By Alex Bruno – In Tribute to Melvin ‘Solo’ Constant
While calypso celebrates the life of one of its greats, Melvin “Solo” Constant, the words of Dominica’s Hon. Prime Minister, Mr. Roosevelt Skerrit, foreshadows a more progressive era for art.
In his reflections on Calypso in Dominica, the Hon. Prime Minister suggested that current Calypso songs lack the sort of creative craft. Reference was made to Bernard “De Rabbit” Alexander who possessed the formula to get those he sang about, hopelessly emersed in the whirlpool of the rhythmic melodies, and sweet-painful lyrics that accompany such timely and timeless compositions like, Marry the girl Charlie, You Follow, Run Solomon, Wong Fang Chu.
While the Hon. Prime Minister may be correct, one should not lose track of the subtle cynicism which accompanies his comments. Let’s face it when the Hon. Prime Minister suggests that calypso composers, performers, arrangers, writers, and creators should emulate Lord Thunder (and Sour Sour) as the gold standard of what a good calypso’ should be, we should dig deeper into those comments. In fact, I once heard a well-known calypso commentator making similar claims – especially in defense of Lord Thunder – before he was severely challenged by his colleague commentators.
The fact is, both Lord Thunder and Sour Sour play significant roles in Dominica Calypso. They are jesters who, especially in the case of Sour Sour, have can be considered a boss of singalong, happy Calypso songs. With several road march titles to his name, Sour Sour is certainly a highly respected and very well-celebrated calypsonian; or as Arthur ‘Bassie’ Pascal puts it: “Sour is the life of the party”. Lord Thunder can be quite entertaining as well, but there are several elements missing for both entertainers to be the gold standard of kaiso mastery.
One point which should not be lost from the Hon. Prime Minister’s statement is that kaiso needs to sharpen its craft when taking on people of high repute – such as the Hon. Prime Minister himself. There is a sort of panache that should be employed when we call out the wrongs and misdeeds of society’s leaders. Kaiso greats of the past, and the not-too-distant past, have shown us how – we have probably just become a bit complacent. Some have also given up and others have joined the fray of the folks of great repute.
We need writers to step up and/or step back in, to resurrect the creative sting element in Calypso. The singers are plenty but the writers are few. Calypsonians want to sing big biting songs that tackle the ills of society while causing those responsible to dance, hypnotically, to their folly. Kaiso desperately needs to sharpen its craft and find ways to penetrate the system which is led by the Hon. Prime Minister et al., and we hope that the prophetic and metaphoric words of Solo give us that strength. We expect him, now that he has transformed, to help lead the lavwé. He has probably already begun.
Solo’s ‘Mas in de Cemetery’ suggest that he witnessed the resurrection of fallen comrades and other aficionados of Dominica’s music and culture like Eric Shillingford, Edward Martin, George James, and Mabel “Cissie” Caudeiron leading a celebration – in the cemetery – while several others join in the chorus. With this song, Solo recorded the history of the Carnival Fire of 1963 and was also able to connect us with the essence of kaiso greatness – past and presence. Solo’s approach to this issue is vintage and classic, timely and timeless. This is the sort of material that should spark the resurgence in Calypso, and this is the resurrection that this tribute article to Solo calls for.
So, as the sun sets on Solo’s illustrious Kaiso career, let new life emerge in the treatment, promotion, and management of Calypso. It is time to put ‘pen to paper’ and unleash the brave, bold, biting Calypsos, embellished with all the components necessary to traffic the haunting melodies that should cause the Hon. Prime Minister and others of his ilk to say, “yes, that is a good kaiso although it blésé my bobo”. Let us jam dem with the sweet-tasting, bitter Kaiso; let us up the antics with our lyrics: it is not what is said, but how it is said. We should inflict insults without assault; let us find a way to tell dem to go to hell while we appear to be holding the pearly gates open. It is time to reintroduce a bit more of the creative sting in Kaiso writing.
When a whole Prime Minister can pay attention to, and even comment on our art, artists need to wise up, wake-up, shake up, and deliver the goods. This observation by the Hon. Prime Minister, therefore, can be seen as a timely intervention, and certainly an invitation to Calypsonians and other Dominican artists to mend the fracture in our culture, which – ironically – generally occurred under the watchful eyes of our beloved Hon. Prime Minister, Mr. Roosevelt Skerrit.