Calypso Carnival

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

Other calypsonians are looking for answers closer to home. A few days after the competition, Patriot has decided to copyright "Bite Me" and is looking around for a manager. "People are accepting the fact that one day Miami's going to make it big with calypsos," he says. "If you make calypsos that people sing only in Trinidad, then that market is going to be crowded. You've got to go somewhere new, and Miami's a place where you've got a lot of West Indians. A lot of guys are fighting with calypsos here, hoping that one day they're going to hit on a song that sells. And me, why not? It could happen."

Sirju too plans to record his song, and he hints that in the wake of the contest he's had some interesting offers. Even Mike Andrews, who is somewhat less than optimistic about the commercial opportunities for Miami's calypso winners, is glad that the recent upswing is continuing. "When I moved here in 1981, the only time you'd hear calypso was when someone had a party at their house," he recalls.

Miami Carnival changed that situation, but only for one month of the year. Andrews says that the rest of the year Caribbean fetes are scattered, poorly promoted affairs, and he laments the lack of a really consistent Caribbean music scene that could encourage budding calypsonians. "We still have a lot of foundation work to do," he argues. "For someone to be a successful calypso act here in Miami, the major thing is an outlet where they could sing and earn a few dollars and sharpen their skills. We need an infrastructure to develop the calypso market. We need a club where every weekend there's something going on in terms of calypso -- an amateur night, a soca night, a chutney night. If we had a little club that had an amateur night, then these guys could hone their skills and improve their songs, their lyrics, and their melodies."

The closest thing to that is Merv's Place, a small social club in a strip mall off State Road 441, hidden above a Jamaican restaurant and a Trinidadian bakery. Sometimes on Friday night during the year, local calypsonians meet here to rehearse new songs in front of an audience. At Carnival time, out-of-towners stop by to catch up with old friends from back home. People play pool and cards in the back room while Merv cooks up a pot of stewed meat or some crab and dumplings.

The week after Carnival, a group of calypsonians, including Picoplat, MC Fed, and Lady Flamingo, shows up for an informal reprise of contest performances. The evening is convivial and festive. Even the usually businesslike Norris Forde tells a joke.

The contestants who didn't take home the big money at the competition aren't giving up. In fact, they're performing more ardently than ever. Wearing overalls small enough for a twelve-year-old, with the tape measure from his job as a cabinetmaker stuck in his belt, Picoplat sings a medley of several songs he's written over the past few years. Tonight he's in tune. "I really wanted to win," he says. "But since I didn't, I'm glad Marlon did. Next year I'll make a comeback."

Patriot arrives after midnight and delivers an encore of his song to the faithful few still present. "To be honest, I felt like I should have won," he concedes. "But then, when I left there I did feel like I'd won -- last year I was ninth and this year I came in third, and the people thought I should have been first. The audience picked me. That's all that a calypsonian really wants, to reach the people, you know? That's what makes him happy. For me calypso is like a yardstick. It's a way of proving to yourself that all is not lost. It tells you that you didn't fail. Even if you fail in your daily life, calypso shows you there's something you can do.

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