EDITORIAL: Calypso slowly dying
LAST NIGHT, the judges employed by the National Cultural Foundation will completed the preliminary round of judging in the Pic-O-De-Crop calypso competition, and by early today the country should know which of the performers will be competing in the semi-finals in a few weeks.
How many Barbadians will be interested in the judges’ selections is a discussion that ought to engage officials of the Ministry of Culture, the NCF, the fraternity of calypsonians and others who have the future of the art form at heart.
For many, the often heard refrain “calypso is dying” may seem like a cliché, but if we judge from the quality and quantity of output this year it can’t be hard to discern the very real truth contained within. The calypso tents are few, the number of nights per year they hold shows is now almost negligible, the number of songs that make it to the airwaves is a national embarrassment, and of them the number the average Barbadian will remember can be counted on one hand.
Calypso and the calypso tents in Barbados are a shell of what they once were – and if many of the lovers of traditional calypso were honest with our calypsonians and tent managers they would openly confess that their continued support is often born more out of loyalty and a sense of duty than to the draw of the actual material.
The art form cannot survive against this background. What’s more, anyone who takes a cursory look at the audiences at the various venues would recognise that each year the profile of the supporter is getting older. On the current trajectory organisers may soon find themselves required to book venues with wheelchair ramps and oxygen bottles as critical accessories.
Yes, there are still some outstanding calypsonians who each year produce some excellent songs, and a most encouraging sign is that the tents continue to attract some very youthful and talented musicians who stand shoulder to shoulder with the veterans, but clearly the national approach to calypso is overdue for a major revamp.
We have to find viable ways to encourage more veterans to stay in the business and mentor the new entrants. We have to increase the incentives for producing quality work. We have to find ways to get some of those who manage tents to take a more inclusive approach to the ideas of others and to stop seeing themselves as the font of all knowledge. And when it is all said and done we have, as a first step toward getting patrons back into the tents, to get the material from the tents back into the public domain, via television and radio and the all-pervasive Internet.
It may also be of value to find out why after at least a decade of consistently high quality material from the budding artistes who take part in the Junior Calypso Monarch Competition with no end of support from a respected body of veterans, we see such a minuscule number of them “graduate” into the contest for seniors.
The decline in calypso has proved one thing for sure; doing nothing in the face of obvious problems hardly ever produces the results one would want. If we fail to act quickly, sensibly and decisively, the calypso season will continue to get shorter, the offerings will hold diminishing interest for Barbadians and “calypso is dying” will inevitably change to “calypso is dead”.
Who will “inject” themselves into this state of affairs?