Our Calypso Judges Must be Tired
As a former president of the Dominica Calypso Association (DCA) and one who has performed, composed and has judged calypso at the highest level here and in Trinidad, I have deep respect and appreciation for the unpaid work that judges do. So, I trust readers will find some merit in this week's column so that we can be on our guard just before the Calypso Finals event is staged. Note that this article is written and submitted long before the Semis but I requested it be published after so as to avoid influencing the judging.
On the issue of the quality of judging so far in the 2013 Calypso season, one Calypso fan hinted to me that the judges must have been paid off because it would seem that songs which put the government in questionable light were eliminated quickly and expeditiously. Therefore "Illegal Calypso King" was unfortunately axed at the eliminations; so too was "Ca eat Concrete" by the Lugars, a critique of the mode of development espoused by the ruling party, and though "Violence" is a social commentary probably the line that "Mister Peep, Peep" about a minister who seems oblivious to violence and keeps on merrily blowing his horns as he passes through a certain village, seems to have irked the powers that be.
Well, I could have easily fallen for those comments because they seem plausible; it is clear that the three compositions I mentioned and those who executed them were treated with a level of disregard. And if calypso is a people's art form, then, according to Sparrow "a million French men cannot be wrong". Firstly, this disregard is meted out to perennial and dedicated calypso writers like me who spend time and expend creative energies to create not just words but appropriate melodies for various artists for well over three decades.
While, for instance, I respect the boldness and novelty of "Rum and de Party", it is a song, I submit, that most of our established writers and composers could create during intermission time at the Quarters, so simplistic was the lyrical content and commonality of the melody.
Not only this, the presenter made significant errors but some people claimed poetic license and cunningly advanced, that being drunk was part of the presentation and of course you would expect a drunk man to forget his lines or mess up his timing. But how many lines are allowed to be forgotten or omitted in this exercise without being punished?
There were others who sang flat that night, and they were still "bailed" and given semi-final status while Lugars perished as some searched desperately to find a flaw to justify his omission.
"He was shouting…screaming," a few stated. But, surprisingly, only five points can be removed, according to the score sheet under rendition, with respect to these occurrences. So what about the regurgitated melody of Shakey's "Debar pou Debar"?
You mean this evaded all the judges as well as analysts on Q 95 who were apparently busy trying to force an unjustified claim that 'Violence" failed violently to hit a note. Well, if that's the yardstick for failing to advance, the beloved and prolific King NC would have never won a crown. You mean this song and its execution was so horrible that it could not find a place at number 20 to go into a semis? Can Chris B, with his "Violence" composition be accused of the same? For God sake, he was flawless on the night. Or was he misjudged because he blundered at the Stardom Tent.
I was one of the scores of persons who advised this artist just before going on stage to keep his composure, concentrate on delivery and not showmanship, and I am proud, as he should be, that he did. What about those who year after year, recycle lyrics and melodies and use tired clichés of patriotism and love of country?
Some judges, it would appear, come with preconceived judgments because they feel that certain calypsonians must be in, and then put in a couple more to make up the squad. Judging 66 calypsonians at the Eliminations is ridiculous and errors can possibly be overlooked, but not from the Quarters upward. These callous judgments are dangerous and show that the judges do not respect writers for their wittiness and artistry, the ability to use figurative language and metaphors and symbolism to evoke imagery, to cast aspersions, to make one reflect, cause introspection, create laughter, tears and evoke societal change.
If good compositions are continually put aside for personalities and popularities, our high standards of Calypsos created by Pat, Tim, Man Himself, NC, Tronada, Ras Kelly, PJ, Pelam and others will be quickly replaced by to mere jump and wave and the true essence of the art form will be lost because would-be- writers will come on stream by the droves to pen or chant sub-standard lyrics.
I don't totally blame the judges because some are certainly under pressure; others simply do not have what it takes but more likely they are tired. Imagine you are judging the same crop of calypsonians two or three times a season for the past 10 to 20 years undoubtedly you will have a certain mindset tailored by expectations and you will tend to be very lenient on the veteran as opposed to someone new.
By Ian Jackson