My faith in the Calypso artform was restored following my visit to Trinidad and Tobago’s newest calypso tent ‘Back to Basics’ Kaiso Tent last weekend. Now who in heaven’s name would want to give a calypso tent such a nomenclature? The tent is being managed by veteran calypsonian Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters and his crew of cultural protagonists.
The times have been many, over the past decade or so, that I believed that we were looking at the demise of a great storytelling artform. The lyrics, biting or double entendre, were becoming less and less, and repetition and noise becoming more and more. ‘Back to Basics’ put to bed my fears of losing Calypso.
It did not take me long to find out how the tent’s name came into being. Gypsy contacted Daniel ‘Trinidad Rio’ Brown about appearing in his, Peter’s, calypso tent. Rio agreed but Gypsy was tormented about a proper name for the tent. Rio said, “That’s simple—Back to basics.” And so, the name was born. We may quibble about it, but in Rio’s mind the tent was in fact going back to basics—back to real Calypso to save that genre of our cultural past.
With just three weeks to go before the Merry Monarch takes control of Trinidad and Tobago, I thought mention should be made about the efforts to resuscitate good Calypso: stories of everyday occurrences, political satire, social commentary, humour, and even a smattering of smut, all wrapped in a beautiful and satisfying package of entertainment.
The tent has succeeded in raising the bar usually associated with Calypso shows and more so when it chose sitting High Court Judge Malcolm Holdip to serve as Master of Ceremonies (MC), a move seen by Calypso aficionados as super in raising the standard of calypso shows. By the way, Malcolm did a fantastic job in this, his first attempt at emceeing.
But, ‘Back to Basics’ is much more than a traditional Calypso Tent. Many of its calypsonians have garnered major achievements in the arena. Gypsy was able to attract calypsonian Tobago Crusoe (Orthniel Bacchus), who famously emceed at Sparrow’s tent more than 25 years ago. Now domiciled in Britain, he took up Gypsy’s offer to sing on a Trinidad stage after 28 years.
Listening to songs from former monarch Luta (Morel Peters), Hindu Prince (Kenneth Nathaniel), Rio and Funny (Donrick Williamson), who have not performed on Trinidad stages for more than a decade, brought back a deep sense of nostalgia as they belted out their compositions with aplomb and, as accomplished artistes as they are, they pleased the crowd.
Then there were contributions from Gary Thomasos (Maestro Born Again MBA); Exposer (Moses Munro); Cardinal (Elon Bagoo), together with youngsters Joanne Rodriguez, Rex East and others, all in the realm of exciting and masterful. Kudos too, for a most talented accompanying band, and the stellar performances of the trio of back-up singers.
These were all led by Gypsy himself, one of Calypso’s true icons, a former national monarch (1997) and for many years ex-tempo king. As usual, his contributions were formidable compositions and his actual interaction with the audience was superb as he danced and sang with them, taking them with him into Calypso land in all its lyrical glory.
So, as we can imagine ‘Back to Basics’ is more than just a Calypso Tent and there is hope that Calypso and its music will continue to remain relevant to our culture in spite of the heavy clouds overhead. Many thanks to Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters and his crew for a truly entertaining show. It was so nice to be among true believers in genuine Calypso.
Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters