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Calypso Blues : START Begins Afresh

Takes up SLCA Role.

Calypsonians and soca artistes raising their concerns at last Saturday's START meeting. [Photo: Stan Bishop]
Calypsonians and soca artistes raising their concerns at last Saturday’s START meeting. [Photo: Stan Bishop]

IN just under six weeks, the first calpyso tent show should begin at the National Cultural Centre. The real test for the calypso and soca fraternity, however, is putting together a season for an art form that has undoubtedly seen better years.

During a heated and interactive session hosted by the St. Lucia Association of Registered Tents (START) last Saturday, close to 40 calypsonians and soca artistes were apprised on the developments taking place in the fraternity. Many of those who attended registered their frustrations at meeting to discuss the same issues affecting them for years for which there seems no remedy.

Deputy Chairperson of START, Tony Wilkinson, told The VOICE that the main points the START executive was trying to get across to members to the membership of the SLCA (2009) – which is dormant for now – was what is really happening for this year’s calypso season and to let them know more about the grouping that is responsible for calypso.

“We also gave them the platform to ask questions so that we can give them some form of comfort so that they can be assured that this year’s calypso season will go ahead,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson, who is tent leader for South Calypso Tent, said START will be assuming all the responsibilities of the SLCA (2009) for this year. He added that while STAART is not sure as to what will be the case after this year’s season, he thinks it is imperative that a general meeting be held soon so that everybody decides on what they really want.

START is a grouping of tent leaders that was started about eight years ago. While at least two SLCA (2009) members indicated on Saturday that no formal notice of resignation has come from SLCA (2009) Chairman, David Jordan, and other SLCA (2009) executive members said to have resigned from the organization, there seems to be consensus that the SLCA (2009) is non-operational. That’s where START comes in, Wilkinson told The VOICE.

Some of START's executive members. [Photo: Stan Bishop]
Some of START’s executive members. [Photo: Stan Bishop]

“For calypso to go forward, the initial step must be from the tent leaders’ aspect,” Wilkinson said. “We are aware of that and that’s why we realize that if we do not step forward, there will not be a calypso season this year. That’s why START is trying to rally our calypsonians so that we can have a calypso season this year.”

The first tent show is slated for May 30, with shows being hosted every Saturday and Wednesday after that. Wilkinson said the aim this year is to have eight calypso shows, two calypso quarterfinals and two soca shows, all of which will precede the calypso semifinal.

The ticklish subject of subvention also came up at Saturday’s meeting at the R.C. Boys’ Primary School. While there has not been a definitive financial commitment from the Ministry of Finance, Wilkinson said other options remain on the table.

“The situation is still the same as last year where the ministry has said that because of the economic situation they cannot give us a subvention,” Wilkinson explained. “But they’re hoping to give us assistance through other means in terms of support which we are kind of looking at. We feel it’s better than nothing.”

During Saturday’s meeting, The VOICE learned that the twelve shows the tents are expecting to host this calypso season will cost them around $480,000. However, door receipts are expected to total just over $100,000. Wilkinson said that while that imbalance is a crucial factor, tents are nevertheless hoping to make ends meet. Whatever assistance central government does decide to offer – coupled with sponsorship from the private sector – should be able to solve the equation, he said.

There are currently 140 calypsonians registered among the seven calypso and soca tents and rehearsals are scheduled to commence at least two weeks before the first tent show. Wilkinson said he would like to see the level of quality across the board improve this season. Quality, he said, is very important to the overall product that has declined in some areas over the years.

“We would like to attract more crowds. We have realized that the crowds have been decreasing for the two to three years. We’re trying to give the patrons a quality product. We’re having less tent shows compared to the previous years but we’re trying to give them value for money,” Wilkinson explained.

Meanwhile, multiple socamonarch title winner, Wenhal “Alpha” Gerald, says he is willing to extend his stay from the competitive soca arena unless organizers raise the stakes. He told The VOICE last Saturday that while music remains his deepest passion, “it’s always been my concern to see music going where it’s supposed to go.”

“I want to see the prize monies raised. I would say about $100,000 and a car. It doesn’t have to be a big car; it just has to be a new one,” the soca star told The VOICE.

Gerald won a combined six groovy soca, party soca and road march titles between 2004 and 2010. He said local shows also need to be packaged and promoted better so as to attract the quantum of fan support calypso and soca music attracted to shows in previous years. Gerald said the time had come for the art form to be treated as a round-the-year business and not a seasonal endeavour.

Just last month, another entity, Artistes Representing Themselves (ART), held its own meeting in an attempt to enhance the working conditions of calypsonians. The main aim of ART is to be a trade union arm that represents the affairs of 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...

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