But within recent decades, the show and its precursor, Calypso Fiesta, have frequently been mired in controversy over claims of bias in the adjudication process.
Just days ago, former monarch Duane O’Connor and calypsonian Alana Sinette-Khan (Lady Watchman) complained openly about bias in the judging system.
Through his attorney, Criston Williams, O’Connor on Wednesday issued a pre-action protocol letter to the Trinbago Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) alleging bias in the adjudication process after he failed to advance to tonight’s finals.
Among other things, O’Connor questioned the scores given to him by two judges in particular, saying it did not correspond with the remarks attributed to his performance. He wondered if there was a plot among some judges against certain calypsonians.
Sinette-Khan also has complained about wrongdoing in the fraternity after she was excluded from last Saturday’s Calypso Fiesta semi-finals because one of her songs, No White Collar Criminals, a heavily political tune, was wrongly classified by TUCO as a social commentary.
The situation affected her entrance into Thursday night’s Calypso Monarch political commentary final and a chance in tonight’s monarch competition.
Sinette-Khan’s attorney, Kirk Hogan, said the mis-classification of her song constituted a grave injustice since they failed to apply the appropriate criteria to assess her suitability for advancement to the semi-final round.
Some calypsonians contend that the issue of alleged bias, if not addressed, could stunt the progress of the artform while others said the topic was open to interpretation.
Former monarch Eric “Pink Panther” Taylor recently spoke out about alleged unfairness in calypso competitions, following the news that only one member of the Kalypso Revue, Dr Hollis Liverpool (Chalkdust), had advanced from the Calypso Fiesta to tonight’s Calypso Monarch final at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain. Reigning monarch Devon Seale is also from the Revue.
So peeved was Taylor at the development, he told a news conference that the Revue, founded by late icon Aldwyn Roberts (Kitchener), would quit being a member of TUCO.
Saying the Revue has produced several monarchs over the years, Taylor accused TUCO of “major discrimination and victimisation against the tent.
“They are hurting calypso,” he had said of TUCO.
“It is like TUCO is running the competition and they have their own tents, they have their own interests.
“We are a private tent, so therefore we are not insulated from whatever possible victimisation that takes place at that level.
“They are running the competition, they select the judges, they pay them, so they have that position of advantage.” Taylor said the Revue will instead form a body that would provide unbiased representation to the nation’s calypsonians.
TUCO president Brother Resistance (Lutalo Masimba) has since said members of the Revue were free to pull out of the organisation.
But speaking to Sunday Newsday on Thursday, veteran calypsonian and manager of the Icons Tent Weston Rawlins (Cro Cro) said the issue of bias was, in some cases, a matter of opinion.
“I had a good time and sometimes is not the judges. Is games and corruption. So, I just stay quiet and cool myself,” said the four-time monarch.
“I know there are times when I win and they say I didn’t win.
What I go do. I alone can’t fight that.” Rawlins, a finalist in tonight’s competition, said the disenchanted members of the Revue needed to “lick their wounds and come again next year.” “As far as I heard, the Revue programme not chucking (inspiring audiences). Panther (Eric Taylor) ain’t chucking.
Aloes (Michael Osuna) ain’t chucking. If the head not chucking, what do expect to happen to the tail and the body?” Rawlins asked.
“When it had Young Brigades, Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) always was chucking. Kitchener was chucking. I trying to keep the thing alive and I chucking.
If you check me every year, I chucking up to now. If they not chucking, what they expect.
They feel is a bazaar. Is a free for all something. Yuh not chucking, yuh not chucking.” Rawlins said several calypsonians were deserving of a place in tonight’s finals.
“Chalkie get pick so he was good. In fairness, he went good but who else again,” he said.
But even other people, like Sean Daniel, Brigo (Samuel Abraham) and Yellow (Andrew Ferreire) should have been selected because of their strong offerings.
Saying that Osuna, manager if the Revue, needed to “send his troops to work,” Rawlins claimed there was too much cliquism in some tents.
“The thing come like a friend thing and nobody scouts for calypsonians again. They have a clique in the tent so that they feel everybody has to sing but that does not always come to scratch. You did not shop around for anybody because you have to have this core.” Another former monarch, Karene Asche said calypsonians must be open-minded about the situation. “It is a competition and you have to be open-minded about things,” she told Sunday Newsday. “You have to understand that it is not every year you could be in a finals, I am sorry to say. There were years that I did not make the finals, took my losses and came back the other year fighting.” Asche argued that calypsonians also had to take some responsibility for the development.
