ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The Calypso Monarch competition last year registered its largest-ever decline in attendance since 2003 – some 35 per cent – confirming the long – held belief that residents are losing interest in the carnival staple.
In fact, the competition attracted 5200 less patrons than it did eight years ago for both the semi and final rounds, according to figures obtained from the National Festivals Office.
Consequently, only $35,000 was collected in gate receipts last year, Minister responsible for Carnival Eleston Adams said.
The minister is surmising that the declining interest in the art form is being fuelled by the negative attitudes of calypsonians to the rules that the governing body stipulates.
The artistes have, most recently, been engulfed in a row with government over the Carnival Development Committee’s implementation of a registration fee in order to compete this year.
Veteran calysonian of 50 years Sir McClean “Short Shirt” Emmanuel, said for him the problem is basic.
“Cast the blame on the guys who say they are writers along with the guys who say they are singers … yes, we have lost our touch. It’s not like the days when Trinidad had to back away and allow Antigua to take front stage,” he said.
Short Shirt, a 15-time calypso title winner between 1964 and 1992, stated that artistes are focusing too much on political commentaries, causing even “die-hard” party followers to be “fed up.”
“They need to have a composition which means nice lyrics and melody…there’s no feeling going into it,” said the musical ambassador whose vast array of hits include Lamentation and Nobody Go Run Me.
“You’ve got to keep the humour in the calypso and keep people anticipating what you’re going to say next; the politics is overbearing these days; it’s disgusting. You will never change politicians from what they are and the calypsonians need to move on.”
Cultural aficionado, Dorbrene O’Marde, who has been studying the calypso art form since the 1960s when he tried his hand at performing and later developed a passion for writing, said the problem is far more serious and extensive.
There is major public dissatisfaction with the standard of judging, he said, compounded by “a sharp insidious intervention in calypso by politicians” that eroded fair social commentary and turned it into “a very partisan expression.”
O’Marde said artistes are making more use of writers from outside the country, many of whom do not pen work about national issues and when they do, it is known to be false.
He identified other contributors as the rise in soca music and the “severe electronic assault of the jam bands”, the lack of good healthy, rivalry in competitions and the late payment of prize monies.
“Calypso has suffered from the need for training and other assistance,” he said, explaining that music should not remain constant, as it is a reflection of a society.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)