Soca storms on to the calypso stage


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Back in times you knew what to expect from the ABC London Calypso Tent. It was always good fun when the rum and Carib loosened the flow of picong and ole talk. On stage it was pretty ‘old school’ too – mostly older men singing on a fairly limited range of subjects in largely traditional styles. The competition usually came down to a tussle between Lord Cloak and the late ABC President for Life Mighty Tiger.

But in August 2019 it’s all change at Calypso Junction. After flirting with ‘ACUK’, which never seemed to catch on, ABC has transformed itself into ACASA – the Association of Calypsonians and Soca Artistes. ACASA is more than a new set of initials; it shows that soca has a place in the Tent more than one night a year.

What would Tiger have said to that? Actually, he’d probably have approved, as he always insisted that Calypso and Soca are members of the same family, and both should call the London Tent ‘home’.

On Friday 9 August it wasn’t just the Tent that was feeling the winds of change, as we were under a storm that blew out the lights across the country. The power outage brought traffic and trains to a halt, preventing people from reaching the Tabernacle, so we were missing one Divette and much of the audience when the show got under way at 8.30pm.

Soca Kidd, London Calypso tent 2019. Photograph: Stephen Spark

Undaunted, Soca Kidd, sporting a white chef’s tocque on his head, came down the stairs and bounded on to the stage, brandishing a spoon to stir things up with Bring Your Container. “Carnival is food” he sang, and this energy-packed number was just what we needed for the soca menu. It gained the first encore of the night.

Batch is a name new to the Tent. The young artiste, originally from Pleasantville, Trinidad, is one half of soca duo VillianZ. With Hold on Tight, he put a contemporary twist on the soca theme, but upended convention by asking for his own encore, which earned him a few words of advice from MC Martin Jay!

On this night of contrasts, Alexander D Great took the slow road to demonstrate the arts of calypso composition and exposition. Introducing Equiano’s Narrative, Alex explained that his song takes the form of a narrative between the calypsonian and Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who became a best-selling author, publisher and businessman in 18th century England. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, was published in 1789 and remains in print today. Martin had a sly dig at Alex’s expense, saying “The King [De Admiral] is worried – someone else has a song as slow as his!”

There was a nice beat to The Scenes of Carnival from Clivus, who gave us a bit of Carnival history and atmosphere in his distinctive style. Talking of style, Muffinman showed how much variety the calypso genre encompasses these days with his delightfully laid-back, summery Woman You are Wonderful, which lyrically evokes the pleasures of Carnival. He’s a prolific song-writer, so if you’re a singer in search of a song, Muffin’s your man.

Shining a light on the realities of our world is the role of social commentary calypso, and an Alexander composition, A Mother’s Tears, struck at the heart of the matter. Put across with pathos and passion by Helena B, it condemns the knife crime epidemic that’s cutting down our youngsters and devastating the lives of their parents.

Another fine exponent of social commentary calypso is G-String. This year he chose a slightly lighter topic – though one of burning interest to Tent-goers. Bottom in the Road is a witty, sharply written, slow-tempo lament for the way bump ’n wine tunes are have ousted true kaiso from the road. It definitely struck a chord with the audience – especially his encore verse about the ABC’s funding being cut.

Repeated calls for encores had eaten into the schedule, so the audience – which by now had expanded somewhat – was put on notice that the interval had undergone its own budget cut. Despite barely having time to grab a beer from the bar, no one wanted to risk missing the second half of this memorable show, so we were all obediently back in our seats in time to catch a nice soca number from the Divettes (now fully up to strength).

D Admiral, London Calypso Tent 2019. Photograph: Stephen Spark

De Admiral was a popular choice for London Calypso Monarch last year and, having tasted the heady power and vast wealth that the position brings (in an alternative universe, perhaps!), he is determined to hang on to his crown. With Brexiteering, De Admiral showed that if he was in charge of the ship of state, Messrs Farage and Johnson would be walking the plank. The well-crafted song went down well, and he had another up his sleeve too. “If you think I can’t dance, you’re wrong,” he warned, still looking remarkably fresh for someone who’d just stepped off the flight from Barbados after Crop Over. And, indeed, he turned in some nifty footwork for Answer the Question (How does it feel?), which features lovely African-style guitar from TJ.

Masterlink brought us an up-tempo number, Trinbago, Come leh we Dance, which calls out the sweet-sounding names of Trinidadian towns. And that brought us to the veteran maestro – the Godfather of Calypso, as Martin calls him – Lord Cloak. Yaa Soca caught our attention by starting with a tassa beat to lead us in to Cloak’s fascination for an Indian girl at the Yaa Asantewaa Centre (we wonder who that was…). Cloak is a master at working his audience and always comes down from the stage. What a pity, then, that at least one light didn’t follow him, leaving him in darkness for much of the time. Soca News has heard there’s a new lighting team at the Tabernacle, and we hope that they can up their game in time for next week’s show.

Cloak has a voice made for calypso; Ms Desire, by contrast, has the archetypal ‘soca voice’. Her song, Soca Music Raise Me, had all the energy the audience needed to get them to raise their hands and join in the chorus. Bringing the show to a close was DeeVine with Wuk Me and it was interesting to compare the different styles of these two accomplished soca artistes. DeeVine’s warm voice and the catchy tune brought just right feel-good vibe to the end of the evening.

By this stage at the old Yaa Asantewaa, most of the audience would have been on its feet and dancing, but the formality of the Tabernacle’s raked seating means it takes a lot to get the crowd moving.

No matter: all who attended surely had a good time and went out of the hall looking forward to next Friday’s Groovy Soca Monarch contest. Some of the Tent’s energy seemed to have seeped into the National Grid too, as power had been restored in the meantime. Who needs nuclear when you can power the city on calypso and soca!

  • ACASA’s London Calypso Tent returns to The Tabernacle, Powis Square, London W11 2AY on Friday 16 August for the Groovy Soca Monarch finals and on Thursday 22 August for the Calypso Monarch finals (please note this is the final show of the 2019 season).