, I do not claim to know it all and I know I don't, except that I feel qualified and knowledgeable enough to tread where others seem to fear; hence, if I get an 85% pass in my assessment, then, this exercise would have been well worth the effort.
One would appreciate, however, that this cannot be done in a vacuum and so I advance three basic criteria used in making my assessment: impact/appeal, longevity, creativity and content (i.e. lyrics, melody etc.) In each category, that is, the 12 best Calypsos and the 12 best calypsonians. I have attempted to put the first four in order of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively. The others are not necessarily in any order. So now we know the bench mark I used, here goes this herculean task:
12 Best Calypsos 12 Best Calypsonians
Mas in de Cemetery- King Solo Dice
Humble Servant- King Ency(NC) Ency
Unarmed and a Dangerous-Hurricane Solo
Animal Farm –King Dice Idol
Feed My Brother- Wizard Hunter
Brothers For Me- Dice Scrunter
Hold my Head Up High-Tronada Spider
Internet Children- Lugars Hurricane
One Flag- Hunter Saint
Keep the Candle Burning- Brakes Spark
Venus/Shilo - Scrunter/Spider Breaker Forward We Go- Daddy Chess Karessah
Now, let me now provide some rationale based on the criteria used for drawing such conclusions for the best Calypsos. In terms of longevity, all true calypso fans 35 years and older would be able to assess that Mas in de Cemetery is one of Dominica's most creative, and longest surviving Calypsos, created since 1976 and is still being played and enjoyed on the streets of Roseau today. NC's Humble Servant is probably the national anthem of all Calypsos ever created up to 2013 and easily fits in the top three. It is also one of two Calypsos apart from Dice's Animal Farm which has been a classic.
Of course Unarmed and Dangerous by King Hurricane can go down as his best and most insightful and, I dare say, prophetic contribution to the art form. Dice's Animal Farm and Brother for me are two of his greatest socio-political compositions to my mind penned by the prolific Pat Aaron while Wizard's Feed my Brother is one of the few Calypsos for this grouping which addressed international issues at the time and could be an anthem to the world in addition to his brilliant execution of that piece.
Tronada is the second of Dominica's youngest Monarchs who created an impact in Calypso in 1981 when he won three crowns in that year, SMA, Junior and National Monarch) and had everyone singing 'Hold my head up high' in unison. Hunter has created a lot of good songs such as Cry of de Paro, We will Survive, Carl Dey Joking; hence it was difficult to settle with 'One Flag', but the fact that the latter has become a national anthem to galvanize the people at various events including Independence for a number of years has helped; additionally, the reggae version done by Caribbean Vibes lead vocalist has brought new meaning and relevance helping it to edge out his other compositions.
Few will argue however that Keep the Candles Burning has been Brake's signature piece and between you and me, deserving to be in any top ten. Spider's Shiloh is one of his most profound compositions but so is Scrunter's patriotic Venus. So someone will have to help me here. The former is one of best arranged and regionally recognized, having been recorded in Trinidad using TNT musicians and clean sounding studio facilities. "Forward we go' has been adopted by the Government Band and it has converted this into a military march. This song represents the best ever of Daddy Chess.
Indeed, very few can out do this composition as a powerful patriotic tool encouraging and spurring on the nation to progressive action. Finally, 'Internet Children' arguably has been one of Dominica' most impacting calypsos outside the dominance of the Dice era over the past decade, and has created a new buzz word "Internet Children" or 'They want it now' when making reference to the young generation. Now buses, restaurants and even ministers of religion and Government officials refer to it in their sermons, speeches and places of business.
In conclusion, selecting the best calypsonian was not as challenging since there are only three kings who have won three crowns successively - De Idol, Solo and Dice have already picked themselves. NC has done so also by virtue of winning four crowns and also winning two sub-regional titles, the second most crowned calypsonian after DICE.
Meanwhile, although Hunter is undoubtedly Dominica's most recognized, renowned and marketed calypsonian, we cannot forget the stellar years of the recordings of the 'Brotherly Brothers' or when Hurricane and Scrunter dominated the 80's. Saint and Spark of the 70's, as those previously mentioned, are part of the ten kings who won these titles twice or more in their careers. Few would argue that Karessah whom I give the title as Dominica' s most complete calypsonian, for orchestrating his presentations, composing and performing his own songs , plus having won the crown twice and has also placed 1st runner-up on three occasions, is a resume sufficient to be in the top 12. To top it all, the older revelers and fans would have no difficulty in giving the 1967 and 1968 king, Lord Breaker, one of Dominica's most flamboyant performers and vocalists (only rivaled by the Super L) and subsequent lead vocalist of the acclaimed Gaylords Power Union, as one deserving to be in the top 12.