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Chalkie's Master-Class

By Keith Smith Editor-at-Large, Trinidad Express
Thursday, February 10th 2005

Well, long before the competition Explainer, whose own season had its own success what with his collaboration with Bunji Garlin bringing him back into the Carnival fetes (Ah, that Lorraine!), told me that Chalkdust was going to win and this titan of the calypso tradition gave one of his most assured performances ever which, given that this is his seventh crown, is saying something.

I hope some of the younger folk in the competition were looking and learnt this important thing, which is that calypso is more than a yakety-yak of words, that the craft, at the level of greats like Chalkdust, calls for a special kind of imagination which is not to say that it cannot be a dissertation on some high issue only, if it is to make a really lasting impact, the lyrics have to move comfortably along the carry-on melody, Winston "Joker" Devine's work on "Progress" being, perhaps, the classic example.

I suspect that "Chalkie" was blowing dust in their faces from the very first song, the veteran bard in fact singing two songs in one, the first giving him the opportunity to show-off his relationship with long-time Trinidad and the second the opportunity to comment on things in the Trinidad and Tobago of today.

The link (listen up here, would-be calypsonians) is the chorus assertion that he "down here too long" to be made a fool of now, the whole thing coming together as a coherent calypso that couldn't fail to impress old and young and if you feel, now that I have laid out the bare bones, that this is easy, well, all I can encourage you to do is to try it, nuh.

The second calypso was the clincher in that it brought the entire Dimanche Gras audience-as it did in the tents-into the song by the creative conceit of having them supply the chorus rhymes, the kaisonian having set up the process by affirming that when he is vexed his chorus cannot rhyme the rhymes, in the chorus, though, so obvious that man, woman or child listening would have to be ignoramuses not to guess-or, indeed, shout them to the high guffawing heavens.

This is the kind of calypso craft that makes Chalkdust difficult to beat-unless you are coming from a completely different direction such as a Sparrow or a David Rudder or a Stalin and even Sparrow, at one time, confided that of all his calypso colleagues Chalkdust was the one he would least like to bounce up in a competition, the three stars I have here mentioned capable of dethroning him by a combination of lyrics, melody, presentation and sheer charisma and, as we all saw, there was none of these four-in-once calypsonians on the stage on the night.

Not that Cro Cro didn't put up a brave fight. He, too, is well-schooled in the calypso craft but to beat Chalkie, given the teacher-calypsonian's two offerings, he would have had to have two very strong songs instead of one strong song in "Chop Off Dey Hands" and an all-right one in "Oh, Grenada". I am sure there will be all kinds of objections to the former but even as I acknowledge that Cro's Cro's is a searing humour I'd think that the thing is people have to lighten up and stop talking stupidness about Cro Cro encouraging violence, the conceit here so completely absurd, in that Cro Cronian way, as to make it impossible for the punch line to be considered seriously.

Still though, even if they are not inclined to go to his Cro Cronian extremes, would-be calypsonians, including some of those waxing wordy on Carnival Sunday night, should have sat up and taken notice of Cro Cro's craft because he managed to put a new, totally unexpected spin, on an enduring theme of recent times-the supposed underperformance of Afro-Trinidadian children when compared to our Indos and the only reason he didn't win was because Chalkdust was there to stop him, not a single one of those tuneless declaimers with their dreary, tuneless or barely melodic dissertations able to dismiss the thought that they were misfits mystified by the wiles of these two old masters Challkdust (did you hear?) finding space to throw a glancing jab at the familiar tune of Cro's Cro's nursery-rhyme chorus-words to the effect that Cro Cro couldn't win crown with another man's song.

The line was sung as a put-down of the new craze that is "sampling" but, in the context, it was a put-down, too, of the song that Chalkdust feared the most on the night, all being fair not only in love but calypso war.

 

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