London’s temple of calypso, The Tabernacle, was packed and the atmosphere buzzing with expectation on Thursday night as ten calypsonians gave of their best vying for the UK Calypso Monarch title. Those of us lucky enough to have caught previous performances at the Association of Calypsonians UK London Calypso Tent knew it was going to be an epic contest, and so it was.
Dignitaries present included Rebecca Lawrence of the Mayor’s Office, RBKC Mayor Cllr Rossi (back for a second taste of the Tent), T&T High Commissioner HE Orville London and former HC Garvin Nicholas, journalist and broadcaster Dotun Adebayo, actor Rudolph Walker and calypsonians Trinidad Rio.
It was widely agreed that this year’s finalists have raised the bar once again – arguably, any of the eventual top four would have made a worthy winner. Not so many years ago, most of those placed lower down this year’s results table would have had a strong chance of victory too.
But it was Brown Sugar who sweetened the judges’ ears with her powerful performance of Equal Opportunities. Her imaginative opening got everyone’s attention, looking harassed as if late for work, then coming on stage with vacuum cleaner and apron. Despite all the fights for women’s rights, the opportunities and pressures are hardly equal between the sexes, her well-crafted calypso suggested. A good selection of back-projected slides reinforced the message.
There was huge audience support for Alexander de Great. Unsung Heroes, written by Debra ‘Pan Diva’ Romain, gives long overdue credit to the people who have contributed to our culture, community and the artforms of Carnival. Debra herself came on to play steelpan halfway through and later told Soca News that if anyone else had been singing she’d have included Alexander in the lyrics. As the slide projected behind Alex and Debra said, “We have been guilty of celebrating achievement after people have died” – we shouldn’t have to wait until the funeral to say ‘thank you’.
Just one point separated Alexander from 2016 monarch G String, who gave a storming performance of High Blood Pressure, again to enthusiastic audience response as he drew parallels between modern-day terrorism and the terror inflicted by European leaders and adventurers. It’s a pity the layout of the Tab doesn’t encourage the sort of audience interaction we used to get at the Yaa in times past, but his restless energy on stage generates excitement – every stamp of his foot shook the floor!
Terrorism was on Rev B’s mind too. As we’ve come to expect from the Rev – dressed for the occasion in paramedic’s outfit the lyrics of Stop de Killing are hard-hitting and delivered with passion, ending in a rousing “I hold you responsible” directed towards the bombers. Like G String, he reminded us that terrorism didn’t begin with Daesh. Afterwards, he told SN that he and his wife Beverley – Brown Sugar – write their calypsos together and may be releasing some of their music before long.
Lord Cloak’s Where were You? contrasted the West Indian immigrant experience in Britain – feeding electricity meters with coins, and signs in windows saying “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” – with some of those who come in today getting free housing, benefits and travel. It certainly struck a chord with older members of the audience, and his well-chosen outfit could have come straight out of a black-and-white photo from the 1950s (though the suitcase wouldn’t have had wheels in those days!). Helena B emphasised the positives of new arrivals to Britain in the Alexander-penned Immigration. As MC Coco P – on cracking form tonight – said, it’s a subject we hear a lot about these days… Helena’s voice is one of the loveliest in the Tent, but it needs the right song to show it off and perhaps this wasn’t quite it.
De Admiral had an important message, too, in Our Fathers Dey, but his gentle delivery is not best suited to the heat of competition night, but he had the satisfaction of pulling a few points ahead of 2017 Groovy Soca Monarch Santiago, whose Caribbean Creatures (fortified with Angostura 1919, SN can exclusively reveal) didn’t seem to charm the judges this time round. Dansa’s They Fooled Us came in ninth, but he didn’t leave the hall empty-handed, as he won a prize in the draw. Dave Batson, who sang the pleasantly retro Saturday Night Soca Party, perhaps deserved some sort of accolade for his startling yellow suit and natty shoes, though Music Man’s bright orange outfit deserves a mention too.
The second half was pure entertainment, starting off with genial Muffinman’s feelgood Soca Resistance, Clivus’s Pirates, Music Man’s Music Maker and Soca Kidd’s Call Me Name, enlivened by antics with bedsheet and hosepipe. For a truly classy performance we had to wait for former UK monarch Cleopatra, who came back from exile in St Vincent to warn of what happens when your private business ends up on Public Media as Coco P will no doubt discover!
The evening concluded on a high note with Lady Wonder singing Life is a Sacrifice, her sister Shirlane Hendrickson embarrassing – and delighting – members of the audience with her saucy Cassava. And then it was time for their father, the ever-youthful All Rounder, who advised us How to be an Icon, declared that of all the Caribbean creatures it’s the pussy cat who’s a Man’s Best Friend, wined up to Body Wine and showed how he can jook for Garlic Sauce.
The show continues on Friday night at the Tabernacle with the Last Night of the Tent and People’s Choice Award, the World Music Stage on Carnival Sunday and Monday in Powis Square, and a special 25th anniversary celebration in October – full details to follow later.
1 Brown Sugar Equal Opportunities (282)
2 Alexander D Great Unsung Heroes (270)
3 G String High Blood Pressure (269)
4 Rev B Stop de Killing (252)
5 Lord Cloak Where were you? (245)
6 Helena B Immigration (237)
7 De Admiral Our Fathers Dey (229)
8 Santiago Caribbean Creatures (218)
9 Dansa They Fooled Us (205)
10 Dave B Saturday Night Soca Party (183)