DOMINICA: COMMENTARY: The Stunted Growth of Calypso in Dominica - EntornoInteligente / Dominica News Online / Smith says Calypso in Dominica is stuck in the mud, old-fashioned and unprogressive and makes recommendations for its growth 

The Dominica Calypso Association (DCA) deserves commendations after the successful completion of the 2018 Calypso season. While some major national events were postponed or cancelled as a result of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, the DCA was able to organize and stage all four major Calypso shows for the season, even when further challenged by adverse weather conditions. Yet, despite its strong showing in the aftermath of disaster, the DCA continues to show signs that those at its helm are unwilling to consider recommendations to improve the calypso product. As a result, Calypso is stuck in the mud, old-fashioned and unprogressive– with no indication that growth is imminent.

The DCA executive consists of a president and a first vice president. In most establishments with similar organizational structures, when the president is unable to perform his duties, his VP steps in to fill the void. Not so with the DCA. This role seems to automatically fall to the treasurer, who happens to be the immediate past president. The high-handed style of the DCA’s treasurer is the most dominant feature of the executive’s interaction with the public, even if his title has changed.  This leads many calypso observers to conclude that the other members of the DCA executive are being denied the opportunity to perform their basic functions. The DCA executive, it seems, is made up of members whose roles are merely to make up the numbers.

The DCA seems to measure its yearly success only on its ability to meet the debt obligations for the construction of the Calypso House at Bath Estate. There has been little to no innovation in the presentation of calypso to an avid public in decades. Every season, calypso fans are treated to four main shows organized by the DCA. The season usually starts in December with the Eliminations and climaxes with the Calypso Monarch Finals in mid-February or early March. The course for progressing from the eliminations to the finals has remained the same for the past thirty or more years. For the nine ‘off season’ months of the year, the Association is basically dormant with an expensive, fancy building collecting dust.

On a handful of occasions corporate entities or private individuals were generous enough to sponsor consolation prizes (most recently, ‘Patriotic Song of the Year’) to deserving competitors. Other than on those few occasions, only a monarch and three runners-up are recognized for their efforts. A Road March monarch is also identified on a yearly basis, but only the DCA executive can explain the criteria for winning this prize.

Too often the DCA appears like a deer caught in headlights, with one controversy after another emerging before or during a major event. There seems to be no planning for contingencies, and very little or no proactive measures are taken to minimize the impact of unforeseen circumstances. What qualifies, or disqualifies a person for, or from taking part in a Calypso competition in Dominica? What are the conditions for the entry of foreign nationals entering Calypso competitions? Under what conditions can a Calypsonian request a restart of his performance during a competition? What is the cutoff point for replacing a Calypsonian in a competition, if the Calypsonian in question is suddenly unable to perform? These are some of the questions that have surfaced in recent years.

During the carnival season calypso grabs the attention of almost every Dominican at home and overseas. The Calypso Association, over the past few years, through radio call in programs and via social media, has received advice on improving the art form from a number of highly respected individuals. The Association, however, operates like a fraternity satisfied with mediocrity with a phobia for growth and improvement. Certain members of the executive pounce on every opportunity to shoot down suggestions from calypso fans or offer silly excuses why they cannot be considered.

Case in point: On the night of February 26, 2018, the DCA’s treasurer was one of the guests on a Calypso program hosted by Rayburn Blackmoore on DBS Radio. Mr. Blackmoore, a Calypso enthusiast, is a long serving government minister who has held various ministerial portfolios. During his closing remarks, he attempted to make suggestions for the improvement of the administration of Calypso. When someone with such experience in administrative procedures and policy-making offers advice, one is expected to, at the very least, listen. Instead, the DCA treasurer interrupted Mr. Blackmore to state that he had no interest in fixing what was not broken. This arrogance and disregard for the opinions of others are part of the underlying current that inhibits the growth of Calypso as a product.

Here again are a few suggestions for consideration by the Dominica Calypso Association.

The DCA executive needs to generate a strategic plan that includes rules, policies and procedures to govern Calypso and Calypso competitions in Dominica. Such plans should be documented and published for public awareness. The DCA is not expected to anticipate or predict every unusual circumstance that may pop up during a Calypso competition. But proper planning will minimize the negative impact of unforeseen events that usually rob Calypso patrons of the full value of the service they pay for. The DCA should introduce special awards such as, ‘Calypso of the Year,’   ‘Best Lyrics,’ ‘Best Presentation,”Most Improved Calypsonian,’  ‘New Comer of the Year,’ etc. This can only serve to motivate the Calypsonians who give their all over the Calypso season. The DCA should make a greater effort to keep Calypso alive during the entire year.Calypso is arguably the most popular genre of music in Dominica. Therefore, its relevance should transcend the carnival season and it should be promoted throughout the year. Various activities for special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Independence, can keep Calypso relevant throughout the year. The various competitions will provide opportunities for Calypsonians to address a wider variety of topics, and increase their versatility. As a result, Calypso writers and singers will be better-rounded, and Calypso as a product will be enhanced. The DCA should be more proactive in securing a place for Calypso in Dominica’s cultural archives. The decoration of the Calypso House with photos of past and current greats is a simple way to create nostalgia and interest for visitors. The association should seek to educate the general Calypso-loving public through periodic radio or television shows featuring calypso history, rules, procedures, or any informative program designed to enhance the knowledge and appreciation of Calypso fans. In this technological age the DCA should also consider the establishment and maintenance of a user-friendly, up to date website.  The website should feature the criteria for various competitions, background information on competitors, and answers to the frequently asked questions during the calypso season- (ticket prices, venue, show times etc.) Successful organizations usually take up their social responsibility by giving back to their various publics. The DCA can demonstrate its social responsibility by awarding academic scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in the field of music, literature, or in any other area with the potential to enhance Calypso in Dominica. Competent songwriters, composers, or performers will then emerge to help improve Calypso for the enjoyment of future generations. Calypso as an art form is well-loved in Dominica and with the yearly entry of new performers into the competition; its future is promising. However, if the DCA executive remains resistant to new ideas and innovation, Calypso in Dominica will remain a product of unfulfilled potential.

Opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Dominica News Online or its advertisers.

DOMINICA: COMMENTARY: The Stunted Growth of Calypso in Dominica

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