CARNIVAL, COSTUMES AND CALYPSO
September 26, 2006
Back in the day, calypso and Carnival went hand in hand. There was mas and there was calypso. People crowded into popular calypso tents like the Kaiso House and Calypso review to see talented calypsonians like Roaring Lion and Lord Kitchener perform their songs.
But like ole time mas, ole time calypso is slowly becoming a thing of the past, a lost icon. That’s not to say that calypso tents and ole time calypsonians no longer exist…they’ve just become rarer and harder to find, like vinyl records and floppy disks. Luckily, hope thrives in odd places.
On Carnival Friday, many schools – primary and secondary – host Carnival parades that typically include some competitive calypso element. I remember being a back up singer for one of my friends in primary school who was preparing to compete in one our school’s infamous calypso sing-offs. It was a huge deal, with costumes, lots of make-up and microphones!
The story would usually go like this. After Christmas vacation, one of our English assignments would be to write a calypso. It had to have a chorus and four verses (how I remember all this, I have no idea.) Oh yeah, and it had to rhyme. It was a fun homework project for me because 1) writing a funny song didn’t really seem like homework and 2) I was really into rhyming at the time. If I was at home right now, I’d look through my old stack of copybooks to find one of my classic calypso compositions to share with you, but since I’m not in Trini, I’m going to take a guess that most of our songs probably went something like this:
Everybody loves Carnival in dis country
Because we in T&T really like to party
Jumping in de road on Carnival Tuesday
Is de best time of year to break away
Jump, jump, jump
And play yourself today
Carnival is the time
to break away
And after everybody submitted their songs, the teacher would return them to us graded and pick the best ones and maybe stick ‘the chosen ones’ up on the wall somewhere in the room. — Displaying the best work and making the ‘bright’ children in the class feel more special and the not so smart ones feel more inadequate was big back then — Then she’d ask you to raise your hand if you wanted to sing any of the chosen songs at the Carnival Calypso Competition. Unfortunately, that move presented yet another opportunity for discrimination – if you didn’t get chosen to be a back up singer, then you knew something was wrong.
But I’m straying from my point, as usual. You must be wondering if there even is a point this story. Don’t worry- there is. And, here it comes…
The point I’m trying to make is that primary schools seem to be one of the few places where the art of ole time calypso is being kept alive – in an innocent and naive sort of way. I love soca with a passion (yes I like to wine and jook like the best of them) but I also appreciate history. I’m already at an age where I feel ancient sometimes. It may have more to do with the fact that I have a 19 year old sister, but the feeling is still relevant. I sit and talk with my friends about ‘the way things used to be’ like I’ve been around for ages. I still think of myself as a young person, but I’m old enough to have witnessed a sharp transition in mas making – in the last half decade, producing a band/carnival presentation has moved away from artform and evolved into a hardcore business. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s just part of the observations that I’ve made as I’ve grown older.
What can we do to keep that from happening to ole time calypso?