Heartiest congratulations go out to one of my all-time favourite calypsonians, Brother Valentino, for being awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) during last weekend’s 50th anniversary of independence in Trinidad and Tobago.
Valli, or “the people’s calypsonian” as he is often referred to, has himself marked 50 years of contribution to calypso. That is a serious thing when you think about it; he was singing from the time T&T became a nation.
His classics such as Life Is a Stage, Stay Up Zimbabwe and Dis Place Nice will live forever and I also love one he did a while back called The Razor Man. Valli’s lyrics have always been fiery and revolutionary and because of this, while he has a firm place in the people’s hearts, he has never been given the acclaim he has deserved as a top practitioner of kaiso.
He has never won the calypso monarchy of Trinidad and Tobago, a real travesty after so many years of fine songs. As far as I know, the only crown he has ever won is that of the Veterans Calypso Monarch in its inaugural year, 2005
Born Anthony Emrold Phillip in Grenada, Valli came to T&T at about age five already well exposed to the art form because of listening to his father play the calypso records available then. He found kaiso after a few attempts at jobs in which he really had no interest.
His has been a long journey. In an interview, he recalled: “It was very sad trying to evolve from the initial stages. For example, China Clipper Restaurant (in Port-of-Spain) had a sign that said, ‘No dogs allowed and no Calypso singing.’ That sign was at the entrance as you go up the steps. We were confronted with all of that.”
In the politically turbulent 70s, the music of Valentino and Black Stalin was the canvas on which many revolutionary images were painted. Stay Up Zimbabwe by Valli was and remains an iconic song of revolution. The two Rastafari brethren were close then and still are now. After Bishop’s revolution in Grenada, the two were especially highly regarded there and performed there often.
Valli is a man of deep thought and, without raising his voice, he commands attention. Off the stage he is equally compelling, as his interviews always reflect.
Speaking of the calypso music heard on the radio, he commented recently: “Anything that is making too much sense and is too constructively critical about the society and what is happening, you would not hear that stuff on the radio. As it is, you have to take what you get on the airwaves, which is a sad thing.
“They are setting you up for the fetes with the music that you listen to on the airwaves. Right now our stuff is being buried, so you have to come to the live show to hear us.”
Now that certainly sounds familiar.
I find Valli to be an inspiration to all calypsonians, particularly those who, like him, are firmly entrenched with the people but not the calypso judges.
On standing firm on his principles and not being seduced by the lure of playing to the lowest common denominator, he said: “I still maintain my course. I like to educate or try to open someone’s eyes by my works. I feel that if the Master gives you a talent, you should put it to good use and do not use it for money. Once you love your thing, it will take care of you. My art form takes care of me. It is like a miracle.
“The most important thing is to be true to what you are doing, love what you are doing and be honest with yourself, and I think everything else would work for itself.”
That’s it, right there. Bless up, Valli. Congratulations and nuff respect on your honour. You more than deserve it, my brother.