Song writer's dilemma: twavay pou anyen
On the heels of the Dominica Calypso season the call has been made, and is being made just as it was for last month's DBS Christmas song contest for writers to put pen to paper. Well, by now most writers have done so. However, when we speak of Calypso writers we are really referring to a perennial group of about five who year to year are responsible for some 80% of compositions which make it to the semis at least. They are Pat Aaron, Tim Durand and Ian Jackson; over the past five years or so Pelam Jno Baptiste and previously the once prolific Freddy Mendes of blessed memory.
I pause to recognize the contributions of Patrick John, Noche, Steve Hyacinth, Wizard, Ras, Senator and the NC from his overseas base, who make their contribution from time to time. Of course Karresa, Hunter and a few others are gifted and more adept to composing their own material and have done 85%-100% of their work over the years.
However this previously elite annual song writing group, can easily been narrowed to just four over the past two decades; Tim, Pat, Mendes and Jackson. The latter three had been the most prolific and have even extended their work to the Monarch on an annual basis. 'Sir Mendes' is no more, and so this leaves three who can be termed prolific to varying degrees.
I can't speak for all the song writers but I would say that as the composer who have won the most competitions in Dominica: a combination of DOMFESTA, DBS Christmas song, Mother's Day Song Contest, CBU Song Contest, Calypso and other song contests, that the lack of recognition and ingratitude meted out to the song writer/composer is a cause for great concern.
The new trend in prizes for many song contests which require original compositions has been payment in kind particularly since FLOW and Digicel are the two telecoms companies involved in sponsoring almost every major event on island. So, when laptops, cell phones, IPad are given and LIAT or Express des Iles offer a prize trip for two to winners then there is no monetary rewards, nothing for the songwriter. Most times not even a mention on the registration forms; ironically there sometimes is a space for this information.
I will be the first to say that in my 40-year career I have never requested any monies for the well over 200 junior calypsonians I have written for and I can count on one hand those who by way of their parents, wards or themselves have thanked me or given a stipend in appreciation for assisting their son or daughter. This argument can be extended to other competitions as some of my writing colleagues will confirm.
Some of us are not just writers; we compose, that means the melody, arrangements and even assist in demo-recordings and the recordings themselves. We also take time off our busy schedules when parents are even too busy to be there to transport children to and from practices to ensure that the band and the artiste gets it right. In other words we take a keen interest in our work from the composition stage to actual delivery.
Is the public aware that when writers like myself compose we pay to come to the shows and look at our own artiste who we comfort and reassure. For many artistes, particularly junior competitions, can be a very unnerving activity. We also assist with their props and so on.
We don't get a ticket, with the exception of the senior Calypso shows, because other show organizers only give or can only afford two complimentary ticket. Surely, we as writers cannot deprive the young artiste from giving one ticket to his mother, father, sister or even girlfriend even if they never came to one practice! So, we have to pay at the gate as any other patron.
Then in several song competitions the song writer's name is with- held by organizers and even the calypsonians themselves who many times take the credit citing: 'I gave him the ideas'; 'I that start it'; 'he just fix it up me'; 'I give him de topic' - all in an effort to deprive the writer the credit he deserves. One guy told me to sign a contract, take them to court and my response was: "we sometimes do enter a written contract, but would you pay a lawyer thousands of dollars to represent your case of a few hundred knowing full well that the case will be called after five years and you would have been to the courts scores of times because of postponements?"
Song writing is indeed "ungrateful business" and don't be surprised that after a career of writing hundreds of songs some of us may just call it a day.