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Calypso history

By Terry Joseph
October 08, 2004

As we complete the first week of Calypso History Month, with set pieces on show at libraries and museums nationwide, it appears organisers of the observance deliberately avoided humour-a fundamental of the craft-perhaps wishing to imbue the moment with a sense of utter seriousness.

Which is why I thought a first-person account of events leading to the founding of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) might, in this context, make light and through the same window, serve the pursuit of education although, to fully appreciate the comic-drama, readers must spare no imagination in visualising its characters.

TUCO was founded on Labour Day (July 19) 1992, the result of a marathon conciliatory meeting between two increasingly hostile groups, the Calypsonians Association (CATT) and the Trinbago Calypsonians Organisation (TCO).

The war had long escalated past extempo, bringing serious issues into jeopardy as communication between the polarised groups ground to a halt.

After repeated requests from CATT general secretary, Andrew Boyce, I agreed to act in the perilous function of mediator.

Boyce, a colourful character and proprietor of Keynote, a Duke Street, Port of Spain nightclub ,provided the meeting venue. A gentleman of many words, dispensing each syllable as if acquired at great cost, he composed calypsoes, was Sparrow's closest confidant, drove a large American car and dressed nattily always; a persona born to the stage although he preferred prompting from its wings.

I warned him some CATT members viewed me with suspicion but he persevered.

Although CATT president Mighty Gibraltar agreed to my chairmanship, still he fired the first salvo across the table, reminding all present that, during tenure in management at Carib Brewery, I took the side of the group they now deemed "upstarts.''

Mark you, their mistrust sprang from nothing more "partisan'' than my convincing Carib to underwrite a 150 per cent increase in appearance fees for the 1982 calypso semi-final but since the request came (via Lennox Straker) from the upstarts, my intervention was considered endorsement of the radical element.

Gibraltar's chief whip, Lord Pretender chimed: "Crapaud smoke we pipe!"

They on that side and he on them side too. It was in this precarious environment talks began, a scenario varied only by my desperate submission detailing the futility of an impasse in which both groups claimed the same noble ideals and in a situation where the State would deal with only one.

Gibby responded with a protracted "steups,'' adding the State was already dealing with only one. Even provocative comment had to be treated with respect. He was a board member of the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) long before my appointment in 1984. At the first meeting I attended, he castigated my judging at that year's Dimanche Gras, citing Penguin's victory as fresh evidence of a link to the insurgents.

A change of government late in 1986 brought new faces to Carnival administration from the next January but ascendancy to chairmanship of the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA) in 1989 returned me to the festival's boardroom, back to do battle with "Gibby''. Four years later, he clearly remembered those nights and was now giving no quarter, CATT having lost major ground to its rival during the interim.

TCO leaders, Gypsy and Protector, were unyielding in their quest, conscripting stars, presenting high-profilers like Tambu as members of their negotiating team. Protector's espionage unit kept him updated on Gibby's concessions around the boardroom table, which he used as artillery in relentless audit of CATT's performance.

CATT, they said, could no longer deliver the image sought by the new breed of calypsonians. Finding itself on firm footing and with membership swelling exponentially, TCO had intensified its sniping over the years. Gypsy scoffed at their "head'' office which, he said, was so-called because it really was a barbershop. They mumbled something about his hairstyle.

On the macro stage, while the National Carnival Commission (NCC) continued to deal with CATT, the board understood where calypso's future resided and became liberal about consulting with TCO who, strictly speaking, had no locus standi but evidently called the shots on behalf of the fraternity's most influential members.

The TCO had become especially vocal about conditions of participation in State-run calypso competitions and at the peak of its dissent, staged an impromptu protest on national television immediately after drawing for singing positions at that year's semi-final, threatening a boycott if appearance fees did not increase again. That time, Roy Boyke persuaded CLICO to foot the bill-another 150 per cent increase.

Given this chronicle of antagonism between the parties, it took hours of venting at the meeting before commonality of purpose was agreed upon and until midnight to decide the new entity should be called the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation, a title distilled from an exchange between Tambu and Protector.

Although, as the evening progressed into night some classic picong eased tensions, we were all completely drained by the time I was able to appoint Protector pro-tem president and schedule TUCO's inaugural meeting of the interim-committee for the following Wednesday at the St Paul Street gymnasium.

Now, there's some calypso history you won't find at the library.

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