Culture Box

For an art form rich in culture, dating back even before the first Mashramani and one that is well respected in the Caribbean and further afield, calypso is being poorly treated by the private sector in this country, which is depressing and downright difficult to accept.

The decades it has been around and the tremendous respect it has garnered, testifies to its fortitude and the significant role it has played in the development of Guyanese music. Yet it continues to be treated like the unwanted stepchild by commercial entities, which support everything else under the sun.

Of the three major competitions in the run-up to Mashramani, calypso is the only one without a commercial sponsor. The Soca Monarch and Chutney competitions have luckily grabbed the unwavering support of Carib (Ansa McAl) and GT&T, while calypso is left in the hands of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. Not that these are not capable hands; for years the ministry has shouldered the responsibility of offering a decent purse to calpsonians and has creditably organized the event year after year. Convenor, Patricia Chase-Green is a gift to the competition and she keeps it going at a reasonably high standard.

But sorry to say calypso is no longer a hot ticket, in fact, it is not much of a ticket. The sparse crowds that turn out across the country when the event is staged drives home its sad state of decline in the Guyanese society. Why is this so? Often no one knows when or where the competition is being held. The massive advertising campaigns that create the hype for the Soca Monarch and Chutney competitions is noticeably absent from calypso and understandably so. Where is the ministry going to find money to pull such a campaign off?

It is about time a major sponsor steps in and saves calypso, or rather, shows some long overdue respect to the art form of social commentary. A few entities readily come to mind, but we would not go as far to mention names. Some individual calypsonians do receive sponsorship from corporate entities but the push around they get is enough to make anyone not try. The way many put it is that they have to beg and beg hard before someone decides to sponsor them and only a few are that lucky.

Every year at Mashramani, calypsonians emerge from the unappreciated holes they are holed-up in after February 23, and entertain us with what is unarguably some of the best local music we hear all year. Their music is witty, serious, contentious at times, teasing and easy on the ears, which is more than can be said for a host of the tunes that are coming out of the country right now, particularly with respect to the last point.

Seriously, some of what passes for local music is nothing but a loud ruckus. But this is what is being recognised, getting support and being sponsored. Now Guyanese music is soaring to higher heights and they are a few serious performers that are churning out work worthy of the attention it gets, but calypso seems to have been permanently sidelined.

This can’t be right. Calypso has seen performers the likes of King Fighter, Lord Coffee, Lord Canary, The Mighty Rebel, Calypso Stella, Lady Tempest and Ras Marcus among others. These names may not register right away but they are the reason why Guyana can boast of having such an art form.

It is true that greater unification is needed among calypsonians and that many of them have to get back to the days of producing work that speaks to the staying power of calypso but they at least deserve a sponsor.


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