NWAC National Calypso Queen Competition 2015
On the 19th January, 2015, the National Women’s Action Committee (NWAC) held its annual Calypso Queen Competition at the Queen’s Hall in St. Ann’s. As guests arrived decked in their finery, the artistes prepared to battle on the stage for the title of Calypso Queen 2015. The lobby filled with kaiso enthusiasts who sipped cold beverages while discussing the musical dialogue for the competition. Meanwhile, the performers psyched up for the competition.
Cultural Officer for the National Women’s Action Committee, Ms. Aliyma Susan Manswell was on hand and she expressed strong confidence in the show. She noted that the large crowd gathering was not new since the show is normally well-supported and has become, over the years, one of the best attended competitive shows around.
President of the National Women’s Action Committee, Mrs. Stephanie Charles, expressed that the National Calypso Queen Competition has been under the watch of NWAC for over thirty years. Mrs. Charles said, “Well first of all, you have to understand the history behind it. This is our thirty-first year. NWAC is really sticking to the philosophy of the NJAC in that one of the principles is to respect and elevate their own, so they form a mechanism through calypso to highlight that.” She clarified that it is through the arts that the spirit of the people can shine and develop. The show, she says, strives to honour this aspect of national development. She further added, “What we normally do at every competition is to select two women and we honour them for their contributions toward the performing arts. This year, we are honouring Denyse Plummer because she’s a four time Calypso Queen, and we are also honouring Sister Liselli Daaga, former President of NWAC.” She was eager for the start of the show, noting that with the evolution of Calypso over the years, the themes would be varied.
Guests were certainly excited about the show for a number of reasons. Avril Foster of Pleasantville, San Fernando said that she was looking for some, “Good old time calypso; real calypsos! A little wine and jam, but mostly about the political situation.” Her male companion, Fabien Arrindell said that he was not supporting anyone in particular because he had not heard everyone. He has been supporting the show from since the 70’s. They both averred that the National Calypso Queen Competition was a fine cultural show. Carol Falby and Rosemary James were two other attendees from Chaguanas. Carol said that she was there for “quality performance! I know the standard that the organization has where culture is concerned and I’m really looking forward to a good showing from the women.” This year, she brought Rosemary James to the show for her first experience. James likewise responded that she too was looking for good, quality Calypsos. Cheryl Mason of Port of Spain was also there. She felt that the show was going to present “A lot of talent, laughter and fun entertainment.”
Kevin Pierre, a resident of Maraval, was there in support of his sister, Khadeece Celestine, who was competing. Her song carried a positive message for the youth of today and he was looking forward to assisting in delivering this message. He reminisced about helping his sister write songs back when they were both in school and she would perform them in various competitions where she did well. He credited his mother with being a strong support for her. His mother was always active in music, particularly in the church. He felt certain about her performance, acknowledging that he knew what she was capable of delivering. He anticipated a good show and expressed his thoughts on the importance of shows like this which, “are beneficial for the national community because it promotes a lot of what Trinidad and Tobago should be about: the culture and the music.”
The competition started with a flourish, and Mistress of Ceremonies, Ms. Shirlane Hendrickson, four-time Calypso Queen of Trinidad and Tobago was in fine form. Her velvety voice proving the perfect aperitif for the performances. The show was undeniably entertaining and various speakers were brought to the fore before the actual competitive performances commenced. Mrs. Stephanie Charles greeted the audience and acknowledged the presence of His Excellency, Makandal Daaga in the audience. She lauded the efforts of the twenty young women who would be competing against each other, declaring that the NWAC has nurtured a whole generation of female artistes, and in so doing, constructed a foundation for women and female artistes to make their mark in the previously male-dominated calypso fraternity. The pioneers of this effort were hailed for their ingenuity and refusal to submit to gimmicks in their feminine portrayal of kaiso. These contributions have not gone unnoticed.
Some of the female calypsonians who have made a contribution to the art form include Lady Trinidad, Lady Irie, Singing Diane, Singing Francine and Calypso Rose. Calypso Rose was also applauded for being the first female to be recognized with a doctorate for her contribution some one hundred years after the first recording by a kaiso artiste. The early female kaisonians had to struggle against the social stigma of being female in calypso and had the momentous task of changing negative perceptions. The National Calypso Queen Competition was not merely a result of such efforts but is also an enduring tribute to their work. The goal of respecting and educating women via calypso has been translated through the work of the NWAC and they remain dedicated to this task.
Mrs. Liselli Daaga was honoured as one of the vanguards who helped to unite females in their struggles for excellence through kaiso. As the longest serving female member of NJAC, she also carries the distinction of serving as the President of the NWAC where she was instrumental in the cultural field. Her aforementioned service spans forty-six years. In 1990, she was named in the top one-hundred Most Outstanding Women of the Nation by the Express Newspapers. At present, she stands as Director of the Butler Institute of Lifelong Learning (an institution dedicated to national literacy programmes) and President of the Institute of Race Relations. She was also President of the National Joint Action Committee at one point. Deputy Director of the British High Commission, Mr. Kirk Hollingsworth was on hand to present her with a token of appreciation for her social and cultural work.
Denyse Plummer was also celebrated for her contribution to the field. She was hailed as the “Calypso Queen Extraordinaire” as she was called to the stage. Among her many achievements, she was the third female to win the Young King Calypso Monarch Competition and has won the World Calypso Crown on three occasions. With over twenty-nine years as a performing artiste under her belt, she is now expressing herself through a different medium, authoring her first book. In her acceptance speech, she thanked Mr. Makandal Daaga and his wife for supporting her dream.
The competition commenced thereafter. The themes ran along the lines of nation-building, political picong and empowerment through African spirituality and culture. The ancestral theme was notably evident in several of the contributions but most significantly in the presentation of Ife Alleyne who gave a strong performance of her song, “Child of Destiny”. In the song, she tied the experiences of emancipation and slavery to the present-day experiences of a people disconnected in the aftermath of slavery from their history.
While a few themes were explored multiple times by performers, some compositions held their own and stood out. Spicy sang “D’Advice” which aimed at guiding couples in relationships, particularly women on learning how to walk away from a situation which no longer served anyone’s interests. This advice appealed to the crowd which stung their palms in appreciation. Sasha-Ann Moses offered a charming performance with her song “Essence of Building” – an upbeat tempo which assisted in offering her solutions to the crisis of poor leadership. Sister Ava sang “Rapso Kaiso My Order” and she commanded the stage with an introduction which featured live African drumming. It was a witty depiction of her professional plight as a rapso-kaisonian. “I Cyar Breathe” by Ms. Simon referenced the racism being faced by members of the African-American community, resulting in deaths through police brutality. Kerine Williams performed “How Much”, which highlighted the importance of self-control and self-regulation. She also addressed the national conversation taking place over the issue of corporal punishment in homes and how it appeared to be fuelling rage in youths. Notably absent was Denise Belfon who was scheduled to perform at the show.
The women sang, danced and promenaded under hot lights much to the delight of the audience. When the curtains finally closed, patrons clapped and cheered.
Winners in the order they won:
Placement / Artiste / Song
1st / Ife Alleyne / Child of Liberty
2nd / Allison Bernard / Time to Arise
3rd / Kerine Williams / How Much
4th / Stacey Sobers / Special Day
5th / Natasha Nurse / A Farmer’s Plight
6th / Meguella Simon / Ah Cyar Breathe
6th / Wendy Garrick / Not One Drop
8th / Roslyn Reid / Make the Right Choice
9th / Tammico Moore (Spicey) / D’ Advice
10th / Makeda Darius / Start Now