Calypso In Crisis

Artistes Plan To Form Trade Union

Calypsonsonians at last Saturday's extraordinary meeting. [Photo: Stan Bishop]
Calypsonsonians at last Saturday’s extraordinary meeting. [Photo: Stan Bishop]

WITH mere weeks to go before this year’s calypso season begins, calypsonians are yet again singing a familiar tune. They say they want the respect and representation they have been clamouring for as timeless as calypso itself.

Some calypsonians are currently making moves to register officially a new entity, Artistes Representing Themselves (ART). Among the objectives of ART, longtimecalypsonian and multi-winning calypso monarch, Ignatius “Invader” Tisin, told The VOICE is to ensure that local calypso finally gets its house in order.

About two dozen calypsonians attended one of ART’s first meetings last Saturday at the St. Aloysius R.C. Boys’ Infant School. The extraordinary meeting, Tisin said, was spurred by the suffering artistes face resulting from “the inconsistency of the St. Lucia Calypso Association (2009).”

“Right now, the SLCA (2009) is non-existent as some of the key players – president and treasurer – have resigned mid-term,” Tisin said. “That has left the calypsonians more or less in a bind. However, we understand that the tents are making an effort to come together to salvage the season. We’ve been there and we’ve done that.”

About eight years ago, Tisin said, a movement called the St. Lucia Association of Recognized Tents (START), an organization of tent members was formed but “folded up”. He said artistes have been agitating over the years about the level of representation they have been receiving. The time has finally come for artistes to truly represent themselves and demand respect, he said.

“We were advised that a (trade) union might be the best thing,” Tisin told The VOICE. “Our motive is not really to totally get rid of the SLCA (2009) or to interfere in the running of the calypso tents. But we have realized over the years that we are not being represented. The tents would negotiate on their behalf to try to secure funds for the running of their activities and not even include the appearance fees of the artistes. The artistes are always left on the back-burner. We want to change that.”

Apart from appearance fees, Tisin said artistes share a number of other concerns, such as the treatment of artistes, artiste rehearsals, judging structure and payment of prize monies. He said these outstanding concerns need to be addressed if the industry is to flourish. For years now, he said, artistes have been bringing their concerns to the Association, to no avail. Tisin believes that among the current crop of calypsonians exists a body of people who can rightfully represent the rights of all calypsonians.

Another crucial concern shared by members at last Saturday’s fever-pitch meeting is that they seem to exist only during the carnival season. Tisin said the normal thing that occurs is that as soon as carnival is over, the calypso association and the calypso tents “disappear” until the following year. That only serves to diminish the interest in calypso, he said.

“We can have a whole year of activities but many major shows and competitions have been sidelined: the King of Kings, Buy Local Calypso Competition, Independence Calypso Monarch, National Extempo Monarch. These are all competitions that happen during the course of the year that can generate income and interest for our members. I mean, the public has more or less lost interest in calypso. It’s so difficult for the tents to have a full house at the National Cultural Centre now. In the past, there was only standing room at that venue. So these things need to be addressed,” the four-time calypso monarch explained.

Ignatius "Invader" Tisin performing during last year's calypso season. [Photo: Stan Bishop]
Ignatius “Invader” Tisin performing during last year’s calypso season. [Photo: Stan Bishop]

With ART expected to become an official entity soon, will calypsonians remain members of SLCA (2009)?

Tisin said that while ART needs the support of all calypsonians, the intention behind the creation of the new entity is not to do away with the SLCA (2009). Saturday’s meeting also sought to have at least the first 20 members sign on so that moves can be made towards registering the trade union.

“We’re not asking any calypsonian to shelve the Association. We believe the Association is necessary. All we’re saying is that we need a trade union arm so that the calypsonians themselves can have a voice. There’s really no one rooting for us,” Tisin said.

General Manager of the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organization for Music Rights (ECCO) Steve Etienne, Vice-President of the Trade Union Federation (TUF) Cyprian Montrope, former executive member of SLCA (2009) Brenda Virgil and Tisin made presentations at the meeting. Tisin said the mix of representatives was crucial to being able to address the many concerns artistes have about the new entity. He described Saturday’s meeting as “very encouraging” but hopes that more calypsonians would show up at subsequent meetings to share their views.

As to whether the creation of ART will affect the upcoming calypso season, Tisin said that, if anything, he hopes that the development would have a positive impact. He said the main motive of the new push for respect and representation is simple: improving the standards on artistes in every sense, especially their productions.

“For example, there are a number of recording deals that are available to the artistes but there’s no one to negotiate them. So these are the sort of things that we want to do. We want for there to be change but we want it to be positive. We’re not here to disrupt but rather to assist in developing,” Tisin said.

Tisin said that over the course of his three decades in the calypso fraternity, he has listened to promises made to calypsonians repeatedly at meetings. The ideal thing, he said, would be that it should be mandatory that one member of the union sits on the executive of the SLCA (2009) so as to air the concerns of the artistes.

Stan Bishop began his career in journalism in March 2008 writing freelance for The VOICE newspaper for six weeks before being hired as a part-time journalist there when one of the company’s journalists was overseas on assignment.

Although he was initially told that the job would last only two weeks, he was able to demonstrate such high quality work that the company offered him a permanent job before that fortnight was over. Read full bio...

1 Comment

  1. I would like to compete in the calypso competition. My mother who passed on was born in St.Lucia. One of my older brothers was born in St. Lucia. I still have some relatives in St. Lucia, but I were born in St. Vincent. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Await your response.

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