The Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre (FRC) joins the local calypso fraternity and the people of Saint Lucia in paying tribute to Victor Emanuel Bonnet also known as Zex and Mighty Killer. In the local calypso and entertainment world he was a leader and organizer, and a talented calypsonian who was selfless and honest. Mighty Killer has joined the people’s hall of fame.
Many of the calypsonians of the 1950s and 1960s, who blazed the trail for the development of the modern calypso movement in Saint Lucia, faded into the background, almost instantly, after they stopped performing on stage. One of them was Victor Emmanuel Bonnet whose calypso name was the Mighty Killer. Unlike many, who either migrated or became fully engrossed in their professions or work, late in his life, Mighty Killer, also known as Zex, was a regular patron of the calypso tents and the shows in the “big yard”. For those who knew him, his personality was larger than life and his stories relate the experiences of a man who always took on challenges and relished in its rewards.
Victor Emmanuel Bonnet was born on February 27 1938, at number 12 Chisel Street in Castries. He attended the Roman Catholic (RC) Boys School, and for school vacation, he used “to go to the country at my grandmother”.
As a youngster he spent most of his time In Castries, living the life of the normal teenager, riding bicycle for ten cents, following toes and py banan during the Christmas and New Year festive seasons. After leaving school he held on to any job he could get, driven by his desire to succeed and to prove his abilities to those around him, whether it was entertaining or driving a company vehicle.
At that time, most schools were managed by the churches, the primary schools were Anglican (combined) and Methodist (combined) and Catholic (boys and girls). Secondary schools were the St. Mary’s College (SMC) and St. Joseph’s Convent (SJC) and these were Catholic schools. Then, there was Kenley’s College, popularly known as Carmichael School, named after the principal Mr. Carmichael. It was a private school and only those who could afford could go there, at $16.00 per term. “To go to secondary school, you had to live in Castries”. This was the story of Zex, Terra, Pelay and many others who followed them. These were the days of the early morning 4:00 am bus ride to Castries to spend the week at school or work, and return to the “country” for the weekend.
The Belgrave Era
In the 1960s, the calypso movement in the “inner-city” areas of Castries, started with most of the youngsters on Victoria Street near the location of what would become the popular Cosmopolitan Bar. According to Mighty Killer, they started kaiso by “singing Christmas carols. Belgrave taught us how to sing, alto, soprano and bass. Then things changed. They made us into a group, and every Christmas he would take us to go and sing by Reggie Clarke at Rock Hall, and then we used to go to the Government House, and after we finished singing our little Christmas carols, they used to give him (Belgrave) a change. He used to take that change and he used to go with it, but at the ending of Christmas he used to make a party. Everybody would bring a chow from their home, we would put it together, buy drinks and so on, and we sing and we entertain ourselves. That is how we used to do it”
Among the first-born of the Belgrave era, included the Mighty Killer, Mighty Cobra, Mighty Blake, Lord Rock and Roll, and Mighty Session (Orlicks). Mighty Killer recalls that after graduation from the Belgrave academy, himself still a teenager, they went around singing calypso at local venues all over the island. The calypsos were adaptations from Trinidad. There were also calypso treatments of nursery rhymes. Mighty Killer belted out this verse like he was in a calypso tent:
“When I was boy
Toys never impressed me
When I was boy
Toys never impressed me
Cause I like to hear my mummy sing
Nursery rhymes and everything
Rock a bye baby
On the tree top….”
The bishop at the Catholic Cathedral in Castries loved this nursery calypso song. Following one of his performances at the Catholic Boys School in Castries, Mighty Killer received a “paper” from the parish priest granting him permission to perform in the Catholic schools around the island. As he continued to perform, he also honed his skills in organization and leadership.
Later, he formed a performing group called the “Magnificent Five” made up of two other singers, Allan Gill and Remy Smith along with two dancers, Madame Pepper (doing acrobatic stints) and Madame Luna (the whining dancer), doing gigs at clubs and venues throughout the island. He recalls that one of their main venues in Castries was “Alleyne’s Continental” owned and operated by an expatriate popularly called “the Fly”. According to Killer, Alleyne’s younger wife was the envy of many of the performers at the club. “One nice little Indian girl who used to live in Marchand.” Mighty Killer was actively involved in the expansion of calypso though he never vied for the crown, but clearly established his place as one of the pillars of the calypso movement in Saint Lucia. As an entertainer and calypsonian, he performed in almost every district on the island.
