Sunday, February 21, 2010

Palance is a rhythm

If you think 2010 road march, Palance, is some new kind of soca, you’re wrong. It’s very traditional, says former UWI professor of literature and calypso researcher, Dr Gordon Rohlehr. Palance writer, Kernal Roberts simply took the trumpet line from a brass section and put a word to it, Rohlehr said. “The word palance doesn’t mean anything. It’s really a rhythm.” Colin Lucas did the same thing in Dollar Wine, as well as several other artistes, Rohlehr said. “Traditions have become almost subliminal. You are constantly listening to it without really realising that it’s in a new package.” Road march traditions go as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries, Rohlehr said. “Slaves brought from West Africa the call and response Kalinda stickfighting songs. Road marches have this basic call and response chorus.” If some feel that Machel Montano is trying something new by incorporating rap, dance hall and disco into his music, they are wrong, too. That has been going on for decades, Rohlehr said. “Ever hear about calypso twist, calypso mamba and soul train? Calypso has always absorbed whatver music was available. “Artistes are trying to cater to our cosmopolitan society and different markets. “So what looks like a new breakthrough is really a struggle for survival,” Rohlehr said.
Traditional calypso dying
Traditional calypso may be dying in the tents but it is growing nationally, historian, The Mighty Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool) said. “When I began to sing calypso in the 1960s, they used to have six finalists in the Calypso Monarch competition. Now they have 15. “When I started, they had 18 semifinalists. Now they have 35. “When I began in calypso, you could only count 50 calypsonians. Now, there are about 4,000,” Chalkie said, proving his point that calypso is not dying but, in fact, growing. Continuing, he added: “When I started there was no calypso in schools. Now there is a primary schools’ competition. Many institutions and corporations have calypso competitions every year. “It can’t be that it’s dying.”
Where calypso is dying is in the tents, Chalkie said. “There are a number of reasons, the chief of which is crime. You need a car to go to the tents and if you come with your car, they are breaking into it.” Another reason, is that fete promoters have pulled a large section of tent goers away, Chalkie said. “At one time, people came to the tents to hear the jump-up calypsoes. But you get those in fetes now.” A third reason for dying calypso tents is the type of calypsoes being composed. “A lot of what you hear in the tents are not calypsoes, they are the writings of journalism,” Chalkie said. The art of writing a calypso involves the use of satire, metaphors and figures of speech, he noted. “A lot of calypsoes now are like normal conversation. When I talk, they get angry with me.”
Emphasis on rhythm 
A road march calypso in the 1940s was called a “leggo” calypso. Ras Shorty I introduced soca in the 1970s and, till then, the music was still slow, Chalkdust said. “But by the eighties, the pace changed. Soca artistes began sampling the music of other countries like rap and reggae. “They began to carry the music faster and faster,” Chalkie noted, tracing the evolution of the road march. “While experimenting with other types of music has been going on a long time, the difference between past and present road marches is the lyrical content, Chalkie said. “You could have understood the lyrics of past road marches, even while dancing. “Artistes today go for the hookline, like ‘palance.’ If you ask the average man to sing a Kitchener or Sparrow road march, they could sing a whole verse. “If you ask them to sing a verse from Palance, they can’t. Worse yet, last year’s road march. “The emphasis now is on rhythm and few lyrics.” Chalkie said even steelbands are having a hard time with today’s road marches. “They can’t sit down and arrange one because the melody is all over the place.”
Judges need training
Chalkdust on results of Calypso Monarch:
Placing sixth in last Sunday’s Calypso Monarch competition did not cause eight-time winner, The Mighty Chalkdust (Hollis Liverpool) any worry, but he had a problem with the judging. Chalkie made the comment while responding to questions about how he felt about the results. “Placing sixth was no worry for me, but calypso is very difficult to judge. There are judges who have no training and would put you all over the place.” Noting that he didn’t know who the judges were in the competition, he added: “…but I know that judges today need training.” Chalkie said he had offered himself as a calypso judge but was not accepted. The judges made no mistake about winner, Kurt Allen, who took home $1/2 million, for he has talent and skill, Chalkie said. “If I lose one competition, it doesn’t matter.”


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