Caribbean Beat Magazine

Here Comes the Big One

As the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival season gets under way - it reaches a climax on February 14-15 - Debbie Jacob notes some of the names you can't escape in the home of Caribbean Carnival

  • Veteran band-leader Roy Cape. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Desperadoes: the men from Laventille. Photograph by Ian Yee
  • Ronnie MacIntosh, lead singer with Massive Chandelier. Photograph by Ian Yee
  • Vat 19 Fonclaire. Photograph by Ian Yee
  • American Stores Exodus. Photograph by Abigail Hadeed
  • Ace arranger Pelham Goddard. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Phase II Pan Groove. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • The Mighty Sparrow: does the comeback continue? Photograph by Ian Yee
  • David Rudder: new directions for soca. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • 1992 Panorama Champions: Amoco Renegades. Photograph by Abigail Hadeed
  • People's calypsonian- Black Stalin: this season he sings with the new Kisskidee Kaiso Tent. Photograph by Ian Yee
  • Former calypso Monarch Cro-Cro: his first victory stunned the nation - everyone thought he was too controversial to win. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Showstopper: Denyse Plummer. Photograph by Ian Yee
  • The 1993 Road march King, SuperBlue. Photograph by Abigail Hadeed
  • The 1993 Calypso Monarch, Mighty Chalkdust. Photograph by Abigail Hadeed
  • Lord Kitchener, the grandmaster of calypso. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Masqueraders from Poison. Photograph by Harold Prieto
  • Peter Minshall. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Trojan Donkey: from Peter Minshall's spectacular production Donkey Derby for Dimanche Gras 1993. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay
  • Native Voices, the 1993 Pleasure Players production. Photograph by Harold Prieto
  • Masqueraders gather for Wayne Berkeley's 1993 winner, Strike up the Band. Photograph by Harold Prieto
  • Raoul Garib's band hits the road. Photograph by Ian Yee

MASQUERADE BANDS

The masquerade bands move through the streets on Carnival Monday and Tuesday: up to 3,000 strong, portraying a single theme and accompanied by truck-borne musicians, they provide the visual splendour of Carnival. Costumes are produced in the preceding weeks at their mas’ camps, where masqueraders (including visitors) can watch and register to take part.

1993 Band of the Year:

Wayne Berkeley

The most successful masquerade designer in terms of competition, Wayne Berkeley, tries to make it six in a row in 1994 with Mirage; already his 1989-93 wins set a record that is likely to stand for a long time. His computerised operation is known for flawless organisation, inspiring designs and a wide range of costumes from elegant dresses of the past to sexy, skimpy costumes. With over 2,500 band members, Berkeley normally produces a splendid display. The mas’ camp is on Cipriani Boulevard, just off of the Queen’s Park Savannah.

Raoul Garib

On the south-west of the Savannah is Raoul Garib’s mas’ camp, teeming with activity. Here, you’ll find costume production as it was in the old days. Dedicated workers divide the work of costume-making while calypso blasts from a radio. Garib’s bands reflect traditional masquerades and are always a popular contender in the large band category. Two recent bands were Barbary Coast and The Forbidden Journey. This year it’s Ancient Greece. Raoul Carib’s band hits the road.

Peter Minshall

Ask anyone who is the most controversial and original designer in today’s Carnival, and they will tell you without hesitation: Peter Minshall. He focuses on street theatre, with dramatic interpretations of stories or myths played out by band members dressed in striking costumes. Minshall gained world-wide exposure with his giant puppets Tan Tan and Saga Boy and his work on the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Olympics. The mas’ camp is at the Mas Camp Pub, a calypso haunt on the comer of French Street and Tragarete Road in Woodbrook. The Odyssey is the theme planned for 1994.

Pleasure Players

Trinidad and Tobago’s newest, most fashionable band took Port of Spain by storm last Carnival with Native Voices. Pleasure Players unpressed Carnival followers with strong, earthy colours and spellbinding sections which included Roots and Wings, Red Dawn, Spirits Fly, Spell Binders and Winds of Peace. The band was launched in 1992 with Surf and Things. This year it’s Earth, Wind and Fire. The brainchild of music enthusiast Robert Amar, head of Caribbean Sound Basin studio, Pleasure Players is based at Long Circular Road, St. James.

Poison

This massive masquerade band is one of the new generation, with young masqueraders who prefer costumes on the skimpy side. The mas’ camp is in Petit Valley, west of Port of Spain. Originally rooted in Edmond Hart’s productions, it averages 2,500 members and 15 sections. One of the most popular recent productions was Scentsations, with sections like Opium, Obsession, Tigress, Mystique, Nocturne. In 1994 it’s Dancin’.

