Last week I wrote, with reference to a Trinidadian situation, that it would be a good thing for the NCF to put certain things in writing, for example the minimum number of verses required in a song entered in a calypso competition.
One reader has put a really tough question to me: How can you expect to have things like that in writing when nothing exists in writing defining a calypso?
This is a point that was very much on people’s lips a few years ago when Gabby was awarded the crown for Ol? Ashe. As arguments raged all over the island, they all came back to one point. Who has defined a calypso? Who has put in writing “a song shall be considered a calypso when….”?
Locally, as far as I know, and particularly with reference to the Pic-o-de-Crop competition, there is no definition by which the judges are guided. This, then, leaves it all up to interpretation. Let me say that I have always been in the corner of those who say Ol? Ashe is not a calypso as it was rendered on that finals night. I say so without apology, as I was guided in making that decision by the hundreds of people I saw dancing Latin-style all over Kensington that night. I en see a fella wuk up yet! That was all I needed, since I know people react to what they feel and hear.
It has been a source of great amusement to me since then to witness some people turn themselves into musical pretzels in their attempts to prove the song is a calypso, mission impossible as far as I am concerned.
The point, though, is whether there could have been something in writing which would have definitively spoken to the true genre of the song. I think not.
You see, if anyone attempts to establish something like “a song shall be considered a calypso when…..”, what this automatically does is rule out experimentation, and the addition of new things. If a strict definition was in place we would not have had the changes which calypso has seen. There would be no soca, for example, and no ragga soca. Remember that the veterans like Sparrow and Kitch knocked soca hard when it first came on the scene, only for them to go on to be among its greatest exponents.
So it really does come down to how you feel the music. When you hear reggae, you feel it and no one can tell you it’s anything else. The same is true for calypso in all its forms. I remember entering a bull ring in Cartagena, Colombia, with over 10,000 aguardiente-drinking revellers going crazy to Arrow’s Tiney Winey. And they weren’t doing any Latin dance; they were wukking up like bank holiday bears. They were feeling the soca.
That’s why I feel applying any sterile definition to an art form won’t work, since art by definition is a fluid thing which, like a river, takes on different things as it moves on. The point, though, is that it remains a river so in taking in different things an art form must still be recognisable as itself.
This is then where the problem comes, when one has to depend on “feeling” the music. People feel differently and so we will have arguments about whether a song is a ballad or a calypso, a Latin song or a calypso and so on, ad infinitum.
I maintain, though, that any time there must be instructions given to musicians as to how to play to bring out the calypso in a song which is supposed to be a calypso, that song can’t really be a calypso at all.
So rather than open a Pandora’s box by attempting to define a calypso, perhaps the NCF would be well advised to stick to making it clear how many verses at a minimum should make up a song entered in competition.
Again, I would suggest three. There is a time limit of seven minutes for Pic-o-de-Crop, so if someone can get four verses into that time, that’s cool. But no more two-verse songs, please. Just now we will be getting a band intro, a verse and bare hooklines and choruses after that.
How’s that for creativity?