From the first note the ABC All Stars Band showed they were on cracking form; all three Soca Divettes were in their accustomed places; and controlling the pace with a firm hand was the imposing figure of Martin Jay. All was set for a fine night of kaiso competition at the Association of Calypsonians UK’s London Calypso Tent on Friday.
Taking the opening spot on this Semi Finals night was Tent founder member De Admiral, with ‘Ah Say Yuh Wrong’. “Who say we can’t organise our own carnival?” he asked. Many in the audience clearly agreed with Admiral about where the blame lies: “It is RBKC who set this negative tone, to keep you in their comfort zone”. Muffinman also kept it local with his calypso ‘The Storm’, which was enhanced by evocative images of Notting Hill and amusing slogans. Both singers have quite soft voices, which sometimes were overwhelmed by the onslaught of drums and brass from the band – at least for those sitting in the front of the hall. Some in gallery, on the other hand, complained that they could hear the singers but not the band! The job of a sound engineer is not an easy one…
‘Raise Yuh Head’ instructed Rev B. It’s a well-crafted calypso, though it didn’t set the audience alight this time, and perhaps it was hard to be optimistic in the face of the Reverend’s list of social problems. Music Man criticised our modern materialism in ‘Pay and Display’ where the poor are told, “If you can’t pay, just pack your bags and go away”. There were more serious messages, enlivened by distinctive dance moves, from Dansa, in the self-explanatory ‘Stop the Killing’.
For 26 years the London Calypso Tent has been the centre of Lord Cloak’s kaiso fiefdom, and with his 2018 semi-finals entry, ‘Drug Peddlers’, he displayed the style and timing that have made him a calypso monarch many times over. He asked why the street peddlers get arrested while the “drug lords and drug barons” get away with their crimes. And why do Caribbean governments get away with selling off beaches, asked Alexander D Great. In ‘The Beaches are for Everyone’, Alexander, appropriately attired in a holiday shirt, complained, “They’re ready to sell our birthright”.
After a short interval, the Divettes kicked off the second half of the show with the debut performance of their new song for 2018, ‘Show me the Light’. Sunshine and Nadiva kept the tempo high with ‘I Got It’, which suggests they’re on track to make a good showing at next week’s Groovy Soca competition. Clivus, all in black, was up next with ‘Meh Blood Hot’, telling us “I ain’t got time for cooling” – but thanks to a portable aircon unit, at least the temperature in the hall was kept to a comfortable level.
A serious, challenging subject, powerfully written lyrics, strong and passionate delivery, and a commanding stage presence are prerequisites for success in calypso competition. The next two performers were among those who ticked all the boxes.
G-String’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Rome’ lamented the terrible toll suffered by migrants crossing the Mediterranean in leaky boats in search of a better life and condemned the poor leadership in Africa that pushes people to make that fateful, sometimes fatal, journey. As he sang, “The only one who is making a dollar is the human trafficker”. Sheldon Skeete had a journey in mind, too, as he warned that before we set off on ‘The Road to Brexit’ we need to mend the potholes and put our national house in order – fixing crime, education, health and more. We’ll have to wait until Thursday 23 August to see if the ingenuity of his transport-related imagery has put Sheldon on the road to Calypso Monarchy.
Was there just a hint of the late, great Peace & Love in the choppy keyboard style of ‘Freedom’ from Masterlink? After all, even the lyrics contained the words “peace and love”… The last performer was Helena B who sent us out on a high note with ‘Crime Doesn’t Pay’, combining a lovely old-school soca style rhythm with Helena’s luscious smoky vocals.
So it ended all too soon, but happily there’s the Groovy Soca contest to look forward to on Friday 17 August. Don’t forget that you can read more about the stars of the Tent past and present in Calypso in London; you can buy copies of the book from the front desk at The Tabernacle for £7.99 – all profits go to support ACUK’s vital work in keeping the culture alive and vibrant.