The College Boys
Calypsonians in the early 1950s performed for fun, camaraderie (and rum) and rarely organized competitions. Mighty Killer said “Things changed when these college boys came in.” He was referring to the entry into the local calypso arena of the SMC boys – Terra, Zandolie and Mighty Pelay – whom together dominated the calypso scene, capturing crowns from 1956 to 1972. The venues then became crowded with new patrons from the middle class and the repertoire of songs and lyrics changed from the predominantly picong, mové lang, and adaptation of Trinidadian songs, to more original lyrics which honed in on the national politics and other social issues.
Killer said “When we started competition, we started at the school in Conway and the Boys Club and afterwards it was the Palm Beach Club. Chester Claude and his band started backing up the calypsonians. Chester also played trumpet and later on his group became the resident band at the Green Parrot Restaurant. Cecil was the drummer.”
Some calypsonians of the day were preoccupied with local politics and the debate over Federation of the West Indies. Here is a verse and chorus of the song “Brother John” written by Jomo Primus and performed by the Mighty Killer at the opening of the tent season. The song is a commentary on changing of the political guard and the call for political independence for Saint Lucia. During an interview, Mighty Killer sang the entire song to his friend Mighty Terra, who visited his home in April 2021 in Cul-De-Sac. It was a very entertaining encounter with Zeks the contractor directing the tone and pace of the interview, and the Mighty Killer – the calypsonian – reciting the stories. Here is the song:
“St. Lucia shall advance as one
Under the leadership of John Compton
St. Lucia shall advance as one
Under the leadership of John Compton
For the benefit of the younger generation
I am singing in the party of the UWP
First he began as opposition leader
And now he become a popular leader
And he shall continue to go further:
Until he becomes our Prime Minister
John Compton is his name
John, we wish to proclaim
We will be jolly merry and gay
When he bring us home on independence day
Bousquet was the man who prepared the way
For the coming of election day
It was the greatest moment in our land
When we sweep the polls of our native land
Educate liberate and set us free
Once we were down, down to the ground
But now we shall continue to gain progress
Until we set our own children free
Friends, I ask you to choose wisely
Between federation and independency
If you ask me to advise you
Independence is the thing that is good for we
Gain independence and then unite
With our brethren on our side
And we shall leave no stone unturned
Until the island becomes one with John”
John Compton left the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) and created the National Labour Movement (NLM) which then merged with the (Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) to form the (United Workers Party (UWP). Mighty Killer was invited on more than one occasion and agreed to perform the song on the political platform of the UWP. He recalled “that time PPP used to suck salt, getting licks from the Labour Boys”. Mighty Terra also had a chorus from one of his songs on the political plight of the PPP and sang to the Mighty Killer:
“They got north and south and Central Castries
Choiseul and Anse LA Raye, Canaries
Well, they won the seats in the south again
PPP should be proud of Mac Vane again.”
(Louis) Mac Vane was the only one who delivered a seat to the PPP in the 1957 Legislative Council elections. The St. Lucia Labour Party won all the other seats. The appearances by calypsonians on political platforms were rare. According to Mighty Killer the “graduates” of the Belgrave Academy – Cobra, Scrub and Tinker – went around the town performing at various venues at carnival time, and at other times in the year at the schools, most of which were managed by the Roman Catholic Church.
Like most of his contemporaries, calypso was a mere hobby. Recalling his early years as an entertainer, Killer said “I stopped singing when I decided to do something for myself”.
Zex the Contractor
And for himself, he did a lot until his retirement from electrical contracting work about 2010. For many years as a young adult, he served as a delivery driver for Zepherin’s bakery. He said that during one of his deliveries to the Morne Secondary School he started chatting a young girl and eventually hooked up with her. “I realized that I had to look for a better job since after many requests to Zephirin for a pay rise, it was not coming.” The pay rise never came, so Zex went to visit Mr. Russel Lake at his electrical parts shop near the Health Centre in Castries for work. He was employed as a driver.
Zex recalled that after an argument with Russel Lake he was fired. He remained close to electrical work, and had stints with contractors as a linesman and trimming trees. According to his account of relationships with past contractors, his honesty and hard work always paid off. He worked with many contractors until he was offered an opportunity to prove his worth. With a little help from friends, he obtained some contract work to plant poles for the power company St. Lucia Electricity Services Ltd. (LUCELEC) But he had to mobilize workers and find tools. This first job also involved installation of a transformer.
Having observed the work of his previous employer, no contract experience, no money but loaded with ambition and few years of climbing poles and pulling cables, he would not let this opportunity pass by. He made some crowbars and climbing spikes from recycled metal bars which was minted by local blacksmith, Mr. Ben of Faux-a-Chaud. He got help preparing his first quotation for the job. He got the job and completed in record time.
The supervisor said “job finished; we will energize on Monday”. In true calypso rhythm Zex recalls when his first job was assessed on the Monday morning. “TTA James, a big fella, go up the ladder, put on de current, when he put on de current, He take his tester testing de current, he take his tester, he test de current, voltage from de transformer to de line, he test another place again, it good, from earth to neutral, everything correct. He tell me, boy, you good. Energize!”
When he received his first paycheck of EC$8,000.00, he was overjoyed. Up to that moment he had never handled so much money in his life. “That is why I am here today. I never turned back”. This would be his life after calypso. After he retired from over three decades of contract work, his son who is a trained electrical contractor and his daughter, trained in business management subsequently took over the management of the business – V Bonnet Contracting Services.
This measure of boldness recalled by Zex was the start of a long and successful career as an electrical contractor. Zex worked as a contractor with LUCELEC for about forty years. Like many other local contracting firms which worked with LUCELEC to provide electricity to households in Saint Lucia, Zex ensured that his team always delivered the highest level of professionalism and quality of work. His crew was consistently trained and observed the same safety standards which the LUCELEC held for its staff. His dedication was always demonstrated during periods of recovery and rehabilitation after a major storm when “all hands were on deck” to ensure that the electricity supply was delivered safely to households and businesses island- wide in the shortest possible time.
Emmanuel Zex Bonnet was among the first group of three independent electrical contractors to be formally retained by LUCELEC in the early 1980s. The other two were Russel Lake and Cyprian Louis, both of whom have since passed. Former Managing Director of LUCELEC Bernard Theobalds said that the arrangement to employ these contractors was a defining moment in the history of the electricity company, as this decision led to about thirty percent reduction in the cost of line works and some restructuring at the company. Speaking directly of the work of Zex as a contractor Theobalds said “If there was a fault, and lights went off, he would be there with his crew long before he was called. Zex and the other early contractors were totally loyal to the company. In a huge way they helped shape LUCELEC into what the company is today”
In fact, many people who knew Zex only associated him with electrical contracting work. But he had other passions. He was among the group of men who formed the Cozy Guzzlers, which was more than a carnival band, but an enterprise for comradery and entertainment. He occasionally stood out in the band for his elaborate sailor costumes. He played mas for many years.
Others knew him for his exploits at many karaoke bars, and playing dominoes anywhere, particularly at one of his watering holes – the People’s Pub on Jeremie Street. His booming loud voice and laughter could be heard from a distance. He never shied away from a bon tan and was easily the “life of a party”.
Mighty Terra fondly remembers him as Tonton, wrote two songs for Mighty Killer and the two maintained a good relationship. He remembers Mighty Killer as one of the dedicated and hardworking calypsonians and entertainers during his heyday. He is remembered for his wit, his honesty, ambition and his generosity.
The talent, creativity and enterprise of Emmanuel’ Zex’ Bonnet, the ‘Mighty Killer’, helped create this vibrant calypso movement which we all enjoy today. The Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre (FRC) regards the Mighty Killer as a pillar in the foundation of the calypso movement. It is our hope that his story will continue to be told. His contribution will be immortalized in the calypsos and memories he left with our people.
Author’s Note: The interview with Mighty Killer was done on the afternoon of April 19, 2021 when Mighty Terra visited the Killer at his home in Cul de Sac. Information from the interview is reproduced in the book The Reign of Terra – The Mighty Terra and the Modern Calypso Movement in Saint Lucia which was published by the Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre (FRC) in August 2021.