The annual treat for the capital’s calypso-lovers is upon us! The London Calypso Tent, run by the Association of Calypsonians UK (ACUK), opens its doors on Friday 3 August.
With music supplied by the ABC All Stars Band and backed by the honey-voiced Soca Divettes, around 16 UK-based calypsonians will battle it out on the Tabernacle stage every Friday for the honour of being crowned London Calypso Monarch. There are also Groovy Soca Monarch and People’s Choice (King and Queen of the Tent) titles to contend for.
Names to look out for are reigning UK Calypso Monarch Brown Sugar and past winners such as London griot Alexander D Great, veteran Lord Cloak, the ever-popular G-String, four-time Monarch Sheldon Skeete and unstoppable sisters Sunshine & Nadiva. However, other calypsonians have been quietly honing their talent for years and perhaps one of them will catch the judges’ ear this year. New names on the bill for 2018 are Lutenant, Maxseebanton and Skipper.
The London Tent is now in its 26th season, but guest artistes Tobago Crusoe and De Alberto have been delighting audiences for longer than that. For Crusoe, ‘age is just a number’ and as he showed at the Notting Hill Carnival press launch he’s still adept at whipping up an extempo verse.
Three special guests from Trinidad & Tobago will also be appearing: Stacey Sobers, who won this year’s National Women’s Action Committee Calypso Queen contest, the acknowledged Chutney Soca Queen of T&T, Drupatee Ramgoonai and Olatunji Yearwood.
Few would disagree with Karene Asche’s assessment that Stacey’s ‘Kings and Queens’ gives “food for thought”, so let’s hope we hear this powerful calypso. Drupatee could of course fill the whole evening with her spellbinding chutney hits – but how will the ABC Band re-create her trademark tassa rhythm? And many of the Tent’s long-time supporters will be keen to see the return of Olatunji, remembering his time on the old Yaa stage back in 2003 when he came over as Junior Calypso Monarch.
The Tent is wonderfully entertaining, of course, but it is also a precious part of our cultural life, as ACUK chair Vincent John explained:
“The Tent remains one of the most recognised and acclaimed events leading up to Notting Hill Carnival. As griots of grass-roots community life experiences and concerns, our artistes have a lot of material to present this year. Our members play an important social role in preserving the memory of our society through calypso and groovy soca, in their various forms from the serious to the comical.”
If you want to find out more about the background to the Tent and the place of this unique genre of Caribbean music in Britain, ACUK’s 25th anniversary book, Calypso in London, will be on sale at the door for £7.99.
The London Calypso Tent, at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, London W11 2AY, takes place on Friday 3, Friday 10, Friday 17 (Groovy Soca Monarch contest), Thursday 23 (Calypso Monarch Final) and Friday 24 (King and Queen of the Tent – People’s Choice). Tickets £12, concs £10, u16 £5; doors open 7.45pm. More details: carnivalvillage.org.uk; email: britishcalypsonians(at)gmail.com