Trinidad and Tobago


A personal verse and chorus

June 6, 2001

THERE was a ring of déjà vu this past week, on hearing of a war between two groups of calypsonians, a story that threw me back to June 1993, when a similarly inspired (although significantly less barbaric) conflict was in progress at national level.

Exactly eight years ago today, I was minding only my business, when cultural activist Andrew Boyce telephoned, asking me to act as mediator between the Calypso Association (Catt) and the Trinbago Calypso Organisation (TCO), if he were skilful enough to bring the warring groups to the same table.

Catt, led by the Mighty Gibraltar, had among its membership stalwarts like Grandmaster Kitchener and The Mighty Terror. For decades the association was regarded by the State as the official body representing calypsonians until a group of young rebels, led by current Ortoire-Mayaro MP Winston “Gypsy” Peters and sidekick Protector, publicly challenged its authority.

Ten years earlier, I had also been asked by the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) to intervene, when calypsonians threatened to boycott the annual Calypso Fiesta if no increase was applied to their appearance fees. That time, I managed to convince my employers at Carib Brewery (most memorably chairman John D Sellier) to add $600 to each $400 purse the State was paying Fiesta performers, as the CDC could afford no more.

In 1993 similar arguments resurfaced, forming part of a much larger grievance, with members of the TCO group scuttling at every sequence, agreements with Government made by the association on their behalf and openly accusing Catt of ineffective representation.

The situation was untenable and Government used the opportunity to impose a freeze on calypso funding altogether, saying it would not treat with two groups and didn’t know which one had the real mandate to speak for calypsonians.

The meeting was finally convened on Labour Day at Boyce’s Keynote Club on Duke Street, Port of Spain and took some five hours, during which startling accusations from both sides flew on occasion, before we were able to hammer out an agreement.

It was near midnight when the final hassle (what to call the new body) was resolved. As I remember the evening, it was Chris “Tambu” Herbert who suggested the new body be known as the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco).

Among the first utterances by interim president Protector, was a call for Tuco to address problems encountered by retired calypsonians. He suggested a medical fund be set up, as one of a bundle of insurance provisions. It was an inspiring note on which to turn over the gavel to the new head of calypso.

In the eight-year interim, during which several calypsonians succumbed to illness and death, the call has frequently been echoed, albeit with no tangible result. Indeed, up to last October, as instruments of possession for a State-owned property were presented to Tuco by Public Administration Minister Wade Mark, the organisation promised to put in place by January 1 this year, a medical insurance plan.

The six-bedroom house on the property, which was to be turned into a geriatric home for calypsonians, was supposed to be ready for occupation by Friday last. Neither that nor the launch of the medical plan has occurred and not for want of enthusiasm on the part of Tuco.

So it was against this historical perspective that, shortly after Carnival, I spoke with Tuco president Seadly “Penguin” Joseph and general secretary Lutalo “Bro Resistance” Masimba about trying to kick start at least the retired calypsonians medical fund.

Sharing this concern are Ainsworth Mohammed of Exodus and Llama de Leon, son of the late Roaring Lion. As Dear Friends and Gentle People, we came up with the first fund raising project—the Back in Times Kaiso Dance—an event that will play exclusively calypsoes from the period 1956 to 1990.

The dance, which takes place on The Greens, Queen’s Park Oval on June 18 (the night before the Labour Day holiday), features the music of Roy Cape & the Kaiso All Stars and DJ Earl Crosby. Part proceeds will go toward setting up the fund.

Calypso King of the World, The Mighty Sparrow has kindly consented to fly in for a special guest appearance. Also joining in the effort is five-time national calypso monarch and reigning Calypso King of Kings Black Stalin.

Upon hearing of the event, the prize-winning St James Tripolians single-pan band and the Laventille Rhythm section volunteered free performances.

Several celebrity DJs, largely high-profile media personalities, have also volunteered their selections for inclusion on the playlist of the dance.

Tickets for the dance (priced at $60) are available from Crosby’s Music in St James, Rhyner’s Music Store and Samaroo’s Carnival Supplies in Port of Spain, Veni Mange in Woodbrook, Foodmasters in Tunapuna and Belle Bagai and Atherly’s by the Sea in San Fernando.

We hope you will join us on June 18, as we herald the ninth anniversary of Tuco, with this attempt to help set up a contributory medical fund, currently being designed by the Colonial Life Insurance Company (Clico).

Apart from the charitable aspect of this activity, the dance promises to be good, clean fun for those who prefer the more melodious calypsoes of the period.

And, oh yes, there will be a bar, buffet and ices.

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