As a part-time calypsonian and full-time calypso enthusiast I consider myself somewhat of a purist. While others seem hell-bent on expediting the evolution of the art form I try to conform to the traditional musical foundation of calypso. In my estimation, if it deviates too much then it’s no longer calypso.
However, there is one calypso tradition on which I think we need to hit the refresh button: It is the custom of rewarding the calypso monarch with an automatic spot in the following year’s Finals. The monarch is not required to go through the gauntlet of the early rounds such as the eliminations and semifinals.
It’s one of those customs that wore out its logic years ago but continues to linger because the powers that be don’t want to tamper with a longstanding practice. But let’s put it in perspective.
Last year the Toronto Raptors captured the NBA championship. How would the other teams feel if the Raptors were automatically placed in this year’s NBA Finals regardless of their regular-season record? It would be a bit asinine, correct?
Usain Bolt, the most decorated sprinter of all time, had to compete in the heats at the Olympics and World Championships like everyone else regardless of what he accomplished in the past. He never earned an automatic qualification into the 100- or 200-meter finals.
The soccer World Cup, held every four years, gives automatic bids to the defending champion and the host country. Although I have issues with that practice as well I realize it’s done for marketing and promotional reasons.
I understand the rationale behind the calypso tradition. The monarch must be able to “defend” the title. However, I submit that the true way a monarch can defend a title is to start from the eliminations like everyone else and ascend to the throne again. Now that would be a true defense of the crown.
But to reward the monarch with a spot in the Finals when his or her songs have not even been heard and they have not been put through the litmus test of judged performances on stage? That makes little sense to me. One year has nothing to do with the other. Each year should be a clean slate.
I also believe that placing the monarch in the next year’s finals can work against the defending monarch. When one knows he or she is already in the Finals, it can spur complacency.
I have competed in the Montserrat Calypso Monarch competition four times. I have watched defending monarchs return the following year with mediocre songs and performances. Because they are automatically in the Finals they sometimes release their songs late and are unable to gain traction, proper radio play and public support due to the fact they often don’t perform their new songs on stage before the Finals.
If the calypso committee wishes to reward the defending champion, how about allowing him or her to choose at which position they wish to sing? Or some other incentive worthy of a defending champion.
Montserrat has not had a repeat calypso monarch since 2005, and I believe the “automatic” tradition is one reason. The year is now 2020. It’s time to show perfect vision for the future by ditching this relic of the past.