…then there were 18
The judges’ decision, as the saying goes, is final.
But perhaps this should be the final decision for this year’s judges.
The 18 semi-finalists were announced early this morning at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre and to be fair, the men of musical letters generally got it right. They judged 34 songs and did their lengthy academic qualifications justice. Then they judged a calypso icon and kicked the pail of milk down.
One can’t argue with the inclusion of Mikey, Mr Dale, Adonijah, Classic, Sammy G, Dre, The Doctor, Enobong, Crystal Cummins-Beckles, Adrian Clarke, Biggie Irie, Adonijah, Billboard, Sir Ruel, Donella and Colin Spencer. And, truth be told, under any examination circumstance 16 out of 18 is a grade A – with a possible distinction. So, again, in fairness to our judges, they got a grade A with their musical examination.
But some other students who wanted to pass the test will surely be questioning whether the Big Show’s Gabby and Headliners’ Blood were judged rather than their calypsos. Though iconic status is not part of the criteria, it appears Gabby just has to show up and he will find favour. Blood brought more to the competition this year than Gabby and the judges could be forgiven for their generosity with this high-class entertainer.
But alas, lyrical adroitness, clever interpretation, employing the nuances of the English Language and using imaginative verse, seem not to hold as much weight as the criteria of iconic status. Perhaps the National Cultural Foundation could employ the likes of Red Plastic Bag, Smokey Burke, and Adonijah to conduct classes on the use of language in calypso for those willing to learn.
The judges this morning placed Gabby in the semi-finals with Reparation and Jack Warner. During Tuesday’s judging night at the Big Show, Gabby’s rendition was, as usual, top notch. This will always be first class; it is his strength. However, lyrically, Jack Warner was as weak as the bladder of a chronic diabetic with a urinary tract infection.
During the rule of Papa Doc Duvalier in the late 1970s, early 1980s, some Haitians, including artistes, wanting to express their displeasure at the despot’s regime told the story of a woman taking a sick child to a voodoo priest and asking him to cure the little one. The priest tells the woman to put a picture of the devil on the child’s forehead at midnight and when he wakes, he will be cured. The woman returns home but search as she may, cannot find a picture of the devil so she places a picture of Duvalier instead. The following morning she discovers her child has died and returns in a huff to the priest. When she tells him her son has died, he enquires whether she used a picture of the devil as he had instructed. She replies in the negative and tells him what she did. He immediately reproaches her and tells her the medicine she used was too strong. The point about Duvalier was wittily made.
In Jack Warner, Gabby repeats that the still to be convicted Warner is a “criminal”, is this, is that, and there endeth the lesson. No attempt was made to truly treat the subject with any wit or finesse. It was just a lazy piece of seemingly hurried afterthought prose that somehow escaped the legal arm of the National Cultural Foundation.
If lyrics count for anything, the champion calypsonian basically made the semi-finals on the strength of Reparation, which for all its very important message, seemed more an addition to a collection of work, than a serious attempt at using language to bring a fresh perspective on a worn subject, for a calypso competition. With only 18 places up for grabs a disservice was done to the likes of The Big Show’s Jamal Slocombe, House of Soca’s Shaki K and All Stars’ Niqa.
Blood, perhaps, might be the first to admit that he is lucky to advance on the strength of Giving Thanks. Like Gabby, he will destroy most opponents in the category of rendition, and his second song From Right Here Where I Stand, has significant merit to it. But lyrics simply giving thanks to God should not be considered strong or worthy because they highlight a deity, especially where there is no creativity of language employed to breathe life into a millennium piece.
Among those making the cut and sure to enthrall fans at the semi-finals are Dre, Mikey and Sir Ruel.
Dre’s Pic-O-De-Crop, Mikey’s Fronts and Sir Ruel’s Youngstars provide some of the sweetest arrangements for the season. In terms of a refreshing difference, Colin Spencer’s The Oceans Are Rebelling is among the classiest selections of the year. Mr Dale’s Wrap Yourself Around The Flag is the stuff that gives goosebumps – a beautiful piece of music. Donella’s Rise and especially Let He Go were well crafted and excellently performed last night.
Hee Haw’s performance of Respect The Man Not My Liver Gall during All Stars Calypso Tent’s examination before the judges was worthy of a finals night appearance. He was simply outstanding.
Of the other calypsonians not making it to the semi-finals, Jah Stone could perhaps attribute some of the blame to his tent. Tornadoes were judged on the same night they opened, with the judges almost equalling the number of patrons present. His Kaiso In A Coma and One For Cecil Ward were laudable efforts that were performed in an almost empty Roy Byer Centre with little atmosphere. One wonders what might have occurred had he performed to a packed, cheering hall, having had at least one or two trial runs.
And for those who believe that such an atmosphere doesn’t count in the estimation of the seven or eight homosapiens sitting with score sheets before them and emotions inside them, it is perhaps not coincidental that of the 18 chosen last night for the semi-finals, 17 received boisterous response and/or encores during their respective appearances before the judges.
The exception who did not move the crowd to either spontaneous, pronounced acclaim or a call for more on judging night was Gabby.
But then again, an icon is an icon.