When the National Cultural Foundation gets around to announcing the semi-finalists for this year’s Pic-o-De-Crop calypso competition, I expect to hear the name Mr Billboard from the Experience Tent among them.
In fact, if Mr Billboard can repeat the exceptional performance which he delivered on judging night at The Plantation Garden Theatre last Friday, I even see him making it all the way to the finals.
Unlike his tent mates, this dynamic talent, covered all of the basics and more. His was the total package which set the bar so high, no one else was able to reach it on the night.
Mr Billboard delivered the goods melodically, lyrically, rendition and presentation wise with vocal clarity, diction, use of stage, interpretation and connection with his audience. His first offering Bout Hey Sweet, was a deliciously contagious, tongue-in-cheek social commentary, which speaks of a country in economic and social decline with many people living beyond their means, apparently oblivious to the consequences.
His was a very important message with a punch-line that demanded audience participation.
“Like candy to rot yuh teet, Barbados sweet, sweet, sweet,” one line proclaims melodically.
With obvious passion and commitment to the song, Mr Billboard stuck to his mission on the night. Even when his shoe heel shackled out on stage, he simply did not lose a beat. And if one thought his first half was penetrative and appealing, Mr Billboard saved his best performance for last. He dared to take the audience into his personal life, sharing an emotionally-charged and riveting true life story of his young daughter, who virtually “came back from the grave” just after Crop Over last year.
With his son Dynamo, a Junior Monarch semi-finalist, sitting in the front row of the tent, the more experienced performer relived the painful experience of nearly losing his daughter in a song entitled Not Too Young To Die.
The haunting kaiso recounts the near tragedy in which the little girl fell seriously ill, seized up and was at death’s door. Mr Billboard all but wept openly as he brought the song alive and made it real to his audience, throwing a sympathetic hush over The Plantation Garden Theatre.
After this very moving performance, emcee Lyrical was on the brink of tears and couldn’t help but to recall a personal tragedy of his own in which one of his six sons drowned some time ago.
On a night that clearly belonged to Mr Billboard, there were few other calypsonians who knocked at the semi-finals door, strong as they were in some aspects but not in others. In this vein, most deserving of mention would be Apache, Slim Jim, Black Eagle and Juel.
James Slim Jim Leacock, performed Policia, a calypso with a Latin feel that examines bad driving habits that result in road accidents and A Hole In De Bucket, which uses the theme of a children’s song to “put some licks” in the Freundel Stuart administration.
If he reaches the semis, it would be A Hole In De Bucket. Apache, Black Eagle and Juel also came up short on the night; so too did The Original Clarke Dan who offers some plausible themes, such as running from the evil and ills in society, but in the grand scheme of the competition, I’m not sure how he is going to move beyond the tent.
Lady Mums is not ready for this competition yet and someone needs to work with her on her rendition, phrasing and general stage performance. But she’s got the right spirit and that counts for a lot.
I left The Doctor for last because on opening night the medicine he prescribed had me over the moon. He was sweet, sweet and connected with me in both songs. However, on judging night last Friday, it was like an anti-climax. Even though I still recognised his beautiful vocal tones, I was not feeling him in the same way and he appeared to be singing within a comfort zone that did not do justice to his obvious singing and performing abilities. For a calypso competition, he would have faced another challenge. His High Praises is literally a worship song, more suited to the church environment, a gospel concert or a non-calypso contest. Competition aside, the Experience Tent provides really lovely, wholesome and uplifting music which the entire family can sing along with. At the end of the night, the tent is worth experiencing.