Local Calypsonians who rely too heavily on the political turbulence to craft songs of “significance” may be walking on a tight rope at the next round of Calypso Mashramani competitions in 2015. The love and support once extended to them by faithful calypso aficionados for this practice, is wearing thin.
The complaint of lack of wit, humour, high quality and refined lyrical content seems to be on the increase. This is the main criticism among most judges of the annual Mashramani Junior and Senior Calypso competitions.
According to some, our calypsonians seem to have mastered the art of ‘lecturing on politics’ to the ordinary man while leaving their songs devoid of a most salient ingredient—entertainment. In short, it is believed that when it comes to local calypso music, there is now too much politics and too little entertainment.
Even the King of Calypso, the Mighty Sparrow, weighed in on Guyana’s calypso during his recent visit here.
The Caribbean icon opined that while Guyanese are extremely talented, local calypsonians have much to work with but often fail to utilize this abundance of material.
“I believe Guyanese calypsonians should remember to focus on their folklore. Be proud of it. I have been coming here for many, many years and I have heard some stories that can inspire some great songs. There is a lot of material they could use. And as a calypsonian who wants to grow, expanding your range is very important,” he remarked.
On the question of politics in Calypso music, The Mighty Sparrow said that while he too, sang about the politics of the day, he emphasized that it is important not to “get obsessed with a one-trick pony.”
“Even if you want to sing about politics, you cannot allow yourself to be known as the person that’s always relying on that field. Move on to other topics, other themes, explore and don’t get stuck in one thing. There is so much to sing about and comment on. Be creative and different. The easiest thing to do is sing about what is already familiar to the people.
When you sing about politics, you might find yourself singing something similar to what somebody else is singing and then the judges got a decision to make in seeing who sang on the topic better. Don’t cage yourself, man. Political calypso is quite popular but don’t do too much or else if you don’t take it higher, then you putting yourself at a disadvantage. And then politics is such a depressing thing sometimes you got to ensure you don’t carry that feeling over to the audience. Calypso must be entertaining.”
The auditions have already begun for the Junior and Senior Mashramani Calypso Competitions for February 2015 and this newspaper was reliably informed that a heavy dose of political commentary is already a guarantee.
Giving his take on the matter, one avid calypso follower said that quite frankly, the field of politics has become the favorite playground of many calypsonians. He also holds the view that many local calypsonians rely too much on the current topics of the daily body politic, and stressed that “the listeners are hungry for something fresh.”
He asserted too that some of the contestants who participate in the genre are not putting enough effort into refining their lyrics. “I have been following some of them since they first took part in a calypso competition and you only see growth in their ability to recycle what’s already been used. I don’t mean to be harsh but our calypsonians have to step up. Some of them are just mastering the art of using Sparrow, Lord Kitchener or Nelson’s style and lyrics and don’t even realize that they are losing themselves in the shadows of their idols. People don’t recognize them as an original singer but someone that copies a particular style well,” the calypso fanatic said.
He said that Guyana’s history or cultural background, are good places to start. He too agreed with Sparrow’s notion of placing the spotlight on Guyanese folklore. He said that last year’s Mashramani Competition had, “too many songs about the Chinese invasion, and the political climate” and from some of the 2015 entries thus far, he believes that there is going to be a repeat of “Too much politics and too little entertainment.”
The Calypso judge said that it would be quite refreshing to see local calypsonians challenging themselves to explore other themes. “All the stress on the politics is really too dismal. Sometimes the calypsonians sound as though they are lecturing instead of giving you an entertaining story of puns, euphemisms with the right mixture of seriousness, humour and colloquialisms. Calypso is a genre that reflects a beautiful mixture of several elements and our artistes are being lazy sometimes. Even when some of them want to sing politics, they put no effort into making it humourous as opposed to depressing or gloomy,” he added.
Also lending his perspective to the topic is a popular music producer who is also the owner of one of Guyana’s leading recording studios. He too agreed that the local calypsonians are quite talented but some of them need to work on improving their writing skills and place more emphasis on lyrical content.
On the topic of censorship, there was much tension surrounding some calypso music which was said to be inappropriate for the airwaves. One calypso commentator opined that the reason for this is because the calypso competitions are funded by the government and as such some of the music is so frank about the misgivings of the current administration that it puts them in an embarrassing position to promote an art form that is basically highlighting its flaws. “I have said time and again to many aspiring calypsonians that the soul of calypso music is saying exactly what you want to say without actually saying it. Many calypsonians believe that if they want to say the government is bad, that’s what they have to say but that’s not so. There is no need to be so obvious. You have to tease the audience, let them think two things at once and decide for themselves which one they think you’re talking about. That’s the beauty about the genre and they stray from that principle and just leave the National Communications Network with no choice but to ban their music. I am not saying NCN is right but you can understand their position.”
While it is hoped that these points are taken into consideration by the calypsonians, in the meantime, some eligible judges for the competition and staunch followers are certainly looking forward to next year’s contest and trust that the participants bring a more entertaining “A” game.