It was hot, it was ram-packed and it was loud with so much energy in the house on Thursday 25 August the Tabernacle was in danger of overloading the National Grid. It was calypsonians who walked away with the prizes, but the ABC Calypso Monarch finals audience deserved an award for sustained applause and enthusiasm.
With that sort of support, the competing calypsonians gave of their best, and the top three were outstanding – real proof of the UK calypso scene’s variety and maturity. In many previous years, any one of them would have swept the board, so coming third was no disgrace for the ever-popular Santiago. Stuttering Town deserved full marks for originality (one of the judging criteria) as this was an ingenious, well-constructed and engagingly performed humorous calypso. He made the most of the concept’s comic potential, which was loudly appreciated by the crowd.
The passion and power of her delivery distinguished Brown Sugar’s rendition of Black Man, a serious social commentary. Her soaring vocals must have stirred old spirits in the Tabernacle and her conscious lyrics (“We must resist those who are oppressors”) seemed to deserve an “Amen!” quite as much as “Kaiso!”. Again, second place seemed harsh judgement on such a fine song and performance.
But who would deny G-String his moment of glory? Well, not the audience, who had been rooting for him all season, and in his totally topical Referendum the lanky calypsonian gave them just what they wanted. “I’m here representing the Calypso Party” he sang, and the judges were happy to vote for that. The deafening, sustained cheer was ample proof that in this Referendum it was the Remain (on stage) campaign that won by a landslide!
The rather perfunctory mention in the results announcement of fourth- and fifth-placed Alexander D Great and Helena B hardly did the two calypsonians justice. Alexander is the first to admit that he’s not one for wild antics on stage, but he consistently produces some of the best-written calypsos with the sweetest melodies. He also deserves credit as one of the artform’s great educators and evangelists, spreading the appreciation of, and involvement in, the genre far and wide, and Cy Grant, about the pioneering black actor, activist and author, was typical of his output. Helena B is also at the less flamboyant end of the calypso spectrum, but her plea for peace, fairness and tolerance, All God’s Children, was delivered with passion and commitment.
Also competing this year were ABC stalwart De Admiral (slow and serious in Restrictions), Rev B (a strong message in The Move), Clivus (the enjoyably melodic Jah Wrath), Lord Cloak (in postman’s uniform for Warning), Dansa (living up to his name with some nifty moves for Dey Publish It), Music Man (anticipating his coronation with King Crown), and Dave B (celebrating Bajan independence in 50 Years).
With offspring duly delivered, Coco P once again served as MC, but in place of our familiar Divettes there were three new faces: Vikisha, Precious and Natalie – Divettes 2.0; they acquitted themselves well. It was heartening to see ABC president Mighty Tiger back where he belongs in the tent that he was instrumental in setting up 24 years ago, and he was able to present G-String with his trophy. Carnival Village supremo Shabaka Thompson was present too. Never one to shy away from a controversy (or to create one!), Shabaka criticised the presence of 14 competitors on finals night as “democracy gone mad” – “We must bring back the semi-finals,” he insisted.
The calypso competition only took up the first half of the evening – to find out what happened later, read the report on the Last Night of the Tent…