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At the Apollo

by Donna Sealy

cropover2013apolloThis year, Apollo will be true to calypso.

If truth be told, that’s his intention every year.

Sitting with Barbados TODAY for an interview at its Warrens, St. Michael offices earlier this week, the reigning calypso monarch at the Cave Hill Campus has so much information to share about calypso, its history, calypsonians and carnival that he can talk for hours and hours about it without the conversation becoming a bore.

He entered the national arena after winning the UWI competition and he thought it would have been easy.

“I placed second in my first year so I figured if I could place second in my first year out I could give the Pic-O-De-Crop a try. When you first enter [the art form] you’re a little naive about the whole thing; like the average Barbadian you don’t think about the tent structure, the fact that they’re about 15 guys in about six to seven or eight tents who are all trying to get into this thing. When you’re out of it you basically see a semi-final and a final.

“There was a year that Bumba sang with us, he came at the last minute and he didn’t go through and you would have people figuring Bumba didn’t sing this year because he didn’t sing at the semifinals or the finals, they don’t take into consideration that they’re so many tents in Barbados and everybody’s trying to get in the Pic-O-De-Crop.

“I figured based on the success I had at UWI I was good enough to get to the semi-finals. I figured if you could win at UWI you could do that. That was the feeling going into the competition the first time around. Since then I’ve kind of developed a love for it which actually goes beyond composing and performing. I did my degree in History and I decided I would use that the investigate calypso in Barbados,” he said.

This year, his two offerings are Merry & Gay and X X X which he was happy to talk about.

“In X X X I start with the election and then I get more current with some things that are going on, I suggest why have I given my X for this. I refer to a couple of things that have happened outside of the election and question did you place your X the right place. Having seen this happen do you think that your X went the right place.

“The over-arching idea of the song is had my X gone either way what would the difference have been,” Apollo explained.

“In Merry & Gay, which has been the more popular of the two songs so far, from the perspective of a boy scout, I have taken a look into the future. What would happen if we had openly gay scout leaders in Barbados? What are some of the things that could happen and the songs goes on to talk about my father who sees the thing in the newspaper and doesn’t understand it.

“I agree with the stand being made by the Boy Scout Association in Barbados, I support them 100 per cent in the song. As a scout I agree I don’t want that. In the other verses I go on to say what is an absurd look at some of the things that might occur if we have openly gay scout leaders, so the humour comes from that aspect of it. This song started as a joke at school and I started to add parts to it…

“I have friends who are in the Boy Scouts and they support the stand taken by the head of the Boy Scouts so I was joking with them about this. As you know the homosexual agenda has been in the papers, on the call-in programmes every day for the last couple of months, so it’s almost tackling two birds with one stone because you’re making a general statement on the homosexual agenda but at the same time you’re zeroing in on the Boy Scouts who are essentially children.

“My stance on it is that even if a man, or woman, decided I’m 18 or 21 and I want to be a homosexual fine, but don’t tell me that children who don’t need to know anything about sex, you’re going to bring your lifestyle in an open manner and display it in front of them. It’s an absolute no-no for me…,” he said.

Having said that, he noted he does not write a full song in one go but in stages and with his bass guitar.

When he’s not being Apollo or MC-ing the Kingdom of Super Gladiators, Andr√ Clarke is a physical education teacher at Good Shepherd Primary.

Why did he join that Waterford, St. Michael-based tent?

He recalled meeting tent manager Roy Byer at a job fair when he was seeking employment, but he did not join the cast immediately.

“I started with Gladiators. There is a year I emceed almost the whole season except the judging night. That was good I enjoyed that. When you come on stage you don’t get any nerves because you’re already on stage, you already know who’s in the audience, you’re familiar with the faces and you know who’s warm and who’s cold. It is more stressful that being just a performer in the sense that you have to remember your song because you’re up there and you have to remember these people’s names, the songs they’re going to sing etc, etc,

“Before some people perform they’re in a corner, with headphones, calm and just listening to their songs over and over. When you’re up there and you have to bring on the people, you don’t get a chance to settle down,” he said.

Apollo said this is perhaps the first time he will be tailoring his songs for competition.

“Apollo wants to be true to the calypso tradition. Perhaps this is the first year that I’m getting into character in terms of dressing specifically for the songs. You can look forward to seeing Merry & Gay on Sunday night, there will be a subtle hint in my dress for X X X. Usually I like to do the suit, the hat. I have never brought a cane on stage but it can be done. The style of dress, the delivery … the name, Apollo is the Greek god of music and poetry…,” the calypsonian said.

For Clarke, the person who holds a degree in History, he intends to follow the Chalkdust model.

“I see the need for someone in Barbados to do what Chalkdust has done in Trinidad, which is to research the calypso, present it to the public so they can have a better understanding of where they came from, what they have been doing and where they can now go.

“One of the weaknesses in calypso is that you don’t see it or hear it after the festival so how can you expect the product to improve when people don’t know what the product is?” he said.

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