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Powerful messages in song

Published: 
Monday, February 27, 2017
Dimanche Gras highlights and flops
Third place winner, Heather Mac Intosh,left, with gymnast Thema Williams during her performance of 'Games' at Dimanche Gras 2017 at Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain, on Sunday.

Sunday night’s Dimanche Gras show went swimmingly well for the first half, despite a slightly late start.

The flow of Calypso Monarch contenders went smoothly, with some very riveting, if relentlessly dire, social and political commentary, enlivened at times by props, melodious choruses, dramatic skits and some creative costuming and dance routines.

At least four of the 17 songs dealt in crime and social breakdown themes, reflecting the gory, anarchic side of T&T, and the fear and anger of people dealing with—or inflicting— violence.

Good examples of this were Guilty by Fya Empress (Lornette Nedd Reid), Angry Land by Gypsy (Winston Peters), Caught in the Whirlwind by Karene Asche), and Main Witness by Sasha-Ann Moses.

After crime, other popular themes were corruption—evident in My Corn Tree by Kurt Allen and The Call to Prayer by Queen Victoria, and black pride/ethnic self-worth /prejudice themes—as in the songs Still Colonial by Meguella Simon and The Phrase by Terri Lyons.

Another theme was the need for T&T people to buck up—in different ways, both Chuck Gordon’s Wah Yuh Doin and Rondell Donawa’s Lip Service talked about T&T apathy, selfishness, and the almost total lack of civic activism which makes too many people lacking in self-responsibility.

Three songs in particular were interesting for the sheer power of their heartfelt delivery, combined with their excellent and at times unusual storytelling; and they were all sung by women.

One was Guilty, by Fya Empress, which was a dark Caribbean gothic tale told in the form of a calypso— a tale touching several deep-rooted social issues here—sexual betrayal, religious-influenced bigotry against homosexuals, and extreme domestic violence ending in death.

Fya Empress played the role of a woman who comes home to find her husband in bed with another man —and she proceeds to chop him to death.

She tells this gruesome story well, with details like: “As I proceeded in the dark / my pupils dilated like a shark...” She is an unrepentant murderer, dressed in prison clothes and with a handcuff dangling off one wrist, and yet she sounds self-righteous and justified.

The calypso was a (perhaps unwitting) comment on both our society’s hate towards gays, and our extreme inability to control our emotions and deal with relationship problems in a healthy way. (The audience cheered on her Guilty persona for murdering her husband.) Empress’s use of drama, dance and talented choral singers was quite good, enhancing the narrative drama of her presentation. Surprisingly, she placed 15th, well below some songs that were inferior lyrically and musically.

The second powerful and moving song was by Lady Gypsy (Lynette Steele) who sang Plight of my People. She was a true example of a good calypsonian, delivering a thoughtful, critical, picong-filled, hard-hitting reflective song about her belief in the need for change in the PNM, even though she is an ardent supporter. She sang about the need for change in the state of calypso, too, where she says political bias is so clearly evident at so many Skinner Park calypso semifinals.

Her targets included her fellow community members, too, who vote blindly despite repeated political betrayals: “Too much a one thing good for nothing / Too much a good ting never enough / I don’t know why my black people cannot see / no party never care bout we”; and later: “I don’t want to sound like I racist / but this is what I can see / they does take care of other race / because they damn well know they have we.”

Her slightly gravelly, defiant, powerful voice made for a sterling performance as she rang her bell, Baptist-style, for change.

“Crime will never stop in the country / Once black people belly empty / How could a man work in CEPEP / maintain his whole family?” she sang, addressing the need for true social justice in meaningful economic terms.

Dressed in blazing red, she had the audience enthralled with her charisma, but apparently did not impress the judges much, who placed her ninth— inexplicably below Lady Victoria, whose Call To Prayer was well-meaning but little more than a preaching hymn rife with cliché and trite exhortations.

The third powerful song by a woman, notable for its passion and thematic difference, was by the young calypsonian Sasha-Ann Moses, whose song Main Witness demonstrated that she is a force to be reckoned with. Using a simple but effective prop of a window-frame with floaty white curtains, and dressed in pyjamas and slippers, she sang about seeing a murder through her window.

Her theme was the horrible way crime witnesses are treated, being made to feel like prisoners themselves, and her chorus was an infectious cry of outrage and a spirited reaction to the current high murder rates and legitimate fears in the country. “Forget studies...forget birthdays, anniversaries....no counselling at all”, she sang, expressing how much normal life changes for the worse for many witnesses to extreme crimes.

The first part of Dimanche Gras, the calypso contest, ended at 10.19 pm, some 34 minutes beyond schedule, but not too bad by Carnival standards where events are notoriously too long and too late.

However, the second part of the show felt episodic, forced, at times boring, and did not flow nearly as well as the first. There were glaring lags where nothing happened, notably during the Icons awards section where thrice the DJ played music to an empty stage.

There also seemed to be either a shortage of government ministers on hand to distribute awards, or miscommunications with stage crew as to who was supposed to do what. This was a pity because it veered on disrespect to some of the people being honoured.

Those receiving awards were: mas artist Peter Minshall (he did not appear but a representative said he would like his award to go to his very first Carnival Queen, Sherry-Ann [Guy] Coelho); wirebender Stephen Derek (deceased); singer Anand Yankarran (deceased); Best Village advocate Joyce Wong Sang (deceased); singers Calypso Rose and Machel Montano (both very much alive); and pan designer Dr Anthony Williams.

After the awards, lively but very short entertainment acts included Ravi B and Raymond Ramnarine, who sang Ramsingh Sharma to smiles from a sleepy but reviving audience, who sang back the chorus with vigour. Shortly after midnight, Terri Lyons and Skinny Fabulous sang. Lyons wore a sexy skin-tight black bodysuit, black thigh-high stiletto boots and sported long wavy blue hair as she belted out the tagline “We ready” many times.

MX Prime was the last act, whose song Full Extreme brought many patrons to their feet for the first time last night, dancing and waving. During this brief expression of energy, a few Carnival costume floats passed by all too briefly; if you blinked, you missed them. Among them were Queen of Carnival Krystal Thomas, portraying De Nebula from the band Paparazzi.

At 12.23 pm, electronically lit moko jumbies, who seemed like either mysterious robots or angels, suddenly appeared on stage— a nice, creative novelty effect at night, but they were not used for any particular purpose except to add an all-too-brief touch of variety.

At 12.24 to 12.26 pm, there appeared onstage a huge, scary insectile monster, with a mobile sharp-toothed mouth that could open up wide, and a nether region that raised and jumped as the trolley mas moved. It looked very dramatic and wild, especially as parts of it were lit with electric strip lights. This was the 2017 King of Carnival, Crypto – Lord of the Galaxy, played by Ted Eustace. (The leering, ferocious face looked a bit like the giant cockroach alien in the 1997 movie Men in Black.

Crypto was more entertaining than some of the calypsos, and could easily have stayed on stage much longer—if only the show were not by this time running about 45 minutes late.

Scheduled to end at 11.45, Calypso Monarch results were finally announced at 12.32.

A very happy Chalkie was quickly swamped by friends, family and photographers, as in a matter of minutes, the Grand Stand emptied of people.

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