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In the present tents

By Terry Joseph
February 2, 2000

Long ago, an astute calypso tent manager would keep a long crook stick with which to pull back into the wings performers who failed to move the crowd.

At the first hint of booing, the manager would extend the stick toward the performer. Many are the examples of hapless fellows soldiering on through the piece, until reality set in with a jolt; all to the escalating delight of the audience.

Performers who considered these popular assessments premature, sometimes continued even after the band stopped, their defiance springing from the hope that a mixture of sympathy and delayed appreciation would kick in.

On Sunday last, at the UWI Fete, the band had already stopped when Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was announced as the person who would follow Ronnie Mc Intosh on stage. Given the cadre of person who can (in these times) gleefully afford the $325 ticket price, one would hardly have expected such gentry to boo even the worst of performers. And no one really wants to see the Prime Minister get boos onstage.

But alas, this is not long ago. In today's calypso tents, a performer hoping to avoid the indignity of audience rejection must either come up with lyrics that the people want to hear, or fake a sudden bout of laryngitis. Bear in mind, though, that when a large audience of inebriated but influential people presents itself, more than mere tradition dictates that the show simply must go on.

According to a report appearing in Monday's Express, as soon as the temporary MC (who was really an MD) announced Mr Panday, the audience began to boo. Now, it may just be that spinning heads do not like the talking variety, particularly where the vocalist is about to interrupt the flow of music, rather than perform to it.

But I would hazard a guess that if the Republic Bank MD had announced Penny Commissiong-Chow, or some other national darling as the person who was coming onstage to draw for the door prizes, drunk or sober, the crowd was likely to applaud. So it cannot be just the stopping of the music.

It is more likely that the audience felt bored with Mr Panday's predictable lyrics, thinking he might render either his popular road march, "Media Bashing", or the more recent "Do Them First". The patrons might also have thought that he would opt for the continuing extempo war with President Robinson and throw picong, like he did earlier that same day, at a brunch held at his residence and on the previous night, at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya.

Mr Panday's background vocalists were all on hand, but apparently unable to help their leader, when the audience took to booing. Ganga Singh, Mervyn Assam and Brian Kuei Tung (a group known as The Ministers, after their sterling rendition of "The Gospel According to Mr Panday"), are normally great "doo-wop" men. On Sunday, however, they reportedly remained quiet, some say expressionless, leaving the frontline performer to face the music all by himself.

Mr Panday had gone on stage with his wife Oma who, you may remember, has some experience with booing. At the 1996 Labour Day celebrations in Fyzabad, she demonstrated her disapproval of unflattering remarks made about her recently elected husband, with a good old-fashioned "boo".

Were she in charge that day and holding a crook stick, we may surmise, the vocalist in Fyzabad would have been summarily pulled off the stage.

But that too was long ago (time really flies when you're having fun).

After Sunday's experience, Mr Panday must understand that if he really wants a genuine and convincing encore, he has to work on his lyrics and perhaps consider a shift from the party genre or humourous vein, to more serious social, economic and political commentary.

On the cultural front, Mr Panday simply has to avoid repeating careless lyrics like those he rendered on the previous Sunday at a brunch at his residence to launch the Pan Foundation. In his turn on stage, Mr Panday lumped Sanelle Dempster's name with Peter Minshall and Pat Bishop; describing them as "our geniuses".

His arch rival, they tell me, is coming with an interesting calypso called "Save the Country from Aids", in which Mr Manning, when he gets on stage, will spell out the letters of the illness as: "A" for Airport, "I" for InnCogen, "D" for Desalination and "S" for Stadia. Another performer, Mr Mottley, is said to be coming with an all-inclusive approach.

And while we understand that Mr Panday has hired a new writer and executive producer in James Carville, the man who guided Bill Clinton to that country's national monarch title, it should also be understood that transference of those talents to this culture is seldom smooth. In any event, calypso already has one famous Joker among its list of composers.

Two things should be made clear to Mr Panday. Firstly, the audience no longer wishes to hear the same tune again and "more importantly" this time it is they who are holding the crook stick. Ladies and gentlemen, its showtime!

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