By Neil Marks
You’d be forgiven if you thought there was a clarion call for supporters of the governing coalition at the National Park Friday night, blazing green and yellow motion lights and all, but, school teacher Onika Joseph put things into perspective and won the 2018 national Calypso competition, proving that she was a boss of a woman.
It was a night when all the Sarsaparilla and Capadula a man could use was insufficient for the conquests of the woman, Joseph. Why, not even when the strength-giving concoctions are used to make one into the giant green monster Hulk – as it seemed with King Perai (Manoel Perreira) – could any match the lady!
The night was full of political innuendos and outright statements against the opposition PPP, even one calling for a leading politician to find his tomb, but Joseph was one of just two of the 11 performers for the night who stayed away from the political headlines.
Joseph and her songwriter Burchmore Simon were clever to avoid the expected triumphalism over President David Granger and of Guyana finding oil, with all the scorn being dumped on those who once heaped scorn on Guyana.
Hers was a calypso dedicated to women and a call for them not to recognise their worth and not fall to the sly machinations of womanising women or abuse.
Ah want dem carry a baby fuh nine months cook, wash and clean fuh pickney and husband
Look around we see women rising, leading from the front ain’t masquerading
Chief justice, engineers, and Lawyers, Chief magistrate doctors
and Simona She in the government; she Bing Bang Boom out in Parliament
She dropped in lines that suggested women could outsmart men in the money department, and might we add, they also have what it takes to win a calypso competition and pocket the $800, 000 first prize!
To add spice to her revolutionary ode for women to take charge of their lives, her lyrics were interspersed with raunchy sexual overtones, celebrating the sexual prowess of women, arguing that they could outlast men, even when their porridge is mixed with herbal potions of “cappadula, sarsaparilla, monkey ladder.”
I have to give it to women so much we have survived
Despite the abuse verbal and otherwise we still manage to strive
We banning we waist put shoulder to wheel in sun, rain or cold
In the fire service, we handling hose and sliding down pole
Among calypsonians’ unstated goals are to antagonise and agitate against political directors and their directives and to speak boldly for the citizens who may not otherwise speak up about social problems and corruption; then there are those who poke fun at the status quo and alert the conscience of the citizenry about societal malaise.
But those who dabbled in politics Saturday night seemed like a bunch of soup drinkers on a campaign platform for the government – with a promise that the presidency will never go back to Bharrat Jagdeo.
There was no attempt at subtlety in some of the compositions. But this could not be said of King Perai.
His contention that the PPP “frighten” green, which has come to characterise the agenda of the President, was enveloped by witty lyrics and a clear storyline that probably enticed the judges and earned him his second spot, just 9.5 points less the winning score of 246.
His elocution was clear and the lines simple. It was delivered to an upbeat tempo and by the end of it, you got the story. He was invited to a party by Jagdeo, the opposition leader, who frowned on everything green, and even when he offered the Mighty Perai a ride home after, he refused to look at the “green” traffic light and ended up in a gutter.
Last year’s monarch, Diana Chapman, tried “something new” but while her performance was on point and the music upbeat, there was no clear message. It was the same with the others too who didn’t place.
Most seemed like they wanted to cram every hot political topic under the sun into a single song and it completely went into the damp air of Saturday night.
Young Bill Rogers, who won the competition twice, and is the only one be a finalist in all three of the singing competitions this year – Calypso, Soca and Chutney – was all over the place with his competition and no sooner had he started than he lost the attention of the audience with his song about grading the bandits, whether “political or analytical.” Needless to say, he was graded “F” by the judges.
Perhaps the biggest loser of the night was Dawn Edwards, nicknamed Lady D, who was the first performer of the night. Punch lines of her dream being for Bharrat to end up at Fort Canje (supposedly the “Mad House”) and for the only parking meter in the city to be in front of Royston (the Town Clerk) won her loud cheers from the audience. Her delivery was smooth and the music in the signature form of Guyanese calypsos, but she failed to place.
Clifton Adolphus simply had no “passion” at all it was little wonder that he was forgotten once his performance ended.
The Junior Calypso monarch, Jovinski Thorne, failed to upset the seniors in the competition. His song ignited a public debate that the lyrics were too vulgar for his age and had to be defended by the writer Burchmore Simon.
The song was of his dog putting licks in the neighbour’s cat.
Even the lyrics of the song was its own defence, with Jovinki singing that some people only have a one-track mind and only see smut in lyrics.
Garfield Campbell, who has been singing for the past 16 years, did not find appreciation for his song “Guyana meh love.” It was predictable once he started and ended up being just plain boring.
If only the intermittent rain that bothered the audience could have ended his performance!
But the audience was not ready to go home and played along with the superb host Malcolm Ferreira.
T’Shanna Cort, a former junior calypso monarch, next came out with a song called “Secrets.” It was as forgettable as songs come, but she still placed fourth.
Abigail James Nelson promised that she was not on the stage of sing no “old calypso” but she didn’t sing a new one either. In fact, we are yet to get the point of it.
“The only ‘thing’ entertaining that found favour with the audience was the hefty and energetic background dancer,” is what someone scribbled on my notepad.
Kenroy Fraser’s song about the “Doctor of Doom” was not believable and that sent him and his greenheart wood backstage without a winning score.
The annual competition to celebrate the country’s Republic anniversary is the only lucrative avenue for calypso singers, and once it’s over, they retreat and prepare for the next year.
The hundreds of persons who turned out to Saturday’s event, though free, was an encouraging sign that there still a healthy appetite for Calypso music and that it needs copious amounts of funding and leadership to return to the good old days when a song would maintain its appeal decades after.