Devon Seale - 2016 National Calypso Monarch
By Natasha Ofosu
Trinidad & Tobago | Wednesday 10 February 2016: 7:07 GMT
Patience and persistence have paid off for Trinidadian calypsonian Devon Seale, who has won his first national Calypso Monarch crown after 11 previous attempts. Seale, 39, dethroned the reigning monarch Roderick ‘Chuck’ Gordon, at the Dimanche Gras show held on 7 February 2016, at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain. It was a double celebration for the calypsonian because his cousin, Helon Francis, placed second, while Gordon had to settle for third. In the first round of the two-stage competition, Seale performed Respect God’s Voice, a political commentary in which he reminded former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of her belief that “the voice of the people is the voice of God” and advised her to accept the results of the September 2015 general election in which her party was defeated. The calypsonian followed that in the second round with a catchy, up-tempo number called Spirit of Carnival. Dressed as a blue devil with his body smeared in blue paint, Seale shared his view that a calypsonian’s second song at Dimanche Gras should be uplifting to get people in the mood for the street parades, which begin mere hours after the show with J’ouvert on Carnival Monday morning. Seale was commanding and consistent in both stages, moving with the confidence of a man who believed he could win the contest. With few exceptions the calibre of music in the competition was high. Most calypsonians had the same idea as Seale, opting for a slow, weighty calypso in the first round and something danceable and, in some cases more comical, in the second. Not surprisingly, the majority of calypsonians also dealt with the outcome of the 2015 general election and the performance of the former People’s Partnership government in their songs. Helon Francis, who is the 2016 Young King calypso monarch, performed two satirical numbers Paradise, which questions whether that label can continue to be applied to Trinidad, and Real Bandits, in which he cautioned that many criminals did not carry guns, but wore suits and held positions of authority in the society. He and two-time monarch Chuck Gordon have distinctive, soulful voices that are easy on the ear and hint at their versatility to perform different genres. Gordon portrayed strong visual presentations for his songs Fixing Time and It Eh Go Wuk. In the former he had a ship representing Trinidad and Tobago being refurbished as he encouraged nationals to forget the past government and focus on doing what was necessary in the present to build the country up. His second offering featured him telling his wannabe bride that their marriage could not work since she did not love local culture. Another singer who stood out and has been described as a national monarch in waiting is Selvon ‘Mistah Shak’ Noel. Big in stature and with a booming voice, Noel thrilled the audience with Generation Next and Hashtag HYSM (Hush Yuh Stinking Mouth), both of which were brutally blunt about, respectively, the behaviour of parents and Opposition politicians in society. Noel is the current calypso monarch of South Trinidad and took fifth place. Dimanche Gras (or ‘Big Sunday’) is traditionally the night when the last major static competition in Trinidad’s Carnival takes place. In the past, it included the King and Queen of the Bands contest in which the best large individual costumes were judged, alongside the Calypso Monarch contest. However, the competitions have been split, leaving just the calypso competition on the Sunday. Proceedings began promptly at 7pm with 2016 Junior Calypso Monarch Sharissa Camejo performing her winning song Our Blessed Land. The 12 senior calypsonians then took to the stage in smooth succession for their first and second rounds, enabling the live performances to be finished long before midnight. This was unheard of when Dimanche Gras was a combined costume and calypso event. Four female calypsonians were among the finalists including the 2011 monarch Karene Asche, who delivered one of the most dramatic performances of the night. Dressed all in white and sporting white braids and contact lenses, she took on the character of a snow queen/sorcerer for her first song Bring Back the Love. In it she advocated love as the antidote to the crime and violence that are rife in Trinidad and Tobago. She placed fourth. First-time finalists Marsha Clifton (Lady Adanna) and Victoria Cooper-Rahim (Queen Victoria) handled the pressure of the ‘big yard’ with aplomb. Cooper-Rahim sang More Hope, a reggae-infused social commentary and The Aftershock, a political track about the lack of money in the country’s treasury. She placed eighth. Clifton possessed a voice and musical style reminiscent of Orisha songstress Ella Andall. She performed a sobering first song, A Murder A Day. The connection with Andall was especially apparent during her second song My Music, which was infused with African drumming and melodically had the essence of Andall’s song Rhythm of a People. The judges’ decision to place her twelfth was harsh, as her performance merited a higher score. In contrast, the veteran calypsonian Weston Rawlins (Cro Cro) displayed a shocking level of amateurism, which should have seen him take last place instead of tenth. His first offering Advice to the Boss was a passable ditty giving guidance to current prime minister Dr Keith Rowley on how to lead the country. His second song, however, Ah Feel It For Gayle, was a poorly conceived and executed commentary about the controversy involving West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle and a female journalist. Eight-time monarch Dr Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust) had no such problems. He employed metaphor and sharp wit to great effect in his calypsos The Road Bad and When Trini Vex, earning sixth place. Completing the line-up were Heather McIntosh who placed seventh; Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, ninth; and Carlos James (Skatie), eleventh.