By Terry Joseph
February 22, 2004
'Mashes' into the Queen's Park Savannah tonight
IT WAS the calypso fraternity that first established the sharp difference between performance during the season (in the old days on a straw-covered floor of the tents under which they sang) and the greenery underfoot at the Queen's Park Savannah on Carnival Sunday night.
The distinction inadvertently helped corrupt the words "Dimanche Gras" into "Mash Grass," which is what a calypsonian, making it to the hallowed savannah for the final of the national contest, would hear from his peers by way of congratulation: "Ah boy, this year yuh going to mash grass."
Of course, neither the massive stage (now a construction of wood, steel and concrete) nor the route to and from it will bring the calypsonian's shoes into contact with grass, as the run-up has long been given an asphalt cover, that area also enjoying its own folklore as "The Barber-Greene", taking its sobriquet literally from the brand of road-paving heavy equipment that laid down the hard top.
But the aura of the arena retains the combination of glory and trauma it held for singers since the first year of calypso competition at the Queen's Park Savannah, an ascendancy to Carnival's DIMANCHE Gras spotlight that did not come without upheaval and protest from the bards.
In 1949, although performing as guest artistes, Mighty Skipper, King Pharoah, Lord Invader and Sa Galba were the first calypsonians to sing at the Dimanche Gras show which, curiously enough, held its inaugural steelband competition that year, won by Invaders playing "Its Magic", which earned the Woodbrook band a silver cup and the $50 prize.
In 1951, upset over continuing exclusion from Carnival's premier competition night, calypsonians staged their own contest at the Victory tent, which saw Lord Melody become king for singing "Jonah and the Bake". He also appeared at Dimanche Gras along with Mighty Terror, Lord Invader and Small Island Pride, the latter decreed King of Calypsonians, even in the absence of a contest.
In the year following, the "grass" was mashed at a different place, the Queen's Oval, after a conflict between Dimanche Gras organizers and the Turf Club (then custodian of the grand stand at the savannah) resulted in no Carnival events being held there. In 1953, the calypso competition formally joined the Carnival Sunday night show, which had moved back to the Queen's Park Savannah, but now at the expense of steelband participation.
The Mighty Spoiler won the brass crown and the Blue Label cup at that first official calypso contest in Dimanche Gras, singing "The Royal Wedding", interestingly, a song that was five years old but timely, as it was also the year of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.
The next year (1954), Warlord Blakie did much the same trick singing "Steelband Clash", recounting an incident that took place four years earlier, although he had to settle for sheer popularity, as the calypso crown went to Lord Melody for the contentious "Second Spring", a piece many said was not really a calypso.
Spoiler took back his crown in 1955 with another old song "Picking Sense Out of Nonsense", this time receiving a silver cup and $50 prize but failed to defend in 1956 as he was on tour. It was probably just as well, as that year marked the arrival of The Mighty Sparrow, who trounced his rivals with the benchmark "Jean and Dinah".
Sparrow boycotted the following year's contest, in protest against the disparity between the calypso king's $50 prize and that of the Carnival Queen, milady doing little more than strutting around the stage in a swimsuit, who took home $10,000 plus - Lord Superior later sang-" (sewing) machine, radio and even motor car and sometimes a Simmons bed, while all the king got was a brass crown on his head.
In 1958, the Government appointed Carnival Development Committee took control of the festival and among its first Dimanche Gras casualties was the Carnival Queen contest which was, from the year following, taken up by Jaycees, who moved it to the Queen's Park Oval, staying on Carnival Sunday night until 1963, when it returned to the savannah and had to use the Saturday instead until its last outing in 1971.
In its Dimanche Gras place, the Queen of the Bands competition was inserted in 1959, that contest won by Esther Theodore portraying Empress Alexandra, from Mack Copeland's Festival of Moscow. The Kings came in 1963 when Colin Edghill as Henry V111 (FROM Archie Yee Foon's The Field of the Cloth of Gold) took the inaugural title.
1963 was also the year of the first Steelband Panorama contest, bringing all three of Carnival's major components into Dimanche Gras. That year, North Stars Steel Orchestra, led by Tony Williams, took the $1,000 prize for its rendition of Sparrow's "Dan is the Man in the Van". The St. James band also won the following year, this time with a Kitchener tune "Mama, Dis is Mas".
In addition to the cash prize, North Stars was also awarded a tape recorder. Fast forward now to tonight's Dimanche Gras, dubbed River of Rhythms, at which the winning steel orchestra in the large band category will perform, 12 calypsonians compete for the national calypso monarch title and eight kings and a similar number of queens will seek to be crowned as Carnival's supreme title-holders.
It is all a far cry from the early days of "mashing grass", with tonight's show designed by producer Arthur Lewis in collaboration with Geraldo Vieira, hosted by Allyson Hennessy and David Rudder, containing guest appearances by the junior king and queen of carnival and Machel Montano and at which tribute will be paid to calypso's all-time king and queen, The Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose.
Showtime is 7 p.m. but pre-event activities begin on stage from 45 minutes earlier, featuring single-pan bands, rhythm sections and traditional Carnival characters. The National Carnival Commission (NCC) has vowed to complete this complex production by midnight, although it should be noted that if the calypso segment moves as smoothly as promised, that element alone will consume four of the five hours set aside for the bards, steelband, guest artistes and kings and queens to mash grass.
Order of Appearance/ Songs
2. Kizzy Ruiz
3. Heather Mc Intosh
5. Sugar Aloes
6. Brian London
9. Singing Sandra
10. De Fosto
11. Ras Kommanda
KINGS OF THE BANDS
(Not necessarily in order of appearance)
Geraldo Vieira Jnr - Alladin's Last Ride
Curtis Eustace - Drums of Freedom
Wade Madray - De Origin
Roland St. George - Bling Bling
Lamassu - The Wishmaster
Dave Lakhan - The Winged Messenger
Juan Maximo - King Ferdinand of Imperial Spain
Andre De Freitas - Che-Low and the Magical Spirits
Theophilus Simmons - Darius, Ruler of Persia
Matthew Alexis - The Magic Swelling of Papa Bois
Clyde Bascombe - D' Cage of D' Golden Pheasant
Fareid Carvalho - Dreamscape, Limbo of the Lost
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