Caribbean Beat Magazine

Book buzz (July/August 2007)

Losers take centre stage in The Finalists, and the steelpan becomes a magical entity

  • The Adventures of the Magic Steelpan: a combination of fantasy and West Indian folklore
  • Calypsonian Iwer George. Photograph by Andrea De Silva

The Finalists, a Graphical Look back at Trinidad and Tobago’s Calypso and Soca Monarch Finals

John E H Barry (ISBN 976819386-7, 148 pp)

Calypso has always been about winners, but sometimes the real story can be found in the losers. A quick glance at The Finalists conjures up enough calypso memories to prove that to be true. Covering those who conquered and those who merely became statistics, The Finalists provides a full list of all contestants who graced a national calypso competition in Trinidad and Tobago from the first, held in 1939, as well as all the contestants who made the Soca Monarch competition since its inception in 1993.

Compiled and published by Trinidadian John E H Barry, who describes himself as a “documentarian who returned home in 2000 to form his own company, Python Productions Ltd”, this book is both entertaining and informative. Barry organises calypso contestants into charts that make the information simple and clear. Accompanying each competition are titillating tidbits about contestants or the competition, and even excerpts from newspaper reports.

Most calypso experts will remember that Growling Tiger was the first calypso monarch ever crowned, but who remembers that Atilla placed second in that competition?

In 1954, Melody won the national calypso competition, but Barry says if there had been a prize for people’s choice it would have gone to newcomer Lord Blakie. Excerpts from newspaper reports show how unpopular the decision was.

Calypso experts would know SuperBlue won the first Soca Monarch competition with “Bacchanal Time”, but all bets are that no one remembers Iwer George placed tenth in that competition.

Barry finds many ways to make what could have been a dry list of winners and losers reflect the personal aspect of competition. He includes pictures of calypso tent venues, old newspaper ads, colour commentary and an appendix that lists how many times each calypsonian ever appeared in a contest. The Finalists covers facts and statistics in a comprehensive manner while reminding us that calypso is about those who graced the stage.

Debbie Jacob



The Adventures of the Magic Steelpan: How Grandpa Conks Got His Name

Leanna Williams (Mango Rose, ISBN 976-95194-0-5, pp 23)

In The Adventures of the Magic Steelpan: How Grandpa Conks Got His Name, the steelpan is transformed into a magical entity. A combination of fantasy and West Indian folklore, the book aims to educate children about pan’s origins and evolution.

The story centres on twins Natasha and Nathan, who learn from their grandmother how their grandfather got his nickname by playing a magical pan.

Author Leanna Williams depicts many themes. There’s the historical look at Carnival, the emotional pull of the pan, and its role in unifying generations and communities, all vividly illustrated by Valerie Belgrave.

Energy giant bpTT funded the book, which is the first in a series of seven. It is a project of Trinidad’s Mango Rose Steelpan Services, of which Williams, her sister Nubia, and veteran panmen Ian Teddy Belgrave and Nestor Sullivan are directors. The aim of the organisation is to increase society’s understanding and appreciation of the pan.

Williams, a teacher, was inspired to write the book while assisting her sister in Pan in Schools workshops. “I tried to find more upbeat ways to teach and finally I decided to write a book. All you need is imagination,” she said.

Laura Dowrich-Phillips