Freddy's last war cry: "Aiyayyieeeeeeee."
Shock gripped me when I heard the news of the death of the gentleman I rate as the best Calypso writer in Dominica, Freddy "Man Himself" Mendes. Yes, Pat Aaron is the most prolific and certainly one of the best ever but when it comes for craft, wit and composition development Man Himself is second to none.
He will not only be missed for several years for the classics he sang himself as 'Minister Playing Sport' or 'Crazy' but for his work with Superior Picky for decades, for Kings Hurricane, Scrunter, Lady Star and scores of St Martin school calypsonians as well as a host of other junior national competitors.
It's not at all funny how our people thrive on silly remarks in times of sorrow and serious introspection suggesting that disagreements with Picky foreshadowing his inevitable demise all had something to do with our present loss. But the Calypso family is quite aware of that for the past 15 years or so. This year has become Freddy's last although he always announced his resignation.
Such was his love affair with the art form that he took the opportunity to educate and even to be controversial in Hurricane's 'One Party State' or just a few weeks ago in 'Me Partner Eluid'. Oh, how good he was with words! Subtly but inoffensively he got his message across. His mastery of the English language through the use of metaphors, imagery, pun, satire and wit was unsurpassed. His war cry 'Aiyayayayieeeeee' was known by all and he delighted in this trade mark image. He was a huge bear of a man on stage but as gentle as a kitten; soft spoken, unruffled, yet he got his point across.
Mendes was not just a calypsonian, writer or composer but he was a reference book of sorts. There was no better student and tactician who was knowledgeable on the history of Calypso and had an extensive collection of the Trinidadians greats both on CD and on DVD.
He was always concerned about fairness, equity, hence his last composition...how else he could have expressed it but as he says in song "Only Calypso" which gave him the platform. The Calypso stage became his new would-be pulpit which was once his heart's desire...but alas! He still remained true to his faith even up to the very Sunday before he departed his guitar accompanied him not only for Calypso composition but at his church.
I have experiences some deaths in the Calypso fraternity but never had one had so impact on me and, I dear say, the art form. He was more than a calypsonian: a teacher, a writer, guitarist, composer...a man, a pleasant one. One who assume position number one at calypso competitions when all shied away. If you dipped number one just look for Freddy for an exchange and this was never a problem particularly as he was happy to leave the show to get back to baking his bread , something which I suspect was more of a pastime (as was dominos) than a means to supplement income.
This year Freddie and I probably conversed more than ever before about Calypso, judging criterion and so on at the Harlem Plaza as we both assisted our participants at the Junior Monarch rehearsals.
When most were overly concerned about brass parts at rehearsals 'Man Himself' was more concerned about lyrics and less on perfection of arrangements though I must confess this sometimes proved his folly.
Still one realised he was not about the money, fame, or positions on executives which he turned down after having served a couple terms. It was all about getting his message across. Therefore, as long as he felt that it happened whether it was after the competition as has happened on occasions, Man Himself, as far as he was concerned, mission accomplished.
Now the elder statesman of Calypso has left us, the last of the true calypsonians of the Eighties who sing and compose their own and for so many others.
I trust that the Dominica Calypso Association and or/the Stardom Tent can find a way to keep his memory alive probably through a scholarship, a room in the Kaiso House, a composer award in Man Him self's name...something! Calypsonians and lovers of the art are again reminded that life is short and I personally call upon those who read my article to do some introspection and make the Creator part of the life we live for, after all, it is he who gives up life and talent and he can call on us any time.
It's good for man to remember us but better for us to find favour with our Maker....this is my cry 'ayeyayieeeeeee'
Condolences are extended to his family, friends, fans, students and staff of the St Martin Secondary School, and my colleague Rena. Rest in peace, Freddy 'Man Himself' Mendes.