The ones that got away

January 26, 2000
By Terry Joseph

The Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco) must be commended for its choice of millennium moment, in seeking to identify the Top 200 Calypsoes of the 20th century and naming the art form's Top 50 performers over that period.

Monday night's Hilton Trinidad gala was organised with a sense of style, which is cause for applause. That calypsonians found the event worthy of their finest togs certainly deserves a standing ovation, although it was difficult to understand the sartorial preferences of more than a few.

Given the number of components comprising a good calypso and the astonishing frequency of paradigm shifts, par- ticularly in the second half of the 20th century, it must have been difficult to come up with the final listings.

The announcement of the chosen therefore deserved an accompanying rationale, or at least a much more elaborate statement than the brief explanation of criteria offered by Tuco officials.

Indeed, there are questions still circling in my mind as to the methodology applied, particularly in the selection of the Top 200 Calypsoes of the 20th Century. For openers, the final list is an assimilation of two separate judgments. A panel of five selected their calypsoes, then a public poll was conducted to determine the majority view.

Monday night would have been a fine time to let us know the extent of public response and perhaps announce their top ten in either category, then give the judges' views under those same headings.

"Jump high, jump up low and shake your manifesto", as Bally would probably say. Indeed, such a comparison would certainly have brought us greater comfort.

Quite unlike the late Maestro, who would likely have shrieked: "They cheat, they cheat, we want to see the scoresheet", this is not a vulgar attack on the findings of the judges. It is, in fact, an appeal to let us know precisely how Lord Melody's "Pedlars" could be omitted from anyone's list, or how come names like Brother Superior and The Hawk appear nowhere in the document.

And what about Nigel Lewis's "Follow the Leader"? If we are to believe Rituals Music, winner of the 1999 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in the Eastern Caribbean, sales of that song have been certified at 500,000 copies and covers, making it the largest single copyright revenue earner in the history of the art form. Not that this is a campaign for Lewis, but didn't everybody in the land also get caught up in "Moving to the Left"?

Even icons like The Mighty Sparrow and David Rudder, each of whom scored a six in the Top 200 listing, may still be puzzled over the exclusion of some of their works, in the face of selections like Iwer's "Bottom in the Road" and Ronnie McIntosh's "Ent?"

Rudder, you may remember, won every available competition in 1986 with "Bahia Girl" and "The Hammer". Yet these songs, still immensely popular today, did not qualify for spaces in the Top 200. "High Mas" or "Song For a Lonely Soul" didn't make it either, but his "Long Time Band" did.

Birdie's 1969 blockbuster album, More, Sparrow, More, which contains more hits per square inch than any other recording in the history of the art form (including "Sa Sa Ay", "Sparrow Dead", "Sixty Million Frenchmen", and "The Lizard"), did not even manage to get one of its songs into the listing. And you can forget old classics like "Simpson" and "Bad Johns" or latter-day compositions like "Capitalism Gone Mad" or "Willie Dead".

The argument that band singers or DJs decide the road march only arose during the final decade of the 20th century. Since official listing of road marches began in 1932 and up to 1990, we might therefore conclude that all the winning songs over that period were honestly the most popular calypsoes on the road in their respective years and so qualify for automatic inclusion.

After all, vox populi was the agreed basis during those years, yet the judges of the Top 200 Calypsoes could not find in favour of Kitchener's "Mama This is Mas", which won the contest in 1964 or several other highly popular road marches. But then, "Pan Night and Day" didn't make it either.

Then there is Brother Marvin's "Carnival Time Again", Shorty's "Money Eh No Problem", Bryner's "This is My Land", Mudada's "Jump and Wave", Len "Boogsie" Sharpe's "Lifeline" and Explainer's "Kicksing in Parliament," all of which missed the bus.

As Tuco President Sedley "Penguin" Joseph said on Monday night, everyone's choices could not make the list. It would, however, be nice if we could be made to understand the failings of at least those songs listed above, so that the art can be informed and guided by Tuco's rationale.

Terry-J at I-Level