Curtain call for calypso?

Is true calypso dying? Or is it already dead? These are legitimate questions to ask in light of the plight facing calypso tents all over the country.

That Kalypso Revue, the tent founded by none other than Lord Kitchener, is struggling is not only a sign of the times. It is a sign of the ill health of the art form itself. Crime is high, the economy is low. Yet that has not stopped other people from patronising soca.

Over the years tents have come and gone. Many have closed. The current crisis of attendance is far from a recent thing. The slide started years, decades ago.

Calypsonians need to stop burying their heads in the sand. They need to face the fact that audiences are no longer enthralled by the art form, as important as it undoubtedly is. Instead of blaming the State and society for the demise of the tents, they need to look centre stage.

Why have we fallen out of love with our national art form? This is a complicated issue. But some things are clear. The art form used to be dominated by originality, playfulness and pure lyrical artistry. Instead, the annual Dimanche Gras showcase has come to feel like a stale replay of calypsoes from yesteryear. It has failed to embrace the new, to make way for new faces and to stay relevant.

The intersection of calypso and politics has also not served it well. The art form has long been a foil to the powerful. However, the sense of subversion and of a democratic articulation of the thoughts of the people has vanished.

While many calypsoes today comment on our rulers, they often fall into the pitfalls of race, sexism and party allegiance. They do not truly illuminate.

Nor do they eviscerate the foolish. The result is the alienation of audiences across all sides of the political spectrum. We can sense when artists are running on fumes.

The dominance of social commentary, a genre that was once noble, has also turned audiences away. There is a time and place for such commentary. But calypso must also serve to entertain and give hope. Has the right balance been struck?

Calypso has the potential to stage a great comeback. But this will require wiliness and, more importantly, collaboration.

This year — with its dismal funding levels — was an opportunity for all the remaining tents to unite to do something special. Has that opportunity been lost? We hope not. Because there needs to be a revival of calypso for the sake of future generations.


"Curtain call for calypso?"

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