“To be honest, calypsonians voted for that. They voted for more people in a finals (17).
“They have that and they complaining now. They voted for one song (per calypsonian) and they complaining. I wanted meh two songs.” Asche said the previous judging system, a specialist model, was, in her opinion, very effective.
“I honestly preferred the other judging criteria which would have been the specialist system where each person, one would judge music, one would judge lyrics, one would judge melody.
But as of this year, they have everybody judging everything,” she said.
“We had the specialist system from 2010 and there was a lot less conflict. To me, it was nicer at that time, less people in the finals and better quality, two songs, eight people in a finals. Now they have more people. But if someone did not get into the finals, it is just a case of it not being their year. All they have to do is come again next year.” Longtime calypso adjudicator Canuth Spencer said concerns about bias have always existed in calypso competitions.
“I have always heard, especially from those who lose, that they have been misjudged. But you judge calypsoes not calypsonians,” he said.
“There has always been controversy in judging because everybody feels they have the best calypso in the world. That is my view on it.” Spencer, who has judged the National Calypso Monarch finals, Calypso Fiesta and other shows, said artistes are assessed in the categories of lyrics, subject matter, arrangement and performance.
“Each has separate marks with performance carrying the lowest.
Lyrics and musical arrangement are very important and how they relate to their subject matter,” he said.
Spencer said he began adjudicating in calypso competitions in 1966 but stopped for several years when he was made a senator.
“At that time I did not serve to avoid bias but I came back in 1977. So, I have had a good long run and heard all of the views and criticisms expressed,” he said.
“Everybody is an expert in Trinidad, especially, calypso, steelpan and cricket. They don’t have a clue but they are experts.
There is always contention with the judging but people must know the criteria used before they can start criticising.” Taylor believes there must be transparency in the judging process.
“The only thing could improve the quality of judging is that there must be transparency and accountability,” he said.
“A judge must be held to account for his findings. It must be made public. You cannot just secretly walk in a tent with a clipboard and do your thing and then nobody knows who you are and where you came from. Transparency is the key.” Asked why he felt transparency was so difficult to achieve, Taylor said: “People are very biased in their dealings. I always say that Trinidad have no independent senators. Everybody have some kind of beef.” Taylor suggested that the National Carnival Commission oversee the judging for calypso competitions.
“In all of the competitions in companies, they tell you family members are not entitled to take part. TUCO cannot be running the thing and judging the thing.
So who could correct who. That is the main thing.
“Let NCC handle all these things. You have members in the engine room in TUCO competing.
So, how is that looking?” Taylor asked, adding that he had never participated in competitions during his stint as TUCO president.
Taylor said if bias persists in calypso, there will continue to be fallout in the other disciplines.
“It will hurt the mas and pan, when we could avoid that by having an independent body handle that.” “TUCO is supposed to represent the interests of all calypsonians when we have a grievance but if the grievance officer is doing you the grievance, who do you address your complaint to?” Taylor also pointed to a broader issue.
“People have been missing the boat. This is not about somebody who ain’t get picked and somebody vexed because that will always happen, whether NCC or whoever do it, there is always fallout,” he said.
“Somebody will always feel that they should have been there. We can’t stop that. But because competition and Carnival remain the major crucible to the calypso artform then when there are developments around this time, it reflects on the weaknesses overall.
“So, this is not just about a man who did not get picked. This is just an indication that there is a greater problem affecting the fraternity.” Referring to Calypso Rose’s (McCartha Lewis) recent success in France, Taylor asked: “What role did we (TUCO) play in the materialising of that?” For instance, he said calypsonians have no pension plan or health benefits.
“I am not saying that people are not responsible for their own destiny but if we have an organisation that we call ours, then that organisation supposed to look out for us not just at Carnival. We need an organisation that looks after the interests of its membership,” he said.
“If we do that successfully, then it reduces the potential for any major fallout at Carnival because we would see our organisation as caring and as operating in our best interests and therefore, if we have a little grievance at Carnival time it will easily dissipate because of the overriding goodwill that continues throughout the year.