CALYPSO

Calypso is the musical fuel of Carnival; scores of calypsonians perform nightly at calypso tents during the season, and the cream of the crop do battle for the Calypso Monarch’s crown and the title of Road March King (for the singer of the most played song of the festival).

Calypso Monarch:

The Mighty Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool)

Calypsonians cringe when they hear Chalkdust is in the Calypso Monarch finals. He’s a most formidable opponent because his rivals can never tell which direction he will come from. He’s been known to pull a crown out of the hat by presenting a brand new composition at the very last minute. The reigning Calypso Monarch, he has held the title five times before. A teacher by profession, Chalkdust returns to the calypso arena in 1994 with a new Ph.D. in ethnomusicology to defend his title on Dimanche Gras night.

Road March King:

SuperBlue (Austin Lyons)

Six times Road March King, Super Blue faces his biggest challenge to date when he tries to break recent calypso records and make it four Road Marches in a row this Carnival. SuperBlue has seen the ups and downs of calypso like no other artist. In 1980, he appeared on the scene as an unknown fisherman who attracted the attention of calypso fans and the wrath of the Baptists with Soca Baptist. Though banned from competition, the tune went on to become the Road March when Carnival revellers defied the ban. Blue Boy, as he was then called, followed that up with Ethel and Rebecca, two more Road March hits. In 1991 he sang about the 1990 attempted coup attempt with Get Something and Wave, and followed this up with Jab Jab and Bacchanal Time. Can he do it again in 1994?

Cro Cro (Weston Rawlins)

He calls himself the mighty midget they can’t muscle at all. This bold social/political commentator is known for his fearless attacks on social injustice and political corruption. A former national cyclist, he was a perennial crowd pleaser before he ever captured a Calypso Monarch title. His first victory in 1988 was followed by a second crown in 1990.

Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts)

You might say Kitchener owns the road. When it comes to the Road March – the calypso most played at judging points strategically placed along the masquerade route on Carnival Monday and Tuesday – the veteran Kitchener has more titles than anyone. His compositions, which he never listens to once they’re recorded, capture the imagination of young and old and are particularly popular with the steel orchestras. Kitchener is also known for his witty, double-entendre lyrics. He was crowned Calypso Monarch once, in 1975, and won the Road March title an unprecedented 12 times between 1946 and 1976.

Denyse Plummer

Four times national Calypso Queen and three times Calypso Queen of the World, Denyse has been the most controversial woman singer. Originally a pop singer on the hotel circuit, she was recruited by famed pannist Len “Boogsie” Sharpe to sing his compositions. After a shaky beginning which saw Plummer embraced by most and ridiculed by a vociferous few, she climbed to the top with her dazzling outfits and sizzling stage performances. She’s a shows topper.

The Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco)

Sparrow, the father of modern calypso, has maintained his reputation as a world-wide entertainer. His arrival in 1956, when he won his first calypso crown with Jean and Dinah, marked a new era in which presentation and stage performance became a crucial part of calypso. Sparrow combines powerful lyrics, often highlighting social and political issues, with sweet melodies which suit his powerful and sensuous voice. Sparrow was crowned Calypso Monarch eight times, most recently when he made a comeback in 1992. He captured RoadMarch honours six times between 1958 and 1984.

David Rudder

Music critics mark Rudder’s 1986 entry into the calypso arena as an event equalling Sparrow’s arrival in 1956 and Shorty’s and Shadow’s in the early 1970s. Rudder swept calypso lovers off their feet when he stepped out of Charlie’s Roots brass band and onto the calypso stage. He won every award and crown on offer in his debut year, and has remained one of the music’s superstars even though he stays out of competition. Rudder’s arrival opened a new chapter in soca; he has turned the music in new directions and is building a solid international reputation.

Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste)

He once made a living as a limbo dancer, but these days he is the people’s calypsonian. He won his first calypso crown in 1979 with Caribbean Man and Play One, political commentaries calling for unity, and has become one of the most respected political and social commentators in the business. One of his most popular successes came in 1985 with Wait, Dorothy, Wait, in which he refused to join the calypso party frenzy until political and social injustices had been addressed. In 1987 Stalin knocked David Rudder into second place with Mr Pan Maker and Bun Dem, a description of what he would do to some of the world’s leaders if he was St. Peter on Judgement Day. In 1991 he delighted fans with an uptempo Black Man Feeling to Party.

