by Arley Gill
On the occasion of his 20th anniversary celebrations, I wrote an article entitled ‘Celebrating a scholar and champion calypsonian,’ in commemoration of his contribution to the art form. Time waits on no man, as the saying goes; and here we are now celebrating 25 years of Finley Jeffrey in calypso.
Why is it significant to commemorate the contributions and the milestones of calypsonians? I will argue, it’s because calypso is one of our major cultural art forms and our calypsonians are our most prominent proponents. They deserve much accolade.
You see, in every society, cultural art forms – more than anything else – define a people. In the southern Caribbean, our society is best known for carnivals, beaches and it’s fun-loving, friendly and good-natured people. The outstanding aspects of carnival are the music and rum. Sometimes, some segments of our population “look down’’ on rum as if they grew up in a society with vineyards.
The creators of the music are essentially the backbone of the carnival. Without the music, what will the pan play or the masqueraders dance to? So, calypsonians do have high societal prominence.
In Grenada most of our successful calypsonians, including competition winners and composers of some of our classic carnival songs, have had relatively short careers. Among the most notable of them are Flying Turkey, Mighty Hurricane, Mighty Dictator, Defender, Timpo, Praying Mantis, Scorpion and Flying Cloud.
It was delightful to witness on stage, at this year’s Mother’s Day Concert at the Spice Basket in Beaulieu, people like former Calypso Monarch Mighty Unlucky and Smokey. There are others like Squeezy and African Teller that still contribute from time to time, but their quality has faded.
Ajamu, Black Wizard, Inspector, Randy Isaac and Scholar are arguably the few top calypsonians that have remained active and competing over a fairly long period of time. Randy, in recent times, has been side-lined through ill health. Yes, there are quite a few that have been singing for many years; but, this analysis seeks to only consider those who have won titles or seriously challenged for the highest awards at our calypso and soca competitions.
Scholar – from the days of ‘I Prefer to go to Hell’ and ‘Voices’, through to ‘Heroes’; to ‘Freeman in Chains,’ ‘Permission,’ ‘Belly,’ ‘Hold What,’ ‘Naked’ and ‘Magician’ – has always been in the conversation as a title contender. He has won 9 titles, not to mention a few instances when the decision against him was a bit dodgy at best. He came 2nd on 8 occasions and continues to compete; but, most importantly, he continues to provide quality material.
Now, when you compare the longevity of the Grenadian calypsonian to that of Trinidad, then you will be able to appreciate why I think this is so important. Chalkdust won the crown this year at Trinidad’s Calypso Monarch competition. He has been singing for how long? Cro, Gypsy and Relator were in the final of the competition. How long can we associate these names in calypso?
The Trinidadian calypsonians, whether they compete or not, more often than not remain active in their senior years. The same cannot be said about Grenadian calypsonians. That is why I am always heartened when I hear our old bards competing or singing.
I always look forward to hearing guys like Koro, Sisterly, Lady Cheryl, Bubbler, Natty, Chain, among others. For years they kept the art form alive and the tent surviving. So even though they may have never won a crown, they deserve our love and respect.
This weekend Scholar celebrates his 25th year as a calypsonian; and, what better way to show our love and appreciation by going to his concert. I wish him every success.
Well done, Finley!