The SWWTU hall was filled with patrons enjoying an excellent evening of Extempo by veterans and young bloods alike. MC Tommy Joseph with his usual deadpan but extremely funny persona kept the show moving.
Tommy started to sing an old-time kaiso. Suddenly, he turned to a man with a guitar seated on the stage and said “Supie help me out here”. The man turned out to be Lord Superior who is celebrating his 80th birthday this week. The song - ‘Mas in San Fernando’; “That San Fernando Carnival/Man the Festival, is exceptional/When Fonclaire them beat, coming down Coffee Street/They so sweet, people jumping off they feet”.
The crowd drowned out Supie as they sang. As the place moved with spontaneous rhythm, I wondered what it must have been like to be an artist in his time. Superior was born in 1938. In 1954 at the age of 16, he apparently travelled all the way from Rio Claro to sing in the Victory calypso tent in Port of Spain, the youngest performer in those days. Geoffrey Dunn recalls that “the Victory was one of the premier tents during the 1954 season, with a star-studded lineup that included the likes of Spoiler, Spitfire, Striker, Viper, Cypher, Pretender, and the incomparable Lord Melody”.
But Superior was proving his own star quality with the first song that he performed in the tent, ‘The Coconut Tree’. The song, a masterpiece of double entendre or double meaning, speaks about a lady in Laventille with a lot of coconut trees, but the trees were so high that it was difficult to get to the coconuts ‘no matter how you try’. “I got a long rod and I started trying/I pushed the rod high up/Until I reach the tree top/High up into the tree/Until I find the jelly”.
For someone so young, the ability to compose and deliver a calypso with so many undertones, was impressive. Hardly surprising that Spoiler and Melody gave the young Andrew Marcano the sobriquet Lord Superior. The calypso organisation TUCO notes that Supie retired from active competition in 1975 after winning the South title on two occasions and placing fourth in the Calypso King competition in Port-of-Spain.
“The Calypsonian, need some consideration/They don’t send the King of Calypso as far as Tobago/But the queen and her family, goes to New York city.”
For me, it is instructive that Lord Superior focused his career on protecting and promoting Calypso. He battled government for over 20 years to get a radio license, but although he was eventually successful in his legal action, he lamented that with all the radio stations that currently exist “very few of them pay homage to our national culture. We won the battle but lost the war.” Supie was instrumental in the production and music behind the very successful documentary Calypso Dreams that chronicled the development of Calypso through photos,interviews and of course the music of that time. His founding of the Vintage Kaiso Brigade Tent in 2006 was another aspect of his special brand of calypso activism.
As the crowd sang, I thought about the many recommendations by calypsonian Chalkdust to incorporate our indigenous art forms into school curricula, to teach not just mathematics and English, but anger management and life skills. In reflecting on the recent flare-up on the Beetham, we need not ask ‘what kind of country we living in’ but what can we do as artists to heal some of that pain and make our society more inclusive. It is a challenge that at times seems impossible, but like Supie, one from which we must never run.
Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN.