by Latoya Burnham
Marq Pierre’s smile is infectious; his laugh is compelling and his voice, even more so when he starts to belt out some social commentary.
The handsome 16-year-old is the new reigning Junior Calypso Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago, and despite already holding eight other crowns and calypso titles, this year’s success is still a big deal for him.
“To me it has a very special meaning because a lot more adults respect calypso, so therefore to be in the business, one, and to win the crown shows to me, it brings respect to me and the pleasure of a lot of older folks to see that they are proud to see younger people coming up in calypso to do positive things. So this crown is not normal, it really is extravagant.”
His mom, Chevaanise Parks explained that it all started around age seven or eight when he just came to her and told her he wanted to sing and wanted a song.
“He would always be singing a Shaggy or a Cro Cro, he love Cro Cro and Shadow and Sparrow and I wrote him a song called TrinidadandTobago@SesameStreet.com and he won that year and the next year and the next year. So he won six consecutive competitions in three different regions – in all nine titles. So when the seniors heard him sing, they said you need to bring him to the national level and I was like, ‘Oh God, more work on mommy hands’, but I did and he made it every year to the finals and would win awards like Best Performer in the Zone, Best National Performer, Best Song, so he has a whole room of just trophies and accolades,” she said.
Parks noted that Marq was asked to perform at the funeral of the late Mighty Duke and at age nine, he was already performing alongside Bunji Garlin, who Marq himself said was one of the people he looked up to and whose music he followed. As writer of all his songs, Parks said she believed it was her outlook on life, her spirituality and sensitivity that helped her craft just the right songs for her son.
With his mom by his side, he has won the Sangre Grande title three years in a row; the Matura Regional, also for the hat-trick; the Tunapuna Regional and Junior Soca Monarch, along with this year’s crown.
The trade-off, Parks said though was that in order to sing her young calypsonian had to do well in school – a feat Marq, who admitted loving Maths, Algebra, and just numbers in general had no problem with. As a result, he spent his school life in the A class and is now awaiting the results of his CXCs.
Football, swimming, cricket and hanging out with friends are among his hobbies, but then so is Maths.
“Just for fun I pick up a Maths book because Maths is easy. Me and my friends, we are very competitive. So we just sit by the highway and every car that pass, we add the license plate numbers and the first one to come up with the right answer, it’s a bet. So Maths, Algebra, Fractions it’s just there.”
Just like Maths, calypso is another love that he just can’t explain.
“It’s something we Trinis like to call a vibes. Vibes from Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano, just listening to them, seeing what they can do on stage influences you to be just like them. So that’s where it really came from…
“Listening to songs from The Mighty Duke, the Mighty Sparrow – my favourite one was Education…, and of course David Rudder and Calypso Music. It is not just calypso. It is calypso, soca, reggae, R&B, pop if you like. So I am exposed to a lot of things, but calypso is like one of my person favourite.
“Calypso exposes the culture of the Caribbean to say. It tells a story. There is a message in calypso and I love it,” said Marq with a big smile, as the local Junior Monarch band struck up notes of his song in the background at the Wildey Gymnasium yesterday.
The song he won with this year was What If We Knew, written by his mother and Larry Harewood and arranged by Julie Rivers.
The competition in Trinidad, he noted, was not nearly a walk in the park, but extremely tough.
“It’s really tough because us kids, we don’t do it for the money or the fame. It really is friendly competition, but to have the title itself, Junior Calypso Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago, it’s amazing. Just to see your name in lights everywhere, is amazing.”
Having the title means extra work, more performances, and perhaps even influence to get more people, both young and old involved in calypso music, said Marq.
“When you have the title, everybody wants you. After the calypso competition, carnival has not hit as yet. As soon as Monday and Tuesday carnival is over, this one has a show and that one has a show and they would like to make their event big; so by having the younger generation influencing the others to do better, they will watch the junior calypso monarch. So it is a lot more performances.”
While he noted his own competition was enjoyable, having attended the local juniors lunchtime concert on Wednesday afternoon, Marq said he was impressed with what he saw.
“The Bajan competitors all have really, really clear diction, whereas in Trinidad you have one or two dialects, even though our diction is good sometimes, but there is one or two dialect in the song. Another difference I realise is the stage performance. Sometimes we might deliver a bit stronger physically, but their voice is clean and lovely and they can sing. That’s what we have mutual. We both can sing and it is just the stage performance and diction – that’s about it.”
And while having nine crowns to his name now might seem like quite an accomplishment and it is, Marq said being in Barbados was still a big deal for him.
“It’s really a huge step for me to be here because I realise Crop-Over is the biggest thing in Barbados and to be here performing as a guest artiste, not a competitor or anything, it gives me a sense of [accomplishment] that is amazing.”
It’s surprisingly hard for him to say exactly what is most enjoyable about being a calypso monarch.
“I would say I love the message it sends in the calypso. Sometimes, whether it is social commentary, politics or whatever the case may be, family life, they all send a very positive message to turn the other cheek or to try to do better.”
And that’s exactly what his song What If We Knew speaks about. He will perform it at the Scotiabank Junior Calypso Monarch Finals at the Gymnasium tomorrow night and as he swayed with the music of the band, belting out the lyrics and blowing playful kisses at the backup vocalists, Marq is looking forward to the event.
His playful, yet simultaneously serious calypso persona on stage is something that is now like the blood flowing through his veins. Calypso is part of who he is.
“It might sound strange, but when I’m not singing I’m still singing. I can’t help it. Singing words and harmonising is just there,” said the teenaged kaiso king. firstname.lastname@example.org