The term “calypso cricket” has long been used to describe the exciting form of the game that is played in the Caribbean. It’s an entertaining, aggressive approach that catapulted the likes of Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Brian Lara and even Montserrat’s Jim Allen to international stardom.
For Stevel Rodney, “calypso cricket” takes on more of a literal meaning. That’s because he’s actually a cricketer and a calypsonian. He loves both, takes both seriously and admits he doesn’t take disappointments well. At the tender age of 18, his level of participation at the local level has been remarkable.
In cricket, he has represented Montserrat at every level of youth cricket: under-13, under-15, under-17 and under-19. Last summer, the Leeward Islands Youth Cricket Tournament was held in Montserrat. Stevel, a middle order batsman and spin bowler, excelled and was selected to the under-19 Leeward Islands team. That squad competed in the West Indies under-19 tournament in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but Stevel was limited by a back injury.
Stevel, who grew up in Judy Piece, first became interested in cricket while in primary school. His first idol was Lionel Baker, the former fast bowler who is the only cricketer from Montserrat to play in a Test match for the West Indies team.
“I use to see him running through our village and that inspired me,” said Stevel, who says Baker is one of his mentors today. “We sit down and talk and he tells me what I have to do to reach the next level.”
As far as calypso, Stevel made his debut in 2011 during the Junior Calypso competition held annually as part of St. Patrick’s week. He entered again in 2012 and 2013, then made the leap to the senior calypso show in 2014 at age 14 (he’s believed to be the youngest entrant ever). He reached the semifinals that year and also competed in the Soca Monarch show. In 2015 he reached the calypso finals and finished eighth. He skipped 2016 and 2017, then returned in 2018, finishing eighth again in the finals.
“What I really like about calypso is the fact that I can give my opinion about things happening around me,” says Stevel, who often tells his writers the topic he’d like to sing about. “Calypso really helps build your confidence.”
Stevel, who graduated from the Montserrat Secondary School in 2017 and now works as a clerical officer at Inland Revenue, is not afraid to step on toes. One of his songs from this past festival, The Life of a T.C., details some incidents that have occurred within the government that Stevel deems to be unfair. Stevel won two ancillary awards during the 2018 calypso finals: Most Improved, and the William “Ruler” Murrain Crowd Favorite, which is determined by crowd applause.
Cecil “Cepeke” Lake, leader of the Black Rhythms band that plays for the calypso competition, has written calypso songs for Stevel over the years.
“He’s a very brave kid,” Lake says. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he wins the crown one day. I also admire his desire to contribute to the development of Montserrat, whether in calypso or cricket. I wish more young people were like that.”
Stevel’s foray into the calypso genre is not surprising. He comes from a family of performers, especially in calypso. His grandmother, Rosalie “Tanty” Johnson, sang calypso and soca during the 1980s. His grand uncles Owen “Drago” Johnson and Roland “Kenzie” Johnson” are etched in Montserrat Festival history – Drago as a former Road March champion and Kenzie as a three-time calypso monarch. Stevel’s cousin,
Garvin “Scrappy” Johnson, is a multiple Soca Monarch and Road March winner in Montserrat and is an international performing artist.
In the 2000s, Stevel’s mom, Ausdelle Johnson, competed in the main Calypso and Female Calypso competitions and also during the Police and Fire Week calypso competition.
“I saw the potential in him for the calypso very early,” Ausdelle says of Stevel. “One year I competed in the Police calypso show. Stevel was about 2 years old at the time. After I won, he came on stage, took the mic and started singing the song I had just won with.”
So Stevel’s entrance into the calypso arena was almost a rite of passage. However, if he were forced to pick calypso or cricket, he would definitely choose cricket. “My next goal is to make the West Indies under-19 team,” he says. “There are definitely some things I need to improve like my strength. I also need to consolidate my innings when I’m batting.”
Stevel, who has had a serious growth spurt in recent years and now stands 6-foot-3, also played basketball with the Montserrat Secondary School Warriors while in school and competed in local tournaments. He played small forward, point guard and shooting guard. By the way, he also excels at table tennis and soccer.
Ausdelle knows Stevel is ambitious and determined, and she’s proud of what he has accomplished. But one of her challenges has been getting him to temper his expectations. “He likes to win, and if he doesn’t win he will keep going until he wins,” Ausdelle says. “But I told him that sometimes it’s just not your time yet.”
You can’t blame Stevel though. With his talents it’s fair to say he’s ahead of his time.