By RON FANFAIR
There is an added incentive for this year’s Canadian Calypso Monarch. In addition to an attractive cash prize and automatic entry in next year’s final, the winner will travel to England to make guest appearances during the annual Notting Hill Carnival.
Reigning Notting Hill Calypso Monarch, Akima Paul, is in the city this week and will appear at Saturday night’s Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) final at the Ontario Science Centre while defending champion Redman (Michael Thomas) will spend two weeks in England next month as part of a new exchange program conceived by OCPA board member, Colin Benjamin.
“This is something that has been in the pipeline for almost five years,” Benjamin told Share at a reception hosted by the Grenada Consulate last Monday night to welcome Paul who, like Redman, was born in Grenada.
“I think that the real turning point came three years ago when Macomere Fifi was in Trinidad & Tobago as part of the Divas tent and Mighty Tiger (Ashton Moore of the Association of British Calypsonians – ABC), heard her for the first time and was thoroughly impressed. He invited her to London that year and she blew them away.”
Benjamin acknowledged OCPA for collaborating with the ABC to promote the exchange.
“They jumped at the opportunity and they must be commended for that,” he said.
Paul, who is looking forward to performing in Toronto for the first time, is disappointed that she will miss the Caribana parade and other festivities because of work commitments back home. The Cambridge University graduate, who has a Masters in Law, returns home on Sunday to start a new job the next day. She won the Notting Hill title in her first attempt last year, becoming the first Grenadian national to clinch the title in the event’s 20-year history.
“Even though I have been singing in the London Calypso Tent for three years, I have been quite busy with school and work and as a result I did not get the opportunity to take part in the competition (before),” said the scholarship winner who also studied French Law at the Universite Pantheon-Assas in Paris.
Paul’s aunt, Singing Princess, is a former Grenada Monarch and her uncle, Ras Pablo, is a popular Grenadian calypsonian.
“They inspired me to want to sing calypso at a very young age,” said Paul who finished fourth in the 1995 Junior Monarch finals.
“That was my first time on stage and I forgot some of the words for the song that I did not write,” she recalled.
The St. Joseph’s Convent graduate has written all her songs since then which has enabled her to secure several titles, including Junior Monarch, the Women’s Calypso and the Grenada Monarch crowns. She also writes poetry in her spare time.
Historian and former diplomat Caldwell Taylor hailed the new exchange program as a “wonderful development”.
“This is good for calypso,” he said. “We took an art form from the Caribbean and brought it to various parts of the world where we have settled and now the Diaspora is developing inter-Diaspora relationships.”
Taylor also used the opportunity to pay tribute to Black nationalist, feminist, community leader and journalist Claudia Jones who is considered the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival. She died in 1964.
Born in Belmont, Trinidad, she moved to Harlem at age eight and spent nearly three decades in New York before being deported in 1955. Granted asylum in England, she spent her remaining years helping to create the carnival and establishing Britain’s first Black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette.
“To a large degree, we are realizing the dream that she envisioned,” said Taylor, a former Grenada ambassador to the United Nations. “Claudia thought that the way to bring us together was by a culture and she was right.”
“A country’s greatest asset is its people,” said Grenada’s Consul General Jenny Gumbs. “In Akima and Redman, we have two remarkable people who have done us proud in the Diaspora. “In Akima, we have someone who is extremely bright and articulate while Redman has persevered despite obstacles.”
Redman has been a crowd favourite since making his OCPA debut in 1990. After 11 straight appearances, he took a seven-year hiatus before returning to the fold last year to capture his first title.
He joins Naki, Smokey Burke, Structure, De Carra, Webb, Macomere Fifi, Penshioner and Guney in Saturday’s final.