Aaron Duncan sings Mother of All Carnivals during the opening of Kaiso House in Port of Spain on Friday. – Roger Jacob
People are ready for a change in their calypso consumption, which was signalled by the 75 per cent occupancy at Kaiso House’s opening night on Friday.
This year, the calypso tent introduced elements of theatre, increasing the entertainment value and transforming the Queen’s Park Savannah space into The BarrackHARD, an interpretation of the barrack yard, the birthplace of calypso.
The opening act was a full production of dancers dressed in white who eventually mingled throughout the crowd. They were backed up by babydoll, jamette and bois man characters, spokespeople for the BarrackHard.
A pierrot grenade gets close to the audience during his performance at the opening of Kaiso House in Port of Spain on Friday. – Roger Jacob
During the first half of the show, these characters interacted with the audience after every few songs. The baby doll walked around with her child, spouting lyrics from the Mighty Shadow’s song Yuh Looking for Horn, and telling the audience she was looking for a “chile fadda.” She even told one patron the child looked like him and suggested he mind the child.
The jamette noted that a lot of fetes had sections and ticket prices had “a comma” in them. She said for that amount of money she wanted a week’s worth of food, a Netflix subscription, and other perks. She said she preferred a cheap cooler fete, to visit a calypso tent, or even to fete at home under the sheets.
It was all very engaging and the audience seemed to appreciate the interactions, which broke up the hours and let them pass more quickly. Also adding an enjoyable element were the dancers who backed up some of the singers, as well as the MC, Tyker Phillip, who was in character as “Madam Jamette.”
Of course, there were some teething problems like microphones disconnecting and time constraints, but that was mitigated by the quality of the calypsoes and the performers themselves.
Ruth “Sister Ava” Shallow opened the show on a high note, performing Bring Down the Power, even as she told the audience she was hurting from the loss of her friends rapso artists Mark Nottingham and Brother Resistance. She “put them to rest” as drums swelled and dancers swirled around her.
Unsurprisingly, the first encore of the night came for a song full of double entendre. The crowd clapped and laughed as Knolly “Brown Boy” Brown sang Josephine’s Problem, about a woman who was concerned about her cat dying from covid19.
He sang, “Covid kill she dog. Covid kill she hog, covid kill she duck, covid kill she creole cock… She put a mask on she pussycat.”
In D Ting Fix, former calypso monarch Duane O’Connor disguised the idea of corruption with “goat mouth,” and spoke about Argentina winning the World Cup, “Gary” applying for the position of commissioner of police for fun, and arms of the protective services accepting a four per cent wage increase.
Ann Marie “Twiggy” Parks performed Jam Down the Road, a “duet” with the late Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste. However, owing to technical difficulties, the audience only heard Stalin’s contribution to the last verse of the song.
Closing off the first half was Karene Asche, also a former calypso monarch, with Oasis. As always, she gave a passionate performance, expressing how many Trinidadians felt about being “locked up” for two years without Carnival for a relief or to recharge. She sang about craving it, praying for it, and compared calypso and soca to an oasis in the desert of the past two years.
Karene Asche during her performance of Oasis at the opening of Kaiso House on Friday in Port of Spain. – Roger Jacob
The second half had amazing performances by Phillip “Black Sage” Murray, with his tribute to the late comedian Ramdeen Ramjattan, known as John Agitation, as well as newcomers Rondell Donawa and Tazyah O’Connor.
Alan “Brother Mudada” Fortune got two encores with the song Wicked Food Prices saying people were using covid19 as an excuse to raise the price of everything.
“Everything is covid, hiding behind covid, them think that we schupid, they wicked, wicked, wicked.”
However, it was Olatunji Yearwood who got the crowd on their feet, dancing and waving their hands with the song Engine Room. He sang that the party was in the engine room, and encouraged people to join the party and grab their bottle and spoon. Dancers dressed in sailor costumes backed him up as he brought hype and energy into the BarrackHARD.
And when the mic stopped working, he did not care. He continued singing, encouraging the audience to respond even as he invoked the names of calypso icons like The Mighty Sparrow and Black Stalin.
Olatunji Yearwood excites the audience with his performance of Engine Room at the opening of Kaiso House in Port of Spain on Friday. – Roger Jacob
Closing off the night was Aaron Duncan, dressed in a green Carnival costume, with the song Mother of All Carnivals.
Speaking to Sunday Newsday before the show, manager Chuck Gordon, another former monarch, said he was excited about the BarrackHARD and hoped people would like it.
“It’s not new, because theatre has always been in calypso and vice versa. Some of our famed writers, such as Errol Hill, have reflected on the fact that calypso is supposed to be theatre. So when the opportunity came to do something like this, it was my first inclination.
“To be able to do that I had to acquire the services of a creative director, Abeo Jackson, who coined the term BarrackHARD. I just facilitated a process of bringing the calypso tent to give it a level of production value that we have not seen before.”
He said they also limited the size of the cast as well as the length of the show.
He added that managing Kaiso House was a major responsibility in terms of the tradition and helping to make calypso prominent once more. He said they continued to reflect on the great calypsonians of the past, as was evident by the decor highlighting those who were once part of Kaiso House.
“We want to help the product of calypso gain some traction again. That is a big responsibility, because it’s only through calypso the real stories are told. And if you could create a product to attract interest, then people could come to the tent and appreciate commentary, hear perspectives, a little picong, hear a little bobol going on, and that is the essence of calypso, consciousness and nation-building.”