Calypso Monarch second-place winner celebrates elders of the artform
Kerine “Tiny” Williams-Figaro is nothing but grateful to have placed second in the National Calypso Monarch competition and be the People’s Choice Award winner in her first time in the finals.
The calypsonian and teacher sang To You With Love on February 19 at the Dimanche Gras at Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain (PoS), and she was elated to be there as she described her journey to that stage as long and tedious.
“I felt like I was the winner. Whatever place I had gotten on Sunday, I would have been content with. People don’t understand but, just by me reaching the Dimanche Gras was an accomplishment for me.”
Remembering that night, she said she was “weak in the knees” by the time the fourth place was announced and she had not heard her name.
“When they got to third place and they said, ‘Karene Asche’ I was like, ‘Wait nah! That wasn’t my name.’ Two people had to hold me because I was ready to cap out! Then I hear my name call for second place and I was the happiest person alive. No words can express how I felt.”
She said learning she also won the People’s Choice Award took her “to cloud nine.”
To You With Love was written by fellow calypsonian Sheldon Bullen (Sheldon Nugget). She explained that when Sandra “Singing Sandra” Des Vignes-Millington died, in January 2021, she and Bullen had a conversation about her death and the deaths of calypsonians before her, and the way “people came out of the woodworks” to express their appreciation for them only after they were gone.
She said Des Vignes-Millington was critical to her development as an artiste. They met in 2012 during Williams-Figaro’s first time in the Calypso Monarch semifinals at Skinner Park, San Fernando. Des Vignes-Millington worked with her on her performance until she sang it perfectly.
“From that day to know, every Skinner Park I qualified for, every time we had judges’ night, a phone call would come from her. This year it didn’t come and I sat in the dressing room and cried because I didn’t have her and that one call before I went on stage.
“But I know she was there because after I performed, I felt her saying, ‘Daughter, I am so proud.’ And I felt relieved.”
She said both she and Bullen lost people close to them during the pandemic so when he sent her To You With Love, she cried because she was touched by it. She felt how important it was for people to show their appreciation to those in their lives before they pass away.
She also wondered about the possibility of putting an arrangement in place so the families of calypsonians would not have to ask the government or anyone else for money to bury them when the time came.
“From my perspective, looking at what we have to go through in the calypso arena and trying to get your music on the airwaves, it’s not easy. They will play it when you go to the radio station for an interview and that might be the last time your song plays on the radio. To me, we should be doing more for the artistes and the artform.
“When they die, whole day their music playing on the radio and we celebrating their lives. I was saying, ‘What do we do for these calypsonians while they are alive?' We don’t appreciate them enough. We should be doing something.’”
Williams-Figaro, 33, told Sunday Newsday the song really “hit home” for her, which was why she was passionate in the delivery. She said the country lost Singing Francine (Edwards) while she was recording the song, and then Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) passed away. The latter’s name was already in the song as one of those to honour but she had to move it to the list of those who died when she performed it.
During that performance, Joanne “Tigress” Rowley, Timothy “Baron” Watkins, Errol “Bally” Ballantyne, and Johnson “Johnny King” King appeared on stage to receive bouquets in an expression of her appreciation for them. She said when she asked, they were excited to come on stage and support her, and she was grateful to them.
“It was really a heartfelt and emotional piece and I really hope people understood what I was trying to say in the song. I hope they got the message.”
She believed, as a society, TT had to do some self-evaluation. She said the people of TT were failing each other because they lost the “human element,” so she encouraged people to talk to those close to them, both physically and familial, and make amends.
Originally from Guaico, Tamana, Williams-Figaro used to perform in school competitions at Coryal Secondary School, Cumuto, but her mother did not have the funds to get music recorded so she never entered the Junior Calypso Monarch.
She started performing professionally in 2010 when, just for fun, she entered the Sangre Grande Senior Calypso Monarch. Eric “Pink Panther” Taylor told her where she could get her music recorded and suggested she audition for the Cultural Ambassadors calypso tent. There she met Bullen who she had been working with ever since.
Then, one evening, the tent had a show at The Mas Camp in PoS and calypsonian Karen Eccles encouraged her to join Divas Calypso Cabaret International, which she did in 2012 and 2013. She stepped away from performing in calypso tents in 2014 as she had to deal with some personal issues as well as study for the final year of her music degree at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of TT (Costaatt).
Since then, she also obtained degrees in business management with Ashworth College through UTT and accounting with Costaatt. And, at the moment, she is working on gaining a diploma in education and her certification as an accountant.
After that one year off, however, she went back to the tents, performing with Generation Next from 2015 to 2017, and with Kaiso Karavan from 2018 to present.
Williams-Figaro said she had a passion for calypso. She loved the way people tell stories through the medium and would listen to calypso from every Caribbean island that had a national competition.
“I love calypso. Even as a little child I used to look at calypso in TV. And the first time I saw someone deliver a calypso it was Singing Sandra.
“The thing about me is that I was very quiet and calypso gave me that voice. So when I get the opportunity to go on the stage and deliver, I deliver with my everything because calypso gives me that voice. I’m able to release it all on the stage. Calypso is my addiction.”
Her other passion was teaching which she had been doing since 2009. She teaches principles of accounts and principles of business at Bishop Anstey High School East, and usually helps the students work on their calypsoes for the school competition.
She said she sees more youths getting involved in calypso each year, so she does not believe calypso is dying. However, she believes schools need to expose children to the artform and have calypso workshops that would teach them to write and perform calypso.
She said children want to get involved but they need encouragement from mature artists.
“Some of the older ones try to deter you because you could be competition. If I wasn’t strong, I would have given up on calypso long time. But because of my love for it, I continued and will continue.
“When you have older heads in your corner, who would give you a word or two of encouragement, support and guidance, it goes a long way for your confidence and your emotional well-being.”
Williams-Figaro said she plans to continue to promote herself as an entertainer as well as expand into other genres of music. With that in mind, she intends to invest her $510,000 in winnings in her music and put some aside for her children.
She thanked her husband for all his support, her mother and siblings for supporting her and caring for her seven-year-old and 16-month-old daughters when she was not able to do so. She thanked Bullen for working with her for over ten years, as well as her school, her priest for his prayers and love, her parish, her community, and everyone who voted for her during the competition.
"Calypso Monarch second-place winner celebrates elders of the artform"