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GUEST COLUMN – Kaiso sliding

Glyne Murray

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Having not attended any of the live Cavalcades mounted for the 2011 Crop Over season, I decided to view their “highlights” as eventually broadcast on CBCTV.
Bearing in mind that “highlight” can be defined as “an oustanding part of an event or period of time”, I thought that what would be telecast should give me an excellent indication of the current state of our calypso music, particularly as it applied to the younger and newer performers whom the Cavalcades had been designed to project and promote, according to the National Cultural Foundation (NCF).
I thought it would provide me with a useful barometer both of the exhibited talents of the young performers and more important, an insight into their potential to carry calypso music into a future when the present seasoned practitioners were no longer active.
But I regret that the majority of the “highlighted” young performers neither impressed me nor left me confident that they could seriously become credible successors, that is if we continue to accept “calypso” as being a musical work that involves the essential fundamentals of melody, lyrics and rendition where clear articulation matters highly.
That’s because the songs concentrated on the fast-paced tempo that seems to be the staple of the young calypso performers and their fans, to the exclusion of melody, while lyrics were minimal and meaningless, and only glancing attention was paid to good rendition.
I found what was presented was far too often reminiscent of an off-shoot of “rap or hip hop music” that originated in the United States, with the lyrics in our case being rendered atop a very fast rhythm, or as is now said a “riddim”, which many of them seem to have shared among themselves.
And unlike rap or hip hop, the calypsos were not of the protest genre or dealt with social issues.
In light of this seeming Barbadian youthful addiction to very fast rhythm in our calypso continuing, it seems to me that those who care might need to look beyond the contributing factors that more often than not attract the first and heaviest blame.
Namely, such obvious factors as heavy airplay on radio and the age and outlook of on-air radio personnel which seemingly cause them to zealously cater to this particular listenership.
Furthermore, it would appear that there could have developed in Barbados a music subculture with its own informal artistic values and norms, with little or no regard for compositions and performances that meet or even approach hitherto universal criteria that had over the years become the norm in calypso in particular and music in general.
The followers of such a subculture could seemingly have no interest in producing musical works to stand the test of time and structured judgement, but like their fans are only concerned about the proverbial modern “15 minutes of fame” that attends them as performers and recording artistes for the six weeks or so of the Crop Over season, thus most likely making their songs highly disposable and forgettable.
Non-compliance with the standards of the calypso status quo and what could amount to a kind of deliberate built-in musical obsolescence could be enough to satisfy their creative urges, an approach that seems to resonate with many members of the public given the mass appeal they generate at Crop Over time at the expense of those artistes who choose to faithfully stick to the well-trodden paths of calypso.
I wish to submit that this whole isssue of the “downgrading” of calypso is a phenomenon that deserves fuller investigation so we can establish whether what has been happening with the younger brigade for the past few years is simply a fad, or whether it performs a significant function that caters to some deep-seated elements in the Barbadian psyche, thereby requiring serious consideration in the long-term interest of the calypso segment of culture.
Glyne Murray is a former Cabinet minister, diplomat and journalist, with a long-standing interest in cultural matters.