Trinidad’s calypso tents are dead, dead broke, dead beat, begging for handouts from the government, with no hope of recovering the Indian audience that once had them humming.
The calypsonians and the calypso that these tents once nurtured are also dead, no money, record sales a joke, international exposure nil,
So who killam?
The major credit goes to Rajnie Ramlakhan, the late great Indian and Hindu activist. She scored the penalty on the calypso tents and calypso in the early nineties. She was the key figure in persuading Indians to stop patronising calypso tents where they would be insulted. This in turn led to the collapse and bankruptcy of all the tents when their main paying audience departed.
She was helped with some own goals by racist calypsonian Cro Cro, his buddies Sugar Aloes, Shortpants and numerous calypsonians who have sung demeaning and insulting calypsos about Indians over the years. The tents did their share by encouraging the said nasty calypsos.
This is how it went down.
For years before 1988 the black calypsonians had stupidly taken a political stance and identified with the People’s National Movement since 1956. In a country bitterly divided by race politics this was a suicidal move, to say the least.
Since almost all calypsonians were blacks, it meant they had politicized something they were trying to promote as a national song in a country where there was no national culture. They would reap the rewards of their stupidity very soon.
After 1956 many calypsonians openly praised the PNM and attacked the Indian political parties and Indian politicians. They were being openly used as a whip to beat down the Indians. Many songs were made about black men having sex with Indian women to great applause in the calypso tents and in black society. Black people and the calypsonians knew that most Indians didn’t like it, but they didn’t care. Indians were the political enemies of the PNM and their opinion didn’t count.
Came 1988 and Cro Cro sang his stinko racist calypso Corruption in Common Entrance, openly attacking the other races for discriminating against black children in schools. It was a piece of rubbish, totally false, but black people loved it in the tents and the society. It won him the calypso crown and great acclaim among black people.
The other races were too terrified to protest, but for Indians it was the last straw. We formed the Committee Against Racism in Calypso (CARC) with myself, Rajnie Ramlakhan and Indrani Rampersad as coordinators and went for Mr Cro Cro with hammer and lathi. It was the first time there had every been this kind of protest against a calypsonian and a calypso.
Our committee had widespread support for the protest, but none among black people who came down en masse for Cro Cro. They said the calypsonian was the poet of the people, nobody could censor him, he could sing what he liked and not have to face any criticism or legal consequences. In other words, the old “you racist, we not racist” came out in full force.
Long and short of it, we put a proper licking on Cro Cro and calypso in general that year, generating a storm of media on the topic and against myself and Rajnie Ramlakhan the Indian racists. Yes, we were held up as racists for pointing out open racism against Indians and others in Trinidad!
Cro Cro and his supporters ignored all our criticism, claimed a victory and went their merry way. A defiant Cro Cro made several calypsos in later years attacking the committee, doubling down on Indians and Indian politicians.
But Indians had had enough. They started listening when Rajnie wrote in the newspapers and gave talks asking Indians why they were spending good money patronising the calypso tents only to be insulted by black calypsonians. Indians gradually stopped going to the calypso tents and by the early nineties the tents found they had no Indian audience to talk about. The tents had almost no audience at all.
Then the tents found out the horrible truth.
Indians were the ones buying expensive calypso tent tickets.
Indian business people were sponsoring calypsonians and tents.
All of this dried up very quickly after 1988, the tents went bust with empty halls, no money to pay calypsonians, government grants unable to balance the books.
Black people who had been so defensive about Cro Cro and calypso did not step up to save the tents and their beloved calypso.
The result was tents dead, the calypso they nurtured also in the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, and so it has been to this day.
I say again, Rajnie Ramlakhan was the one who pressed the delete button on the calypso tents and calypso. I cannot claim any of the credit, as I migrated out of Trinidad in 1989. But Cro Cro deserves his share. The motley fool had helped to kill the thing he loved the most.
There has to be a postscript to this story and yes, it’s Cro Cro.
The fool has fallen on hard times and last I heard he was dragging his tail on one of those PNM make-work projects, standing up by the roadside to make a 10-days pay. He’s still singing his rubbish and his racist crap but not making any money from it and the Indian audience has gone from calypso permanently.
Thus endeth the short and inglorious reign of calypso tents and calypso. It never made even half a century from 1956 when its political party the PNM took power in Trinidad and Tobago.
We Indians financed it, and when neemakharam calypsonians insisted on biting the hand that fed them, we unfinanced it and calypso tents and calypso died.
One little Indian woman showed us how to kill the beast and her name was Rajnie Ramlakhan.