TOBAGO’S artistes are gearing up for battle against their Trinidadian counterparts in the national calypso monarch semi-final on February 4 at Skinner Park, San Fernando.
The island has six calypsonians in the semi-final, all of whom have been fixtures on Tobago’s calypso scene for many years.
They are Alex Gift, Caston Cupid, Nicole Thomas, Wendy Garrick, Shamika Denoon and Giselle Fraser-Washington.
The calypsonians said it’s been a while since the island has had that many Tobagonians at Calypso Fiesta.
Shamika Denoon said she was elated to see so many Tobago calypsonians in the semi-final.
“In the past, there were three and two. So this has been a great privilege to have six representatives from Tobago,” she told Newsday.
Denoon, who started singing calypso in 2009, has been to the semi-final of the competition five times.
In the early years, she won the Trinidad and Tobago Idols competition and later the Laventille extempo and calypso monarch titles. She also won the Tobago heritage monarch crown in 2022.
Denoon regarded calypso as the voice for the voiceless.
“Most Tobago calypsonians use this as an avenue to bring across a message.”
On February 4, Denoon said she will perform a calypso titled, Ah We Saltfish, which is essentially a review of Farley Augustine’s performance as chief secretary over the past two years. The tune was composed by Bunty Moore.
She said, “Everyone has branded Farley as a good boy, Tobago’s darling. So he is considered a saltfish. During his campaign, he vowed to bring Tobago to this place of unity.
“My song is a double entendre and I am asking if the saltfish is still sweet because so much has happened. Because after two years is just chaos and all sorts of stuff just appearing on the political stage. So I am asking the question, ‘Is he still Ah We Saltfish?”
Although he started singing calypso just 13 years ago, Caston Cupid he has already made a name for himself within the fraternity. He is making his third consecutive appearance in a calypso monarch semi-final but never made it to the final.
“But this time is my time,” he said, bursting into laughter.
Cupid, who placed second in the October monarch competition, said his song, Straight From the Heart, is an examination of the current state of calypso.
“Some say that calypso is dying. So it is allowing calypsonians to do some introspection,” he said
Cupid believes exponents of the artform are becoming “too soft.
“Calypso used to be hard-hitting with picong but that is no longer the case.”
A trailblazer in her own right, Nicole Thomas was the first Tobago monarch to be crowned during the island’s inaugural October carnival in 2022.
Two years before, at the onset of the covid19 pandemic in 2020, she also won the Tobago monarch competition. She won the competition six times and Windward calypso monarch title on 11 occasions.
A consistent performer, Thomas said her selection for this year’s calypso semi-final is doubly significant.
“I feel great, especially having my sister (Wendy Garrick) right at my side,” she said.
Thomas’ composition, The Truth Is, composed by Sheldon Reid, highlights what she called the “slow erosion” of the social systems that had kept youths, the family, schools, churches, villages on the straight and narrow for generations.
“It’s a call for the acceptance of the role we’ve played in this and the steps we now have to take to remedy it.”
Wendy Thomas-Garrick, who has been singing calypso for the past 24 years, also is no stranger to the semi-final.
Thomas-Garrick, who placed fourth in the October monarch competition, will perform a nation-building song, Keep Yuh Head Up.
She said, “Despite the challenges, we still have good people. There are still people we can lean on for strength, people that will lend a helping hand. So let us not be despondent but keep our head up and support one-another. It is a very patriotic song.”
Thomas-Garrick is hoping to finally make it to the Big Yard.
“It should be more than six, but that is excellent,” an excited Gift, aka Tobago Chalkie, said of the number of Tobagonians in the competition.
Gift, who placed fifth in the October calypso monarch competition, last year, will be singing his own composition, The Feud, based loosely on the popular US game show.
“But in this case, in Trinidad and Tobago, you have two families that are playing the feud.”
Giselle Fraser-Washington, who goes by the sobriquet GG, has developed a reputation for clear diction and riveting social commentary.
A commander of the stage, she has won numerous competitions and remains one of Tobago’s brightest stars.
Fraser-Washington is expected to perform, We Going Fighting, on February 4.
Dillon Thomas, brother of Wendy Garrick and Nicole Thomas, has already qualified for final of the competition on February 11 at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.
Trinbago Unified Calypsonian Organisation president Ainsley King had said at a function in December 2022 that the body was examining the possibility of allowing the winner of the 2023 Tobago October carnival calypso monarch competition to qualify automatically for the national final.
On February 11, Thomas will sing It Wasn’t Me, a song about the “audio-gate” controversy, which involved members of the THA executive