Rice a shining Star
Strip away all the sexy hype, controversy and fanfare of the Crop-Over Festival and it would be clear: there are everyday people, not making headline news, who work tirelessly at building the island’s cultural landscape so that the festival could maintain substance – people such as Eleanor Rice. This year’s Crop-Over season makes it 23 years she has been involved in the island’s calypso tent culture, firstly with Conquerors Calypso Tent, which then joined with Klass Kaiso to form Cave Shepherd All Stars. She started as a backup vocalist, and while she took on the responsibilities of being All Star’s manager and producer since 2008, she is still at the microphone for every performance, lending her voice to calypso’s cause.How Eleanor came into the calypso arena in the first place highlights the thin boundaries between the church, culture, community and calypso in Barbados. Eleanor spoke to EASY Magazine recently before the tent judged for the Pic-O-De-Crop and Party Monarch competitions and explained it all.As a soloist with the Christian Missions, she would visit and perform at various masses. Her popularity on that circuit opened up an opportunity for her to join the tent fraternity. “After I bought my home a friend of mine, Junior Quintyne, asked me if I’d like to sing in a calypso tent. I said, ‘No. People would want to know what I’m doing singing in a tent’. And he asked me, ‘Wait, you don’t want to pay for your house?’ So I said yes,” she recalled. From there it was no looking back, instead, she has grown and gone on to perform other activities in support of her tent. The change over from soloist to back-up vocalist in 1987 was at the time completely new to her. “When I started out I didn’t know anything about back up singing. You have to know how to carry your melody . . . you have to be able to sing your parts while listening to the person next to you and still carry your tune behind the artiste,” she said, indicating how important multitasking was even back then.But then again, Eleanor could also teach a thing or two about multitasking. Success at it might even be her little trade secret. She’s a self-confessed diva at juggling several responsibilities at the same time who thinks planning keeps her ahead of her game.For her 9-to-5 job she performs the duties of a community service officer with the Probation Services Department, a job she loves, particularly the rehabilitative services she helps to facilitate.From even before she had been honing her skills as a manager and administrator. She registered her retail business Sweet Little Things in 1977 and set up her own apparel boutique, running it while she held down her day-job as a secretary with a well-known chartered accountant.So with ten years under her belt already in fashion merchandising, when she started in the tent Eleanor’s first plan was to improve the image of the female back-up singers.“I realised that the women were dressing like the men. I couldn’t understand why the girls wanted to look like men. So from my second year I told the girls they had to dress up,” she said, giving the background to a tradition of styling that has developed among male and female backup singers and that generated an income for the island’s fashion designers.Since then she and her husband have set up a flea market on Saturdays, and she’s also busy with that.Asked how the tents of today compared with tents of yesteryear, she started with the audience.“Back then they were more responsive. They would laugh at you if you wanted laughing at. Nowadays, the audiences are more reserved even with younger people coming in the tents. Conquerors and All Stars have always been known for strong social commentary.“That trend has continued, and this year we have so many more singing social commentary,” she said. For Eleanor the social commentary calypso still hold the reigns for Crop-Over music.“The calypsonian is a prophet. He tells the people what he sees and, what he saw and what will happen in the future. I think it is important that social and political issues are aired,” she said. She lamented on the decline of social commentary over the years in the tents with a preference given to party music. She has continued producing tents even as it has become has been increasingly difficult to do so because of the financial climate and subsidy cuts to tents by Government. Why?“I love it. I believe in it. This is my contribution to the festival. One of the greatest things about the festival is that we can call it ours,” she said despite the elimination of certain events such as the donkey-cart parades which gave the festival its uniqueness.While as a business woman herself she understands the importance of profit margins she warns against biases to the party events at the expense of everything else.“You also have to put back in those elements that teach us where we come from. We need to bring back our history into the festival,” she said.Don’t expect Eleanor to take centre stage at the tents and compete in the Pic-O-De-Crop. She stated passionately her “place” was to organise the tent, to lend support to her calypsonians and to ensure the tent tradition Barbados once knew continued.