by Ole Kaiso Judge
This year’s Dimanche Gras Competition promises to be a mixed bag. The return of the Black Wizard in competition may spice up things a bit, plus one of the hit songs for this year’s carnival will be featured.
This year’s competition will be keen although not for the top positions. Barring some major mishaps, those are already decided and the real jostle will be for the middle and lower positions since by and large nothing much separates the calypsonians. As was traditionally done in the 1980s and 1990s by Troy Garvey, this commentary maps the road to the monarchy and gives an analysis of the chances of every finalist in the competition.
Innocent is enjoying a very good season this year. He is one of the long suffering calypsonians who has been there or thereabouts and has taken breaks in the past but has never stopped. He must be applauded for the way that he has kept at it over the years albeit sporadically. The songs that he will render on Sunday night are OK songs. His Mighty sparrow like style of delivery is his greatest asset. However, he has an age old problem of maintaining his key, and that will be his biggest challenge come Sunday night. The fact that he has made it into the finals is a great achievement and any position inside of the top seven will be a feather in his cap.
Big J is finally beginning to show consistency. He has promised much over the years but has not delivered. With Kaiso Bards, he appears to be more comfortable and it shows in his conviction and power of delivery. His second song my kaiso Don’t Play is a creative play on words and should score well. His first song on child abuse is where he will fall down a bit. That said, he is probably the only one who has tried something differently with the old beat up topic of child sexual abuse this year. It is just that the pun on the bawls does not really hit the mark and is not complete. The melody of the song is rather Sour Serpent like and can do with some variations. A top five finish is in order for him.
The Messenger is back this year and she is coming very hard. She is very serious this year and seems to feel that her chances are excellent. There is no doubt that the Messenger is a consummate professional and the fact that she has journeyed this year with her musical conductor speaks of this. She has two Ok songs this year with nice melodic variations. The problem that she has though, is that it is sometimes difficult for patrons to stay with her throughout her verses. Her songs become boring and long winding and after a bit one loses interest. While not a major contender for the title, she can place in the top five but she will have to bring all her Trinidad experience to bear.
Sheldon Douglas is now a regular in the finals. He is one of the best deliverers of a calypso in Grenada and this is one thing that he will have going for him come Sunday night. The truth is that he will not have much more than that. His child abuse song will struggle to score big points as it is poorly developed and sounds more like a ritual straight from the Jim Jones saga. His second song is quite refreshing to say the least and can spice up a calypso second round predominated by slow songs. However, it is not anything to get excited about and thus Sheldon should struggle to place anywhere higher than seventh.
Baracka is an exciting talent and he has started to hone his craft very skillfully. He is really the face of the future of calypso in Grenada and he exudes confidence, power and conviction. In terms of rendition and performance, he is right up there with the best. His songs are usually too predictive and the lyrics much too straight forward. He needs to create some twists in his lyrics, things that will have his audience guessing. When he placed third in competition in his first year, his lyrics were very unpredictable and rather crafty. He seems to have abandoned that in the last few years and this is his main weakness this year. That said, in what promises to be a competition of mainly weak songs, he is a leading contender and has his eyes set on a top four finish.
Keturah George is one of the finalists who can count herself very lucky that she is in the finals and the fact that she has placed so high at the various stages is more an indictment on the judges than her quality. Her songs are just too straight, boring and unpoetic. They are like reading a magazine or some study. What she has going for her is power of delivery and this is what can fool the immature judge. She has to understand sometimes though that there is a thin line between power and nosiness. Just on the strength of her songs, Keturah should not be a serious contender. However, these are not normal times with normal judges and the fact that she has placed so high in the Semis, one cannot truly right her off.
Black Wizard has made a refreshing come back and is really the only calypsonian who has dared to sing political commentaries this year. That said though, Wizard’s offerings this year could do with some development and speaks of a man who was not serious about competing. The songs lack the kind of depth that Wizard is known for and are just merely scratching the surface. Whining Diplomacy is far worse and while Take It is better, some of the issues that it highlights, like the selling of Camerhogne Park are simply outdated. What is working for Wizard this year are his whining or non-whining antics. Wizard has experience on his side and this is what can truly come to the fore on Sunday night. He should be in the mix but not as a serious contender for the top position.
Sour Serpent is Mr Consistent and he always comes with something that is out of the ordinary. This year is no exception. His second song is a nice twist on the poor judging last year. The song speaks of a man who has been at the wrong end of the judge’s decision and blames it on the fact that his head is too big for the crown. On a night when the songs are not very strong, this song should score very well. His first song Country First is ordinary and rather un serpent-like. They are sentiments that we have heard before, even at the Independence Competition and the treatment is really the same as all the rest. Let’s unite and put country first after the election. This is just too ordinary by Sour Serpent’s high standard. This year his melody is not as monotonous but it still needs much work. Serpent’s delivery on the night is his Achilles heel. He generally lacks conviction and never sings from his soul. That said he will be a top contender and my prediction is that he is good enough to place second unless he falls apart on the night.
Papa Jerry should not have been a leading contender this year and I predict that sanity will return on Sunday night and that he will be given his rightful position, somewhere at the bottom of the pack. The one thing that he has going for him is his controversial lyrics and this is something that attracts attention. He is also a powerful deliverer of a calypso and that can work in his favour. Somehow this year, the judges seem to be seeing something in his two songs that patrons just cannot see. The both melodies are regular Papa Jerry melodies; monotonous and lacking in variation. They are the weakest melodies of all the calypsonians in the finals by a very big margin. The songs are also much too straight forward and lacking in craft, imagery and skill.
Scholar, like Sour Serpent is the face of Dimanche Gras. This year he has the best song that he has probably ever written over his long career. There are no weak points in the song and it has been tearing up the place. A gentleman said to me after the Kaiso Semifinal that Scholar needs only to sing one song at Demarche Gras. I understand his sentiments because the song is truly a gem that will be impossible to beat. If there is one criticism of Scholar, it’s the fact that there is no biting political commentary in his offerings this year, and it is something that we have come to expect. I anticipated that he was going to sing the Lock Jaw Disease, but it seems like Lock Jaw Disease has really taken him. That said, Walking on Water is also a very good song which should score very well. There are some familiar melodic lines in there that reminds one of a previous song, but it is a signature of all artists. The power of the song though lies in its unique treatment as well as in the figurative language used. I saw Brenda Baptiste in a Facebook post describe it as one of the best inspirational calypsos ever sung. On Sunday night, Scholar will have to beat himself. It will probably be his easiest crown by the largest margin.
Rootsman Kelly is the reigning Monarch and as such cannot be written off. He has found favour with the judges over the years and patrons tend to like what he offers. Last year’s title should have been the crowning moment of his career but it did not turn out well because all who were present knew that he did not deserve it and that is sometimes the worst thing that can happen to a calypsonian. This year, he has three songs from which he can choose. The problem is that none will get patrons excited and the truth is that they all lack depth and quality. The CCJ is infantile in its development and is incoherent and uncertain. The Con Artists can only be described as shallow and the other song about his struggles and his fight against those who are somehow bad minding him is not a serious competition song. What Kelly has going for him is his ability to render a calypso. His clarity is always top notch. What he does not have going for him is conviction and power of delivery. His melodies are usually never great either but he usually masks the nonexistence of rise and falls with his voice and it has managed to fool the judges in this present dispensation. Kelly will do well to place in the top five, but that said, he should not have last year either and he won.
It will all culminate on Sunday. One can only hope that the judges are astute and that the best man or woman on the night will be crowned. I will be right in front the stage pressed up against the fence. Where will you be?