THE STEEL ORCHESTRAS

With up to a hundred players each, the huge steel orchestras compete at Panorama with a calypso arrangement of their choice or an original composition. Preparation goes on throughout the season; one of the most enjoyable evenings you can spend in the Carnival season is visiting the pan yards to hear the music taking shape. Each steelband takes on the personality of the place it represents and the sound of its arranger, and each has its own support from fiercely loyal fans.

Panorama champions:

Amoco Renegades

A legendary band, Renegades, based on upper Charlotte Street, is known for its fierce musical battles in Panorama and for its talented, reclusive arranger Jit Samaroo. This is one pan side with a firm place in musical history regardless of the results of any year’s competition. Three times Panorama champions, they will be defending the title in 1994.

WITCO Desperadoes

Part of the folklore of Trinidad, Desperadoes are based on top of Laventille Hill above Port of Spain, and inspire fierce fan loyalty. Led for many years by the tough Rudolph Charles (immortalised in David Rudder’s 1986 tune The Hammer) they are conducted in concert by Pat Bishop and use US-based pannist Robert Greenidge as their arranger. They have won the Panorama championship seven times.

American Stores Exodus

With Charlie’s Roots arranger Pelham Goddard in charge of the music, Exodus caused a major upset when it came from the east to win Panorama in 1992 with Goddard’s Savannah Party. Dislodged in 1993, the band continues the battle this Carnival.

Phase II Pan Groove

Noted for its experimental approach, Phase II is closely associated with Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, one of the most colourful pannists in the country, and regularly plays his tunes and arrangements. Located on Damien Street in Woodbrook, in a cosy corner behind a galvanised fence featuring local art, Phase II was for many years the loveable underdog of carnival; but that changed when the band won its first Panorama title in 1987.

 

THE BRASS BANDS

Charlie’s Roots

This legendary band burst on the calypso scene in 1976 when it defied music critics to explore a new bubbly dance sound called soca and became the first brass band devoted solely to soca music. Founded by New York-based record producer Rawlston Charles, the band has produced two lead singers who have made their mark on the national calypso scene: David Rudder captured every music award possible in 1986 and Tambu (Christopher Herbert) enjoyed a reign of three consecutive years as Road March King (1988-1990).

Vat 19 Fonclaire

One of the most popular bands in south Trinidad, Fonclaire is based in San Fernando and for many years was led by ace pannist Ken “Professor” Philmore. Musical director Pelham Goddard has arranged 12 Road Marches (the song most played on the road on Carnival Monday and Tuesday) in the past 16 years. Most of the music played is written by Goddard and Rudder.

Massive Chandelier

Formerly called Shandileer, this bubbly band is led by bass guitarist/arranger Emanuel Ector, formerly of Charlie’s Roots, and flamboyant lead singer Ronnie MacIntosh, son of the late Art De Coteau, a leading calypso arranger. The band ruled the fetes in 1993 with their controversial version of the donkey dance, borrowed from Calypso Pat of St Croix. All eyes will be on them for an equally thrilling followup this Carnival.

Xtatik

Eight years ago child prodigy Machel Montano was making waves on the calypso stage as the youngest competitor in the Calypso Monarch finals. Now, he leads his own band Xtatik on the party scene. This is the fresh, new sound of soca’s youth; the band focuses largely on soca but includes reggae and pop sounds. Xtatik boasts some of the best young musicians in the country; and they’re defining the soca sound of the future.

Roy Cape Kaiso All Stars

When it comes to veteran calypso bands, none is more revered than this group, led by the dreadlocked saxophonist Roy Cape who began playing music in 1958. The All Stars, formed in 1981, become an in-house calypso tent band for the Carnival season. Their experience provides a lively night of music as they back up traditional calypsonians and saucy soca stars. Outside Carnival, they tour the globe from New York to Japan with calypso greats. This year, they leave Spektakula to play at the new Kisskidee Kaiso Tent.

Second Imij

The hottest band in town these days, many Trinidadians will tell you: the rainbow coalition of music. Known for ethnic diversity, scintillating performances and jumpy soca, Second Imij is a major crowd-puller at fetes. Formed in 1989, it produces rousing Road March material, and is a favourite among young soca fans – but can hold seasoned party-goers too. Lead singer/ song writer Russell Cadogan is a spell-binding performer. Two years ago, the band took town by storm with On the Count of Four. You’ll find them in fetes and on the road this year playing for Poison.