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Valentino Shines

Review by Terry Joseph
January 23, 2004

Kaiso House previewed its 2004 menu on Wednesday at Strand Cinema in Port of Spain, its home base this season, opening with a flourish by Cummings & the Wailers percussionist Bunny "Rocky Blake" Bynoe, who welcomed guests and introduced the band.

It was a fanfare to remember, with Bynoe "conducting" each next riff as he talked us into the programme before handing over to the official MC, Brother Mudada, who reminded us that the same cinema was part of calypso history, before introducing the night's opening act-Caesar B, who rendered a piece slamming radio for lack of airplay; all before a thoroughly distracting set designed by Heather Jones.

Shadow's son, Sharlan Bailey, was up next, singing a song called "Shadow's Son", ushering the night's first masterpiece, "(Parental) Neglect" by newcomer Anthony Johnson. Although a well-tested theme, Johnson gave it new treatment and rendered his song in fine voice, offering us additional verification from Proverbs 13:24. He got the night's first encore, a sincere accolade later cheapened by routinely bringing back singers to do an additional verse regardless.

Then it was time for Kaiso Mac with an uninventive song about "Cellular Phones", perhaps made even more difficult a proposition by following Anthony Johnson. Co-host Cliff Learmond now joined, introducing Twiggy, who asked "What Have You Done?" to help combat crime.

Now it was the moment for Brother Valentino, to whom the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO), hosts of Kaiso House, has dedicated this season, in respect of his 40th anniversary. Delivering "Where Calypso Went?" he too earned a rich encore. The song traces calypso history with flawless research and in unexaggerated terms, asking at every chorus what went wrong after the art achieved so much so early in its life.

Marvellous Marva, bedecked in red, white and black, gave us "Cry, My Beloved Country", leaving the stage to Bunny B's

What Columbus See", the song that earned him second place at the recently concluded Police Calypso Contest and one that was well-received Wednesday. Nicole de Coteau made her debut with "50 Percent Airplay", finding easy solidarity with her calypso colleagues and solid audience appreciation.

Former joint-monarch, Delamo doing "Crime" suggested that the poor should see a few rich criminals locked up which, he thought, might reduce their enthusiasm for lawbreaking, taking time out to throw a jab at Rudy Giuliani's intervention. Describing it as the adversity section of the programme, Mudada then introduced Soft Touch with "War" and Exposer with "If We Try".

TUCO president Protector has a good song in "Weapons of Mass Destruction", in which he suggests to George W Bush that child abusers and drug pushers should be among his next group of targets. He then backed up with "Monday Morning", a Jouvert treatise onto which he tacked a few humourous impressions.

The crowd wouldn't let Shadow stop at just three songs, so he rendered "Horner Man Crying", "Sing, Boy, Sing", "Whop Cocoyea" and "Come for Your Lunch", all of which were enthusiastically received by his sing-along audience; before the break was taken at 11.20 pm.

Half an hour later, the lights were up again for Dee Diamond ("Is a Long Time"), Mudada himself with "Sweet Like Sugar", a song in praise of advancing age which, he said, increased his saccharine content; a claim at least true of accompanying pannist Noel la Pierre.

Brown Boy's "I'm a Bad-Lucky Man" is another of his rib-tickling pun-laden songs that snare audiences annually, but defending national calypso monarch Singing Sandra was up next and that was serious business. Sandra called for "One Day of Prayer", inducing the curious visual mix of a calypso tent crowd with some patrons waving in Pentecostal fashion.

In the end-game, King Wellington sang a pan-song called "Pan Song", Kaiso House's answer to Denise Belfon came in a plumper called Spicy, whose "Leggo" was certainly more eye-catching than literary (a fact that made single men in the audience call stoutly for an encore), making it all uphill for Brother Resistance to "Rock the Colonial Order", The Millennium Crew to have us "Take Out Something and Wave" or Shanaqua to pay tribute to "Soca Soldiers".

With sparkling accompaniment from Cummings & the Wailers (enhanced by Errol Ince on trumpet and Fitzmellow Thomas on keys) and chorus work from the Kaiso Jewels, it was a night that belonged to Brother Valentino; a ranking one suspects will see him through to the elusive Big Yard come Dimanche Gras.

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