“Calypso tents and steelband are the fundamental basis of T&T Carnival.” Trinbago Unified Calypsonian’s Organisation (TUCO) President Lutalo Masimba, aka Brother Resistance, made the statement during the opening of the Divas Calypso Cabaret International calypso tent on Friday evening.
Tent manager Dr. Rudolph Ottley said the tent celebrates 16 years of existence this year.
He said, “I feel very strong about the Divas tent existing because the tents have a very serious role to play in the Trinidad Carnival. As Resistance said, the tent along with steelband, they are the foundation of the Carnival, and it’s through the tent and the steelband that we see the struggles of the society, so when we see the tents do well and the steelband doing well, it shows that the society is doing well.”
Ottley said this year was a special one in the history of Carnival as it marks 100 years of the celebration of pretty Mas, and lamented that the National Carnival Commission and other entities had not done more to celebrate the occasion. He said in the tradition of the Divas Tent, tribute would be paid to a calypsonian who had contributed to the art form for many years. This year, the calypsonian is Baron (Timothy Watkins), who was all smiles as he was serenaded by Karen Eccles, Dilena Diamond, Vornique Benjamin, Maria Bhola, Meguella Simon and reigning Calypso Queen Stacey Sobers. Most of the songs were composed by the artists themselves, while Sobers sang Baron’s hit I Hear Music on the Streets, encouraging the audience to sing along. Baron was also presented with tokens of appreciation by Dr. Ottley.
The calypsos performed encompassed a range of topics. Helen Jones (Helen of Trinbago) sang about how the Choices we make influence our lives, while Rae Ann Guerra’s Read the Signs exhorted women to look out for the signs of an abusive relationship. Meguella Simon’s song, Wakanda Forever, spoke of the difference between Black people’s actions and feelings in real life vs their pride in the movie. Stacey Sobers called on listeners to Make Trinidad Great Again, while Tenaj Smith cried a River of Tears for the ills of society. Princess Margaret’s Going and Coming took a comedic look at stories like Kunti Deopersad and others, while Karen Eccles said while Stalin’s Dorothy was still tackling our calypsonians, while there was an economic downturn, She Still Have to Wait. Dilena Diamond sang about The Feeling she was getting while dancing, in a fast-paced French/Kweyol infused song. Maria Bhola’s False Alarm had the audience in stitches as she sang of the nation’s alarm when Police Commissioner Gary Griffith was rushed to hospital for stomach pains caused by gas, using many topical references. Empress Naty closed the show with Baron’s Sweet Soca Man.
Ottley said his decision to have run an all-female tent for the last 15 years is due to the traditional marginalisation of women in calypso. “Even from the days of the gayelle, they have always had women as a secondary part of the artform, and my focus is to ensure that we have to include women in the calypso. Even now in 2019, a lot of women have good songs but are having challenges to be accepted into the tents, and therefore we have decided that we will provide a space for women.”
He said it was interesting and hurtful that a lot of the opposition and negativity towards the tent came from women, including female Corporate Communications Managers, who he would have thought would have shown support.
Ottley said the music being released in 2019, both soca and calypso, is of a very high quality. He scoffed at people who said calypso is dying, but did say it was in a state of change. “I’m glad calypso is not what it once was, it’s a fluid cultural activity, if it was like it was in 1928, it would not be relevant. Cultural things must change, must transform, must go to different levels, different styling and different personnel, so it is changing but I don’t think calypso will ever die.”