Calypso Carnival

Brash and bawdy, playful and provocative, an exotic art form gets a local showcase the Miami Calypso Show

I have a partner listen to me
Well, we sit down rappin' one day about this country
He tell me, Marlon, between you and me
The immigration law really against we

Behind the singer, the man and the woman now sit in front of a desk as an INS worker fiddles at a computer. While Sirju sings, two armed immigration officers in white shirts and dark slacks come in and drag the man off.

Boy he sit and he trash this America
He say the INS causin' disaster
He say we work hard and slave in this country
And now they come in with these laws to get rid of we

Is their law, Louie
The immigration law you see
my friend is their law, Louie
the immigration law, hear me

As Sirju nears the end of the song, the officers return in armed pursuit of him, wrestle him to the ground, and hold his hands behind his back. Though everything is exaggerated, even in slapstick the scene is ominous. By the end, the audience has stopped laughing.

Backstage the 34-year-old Sirju discusses his composition. "The song says that my friend lives in America and he has a problem with this law, the way they're deporting people. He thinks that as foreigners we work hard in America, why should we be deported? And I'm telling him: Regardless if you like it or not, it's the American law and we have to live with it."

During the week Sirju sells Jacuzzis and toilets for a Broward firm; on weekends, though, he's a singer -- "weddings, bar mitzvahs, you name it." He has a sweet, soulful voice, and he's usually hired to sing R&B ballads and pop standards, not calypsos. But Sirju has been in the competition for five straight years, and he has placed as high as second. This year he decided to enter an overtly political song. "Calypso is in the blood," he says. "I feel that during the time I'm on-stage I can educate someone in the crowd. I don't even have to come first; the idea is to let somebody understand."

This year the song is especially relevant, with the new Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act requiring all resident West Indians to file residency applications before this past October 23. In the Trinidadian community, this is more than simply another news story; it's a major issue with potentially weighty consequences. About 60,000 Trinidadians now live in South Florida, according to Trinidad and Tobago Vice Consul John Gillette. "That's a working figure," he cautions. "When you're talking about the immigrant community, there is no such thing as official statistics." Gillette says that although some Miami Trinidadians have turned to the new consulate for assistance with immigration issues, the community as whole is not as concerned about its status as other groups may be.

Although more Trinidadians now live in South Florida, most do not come directly from the island. "One of the big waves of Caribbean migration was in the early Seventies, to the northern states," the vice consul explains. "People went to New York -- where our largest expatriate population lives -- to Boston, and other cities. Twenty-five years later, a lot of them have reached the point where they're established and looking to get out of the northern winter, so they're coming here. And we expect that trend to continue. There are well-established ties in the United States already, so our community here is fairly comfortable."

Sirju, a legal resident who's married and has two children, lived in New York for nine years before moving to Fort Lauderdale in 1991. "I wanted an atmosphere like I had in the Caribbean," he says. "Here the weather is warm and the kids can play in the yard. So Miami's perfect, you know. We'll hang out here for a while."

By the time Forde steps up to announce the winners, it's 1:00 a.m. Lady Flamingo comes in tenth. The pretty physical therapist from Boca tried her best, but she couldn't quite match her pelvic thrusts to her singing, which tended to stray off-key. As the rest of the calypsonians are announced, few take the stage; they've either wandered off or are too embarrassed to claim a consolation prize. Picoplat places eleventh, MC Fed right behind at twelfth. Then the cash awards are announced. The audience cheers when Patriot wins third prize, $250. Giant takes second -- $500.

"And Miami's Royal Calypso Monarch is -- Marlon Sirju!" Forde crowns him and hands him a huge trophy. As Sirju's friends mob the stage, hugging him, Forde asks the audience to clap for the best calypsonian for the people's choice award. Patriot wins, aided by some good screamers among his family members, who are sitting up front.

The courtyard outside is full. It's long past midnight and tomorrow is a workday, but most of the people present have taken off from their jobs for the week. Giant, who will leave for New York the next day, holds his nephew's shoulder with one hand and grips his trophy in the other. "I'd like to go to Trinidad and sing at Carnival there," he says as they head for the parking lot. "That's what I'm looking at next."

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