Loss of musical legends ignites calls for calypsonians’ hall of fame

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By Carlena Knight

The country’s celebrated calypsonians – two of whom have been lost within recent months – should receive official recognition by way of a hall of fame.

Local calypsonian Vernon ‘Dr Solo’ Benjamin made that suggestion on the Observer AM radio show while paying tribute to his fallen mentor Rupert ‘Mighty Swallow’ Philo. Swallow died on Friday, five months after the nation bid farewell to fellow musical veteran Tyrone ‘Edimelo’ Thomas.

Benjamin said the time has come to not only preserve Swallow’s history but the other greats as well.

“We should have a hall of fame so that at least his songs, his suits, his various achievements over the years, a few of those could be on display. I believe Swallow has a number of crowns and other things that could be preserved and we should be able to go and see them,” he said.

Sharing similar sentiments was Khan Cordice, the deputy director of culture.

Cordice agrees that the history of Antigua and Barbuda’s beloved calypsonians should be commemorated. He said the department already has plans to roll out a TV series to do just that.

“It’s something that I have been talking about for quite some time and, to be honest, we actually started that process. We are actually going to air that first episode later this month and we are reaching out to different people because I do believe … it would be good to hear about them and their history,” he explained.

“I really wish we would have been able to hear from Swallow before he passed on. Yes, you hear his story in the newspapers. There are some people who would have done documentaries on him but we didn’t get to hear him speaking about the little things.

“Those are things you don’t capture in a newspaper article but these are the things we are trying to dig up so people can really appreciate,” Cordice said.

In addition to this series, Cordice mentioned that there are ongoing calypso programmes for youths being offered by the department.

“We recently revised the programme and created a curriculum for that,” he added.

Regarding the popularity of the genre, Benjamin is confident that the country could see a return to the days of Swallow, Short Shirt and Obstinate but he noted that the marketing of the artform needs to be improved.

He is suggesting that calypso tents begin to venture into the countryside rather than prioritising town.

“It can return as long as we move the music around, because what used to happen back in the day, also Calypso Pepper Pot, was not only stationary in town but on Sundays we used to move into Old Road and Freetown and in my estimation the turnout at Freetown was even bigger than the turnout in town,” he said.

“We need to just rethink how to market the thing and we should be able to put calypso tents back on the road again.”

He admitted that it was the older generation who had a greater appreciation for calypso but he believes that with more soca artistes crossing over to calypso, it will draw crowds back to the park. He was referring to last year’s Carnival celebrations when local soca giant Tian Winter made his debut in the calypso competition.

“Calypso will live on. We are going through some bleak periods because the whole issue of persons who used to patronise the calypso tents, those are now seniors; that is where now we have to blend not only the authentic calypso but we have to bring in the soca people and so on. We need to see more of that and that will bring the tents back to life,” Benjamin added.

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