“Carry on the tradition.”
I read that before he passed on, the Mighty Duke spent his last days in the studio of his Cocorite home, where he penned a calypso called the Dying Art. It apparently tells of the dying calypso culture being replaced by soca music. My old partner, Marty Raymond, also believes that Trinidad and Tobago’s culture is in transition, and as such, calypso and old mas culture is seeing its sunset.
Marty went on to say we are blessed in that during our lifetime. We experienced part of the “old-time” Trinidad and Tobago, which many seem to yearn for again. Marty really got me thinking. Would calypso soon be forgotten? I thought it would be helpful for me to speak to Aiyegoro Ome about the National Youth Action Committee (NYAC). I met him before, and I remembered just how passionate he was about the cultural development and our young people. So last Tuesday after work, I took a walk to 40 Duke Street in Port-of-Spain to chat with Ome, as well as to have a look at some of the talented young people auditioning for its calypso shows.
Ome sees artistic expression as the soul of a nation and the key to its social and moral development. In that context, calypso is a key part of our artistic expression and helps young people battle external influences, which he believes are more powerful than ever. He reminded me that most, if not all, of today’s top soca artists started with calypso. Many of these artists got their first exposure in competitions and shows organized by the NYAC. He called names like Machel Montano, Destra Garcia, Denise Belfon, and Shurwayne Winchester. Ome explains that they moved to soca for a number of reasons, including the financial rewards of soca and the apparent decline in popularity of the tents. But Ome firmly believes that calypso remains the secret ingredient in the soca art form.
In fact, not only does he believe that calypso is alive and well, but he also believes it will soon return to its previous levels of popularity. He cites as encouraging how artists like Montano and Winchester have collaborated with calypsonians like the Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose in recent years. Personally, I am not sure that traditional calypso would return to the prominence it once enjoyed, but I can clearly see that the art form is not being forgotten. My friend Bose talks about the need to attract the right people. We need more like Cyril Diaz, Joey Lewis, Duchy Brothers, and Roy Cape. We want to fall in love with calypso again. We want to smile at the lyrics, the way we did when Birdie and Melo had their great “battles.” We need to make it a little more difficult for the artists to think of deserting calypso.
The NYAC has five competitions for young artistes: the Calypso Pioneers Competition for youngsters aged five to nine; the Calypso Jewels Competition for youngsters aged nine to 12; the Calypso Juniors Competition for 12 to 15-year-olds; the Pathfinders Competition for 15 to 20-year-olds; and the Stars of Tomorrow competition for those up to 30 years old. I was able to view some youngsters auditioning, and I remember seeing this tiny little girl, who looked three or four years old, singing with the confidence and presence of someone many times her tender age. I was amazed. I also saw a line of young potentials going all the way down the stairway and almost pouring out onto Duke Street. Ome explained that everyone would receive constructive feedback on their performance. I saw some tickets in the NYAC office for the Pioneers and Jewels competitions, held on February 5 at Jean Pierre Complex from 10 am. American Tax Singapore
I was glad to see First Citizens were partly sponsoring the competition. I feel so good when I see companies being good corporate citizens! I was a bit disappointed that February 5 is a Thursday because I would have liked to attend with my two sons. Tickets and information on shows at Generation Next, Kalypso Revue, Icons Calypso Tent, and the various Tuco tents are available by ringing 821-5855. As always, I end by saying that we are so blessed to live in this beautiful country despite our challenges. We need to remember and acknowledge just how much uplifting work is being done all around us. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country as we move towards Vision 2020.
Note: The above reference link was live on December 2010, but it has since been taken down.