Steve Clarke (Mr. Wonderful) played mas’ and pan in Trinidad & Tobago’s carnival before migrating to Canada 11 years ago. He also won the twin-island republic’s corporate calypso title four times while employed at the Central Bank.
Participating in a major calypso competition was always his dream.
The former resident of Belmont has fulfilled his wish, making it to the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) 2011 Calypso Monarch final on Saturday night at the Chinese Cultural Centre, 5183 Sheppard Ave. E.
“For a long period, I wanted to participate at a higher level, but it’s only now that I have found the time,” said Clarke who has been a member of Pan Fantasy Steel Orchestra for the past five years. “Last August, I took part in a little competition at Queen’s Park to mark Trinidad & Tobago’s independence and I won. I was well received and I thought now would be the time to enter the OCPA competition.”
Clarke impressed fellow calypsonians Connector and Structure at a fundraising kaiso forum organized by The Church of St. Stephen’s in Downsview earlier this year.
“Connector asked me to join his tent (Professionals) while Structure told me there was a market for old time calypso which I enjoy singing with friends while having a drink,” Clarke said. “With my mind made up to compete, I called a friend in Trinidad, asking him to put together two tunes for me because it was almost 15 years since I wrote something new. The man told me he’s not going to do it because I used to beat him in the corporate contests back home.”
Undaunted, Clarke put pen to paper and wrote Agouti Get Away and Tribute to Dudley Laws, the long-time community activist who passed away last March.
“I was told that I should sing something with Canadian content and I immediately thought about Dudley and all the good things he did for his community,” Clarke said. “I regret not having the chance to meet him but I am concerned that heroes in the Black Diaspora, including Toronto, quickly fade away when they pass on. I think calypsonians have the opportunity to keep their memory alive and let people know all that they did to make their community a better place. The man gave hope to those without a voice.”
Clarke said he was surprised by the high level of competition in the calypso tent.
“I did not realize that the bar was so lofty,” he said. “The contestants bring their ‘A’ game to the show and you have to be ready, as I found out.”
When asked who his favourite calypsonian is, Clarke did not hesitate in naming The Mighty Sparrow, an 11-time T & T Calypso Monarch winner and eight-time T & T Road March champion.
“He had a friend that lived near my grandmother in Gonzales and whenever he pulled up with his maroon and gold Opel, everybody would come out of their homes to hail Sparrow,” Clarke said. “I remember as a three-year-old singing Sparrow’s Queen Canary for my father’s (mas’ man Cecil “Sonny” Clarke) friends when they came to our home.”
Four-time calypso monarch John “Jayson” Perez encouraged Philip to participate in the OCPA event. Philip, who lived in Hamilton for eight years before moving to Calgary 33 years ago, was the drummer in Perez’s string band – The Legends – which lasted for 13 years until 1983.
Born in T & T to Grenadian parents, Philip started singing competitively in the 1997 Cariwest competition in Edmonton for calypsonians in Western Canada.
“It was a terrible debut because I forgot my words while on stage,” recalled Philip. “I was totally embarrassed.”
He bounced back strongly the following year, finishing third and was a three-time winner from 2004-06.
“I figured I had done enough in that competition and I wanted to expand my horizon,” said the husband and father of three. “Jayson is a very good friend of mine and when he encouraged me to try my hand in Toronto, I did not hesitate even though I don’t know if I will have my job when I get back home.”
Reaching the final in his first try is more than Philip expected.
“To be honest, I am shocked I got this far,” he said. “I just wanted to come here and put on a good show and in the process network and meet new friends which I have done. Getting to the final is icing on the cake.”
Jayson wrote Philip’s songs, Old Age Pension and Stop the Killing.
The order of appearance in Saturday’s final is five-time winner Beginner (Michael Moore), Panman Pat (Pat McNeilly), Spice (Denise Alexander), Newton P, Mr. Wonderful, four-time champion Structure (Bryan Thornhill), King Smokey (Clieve Henry), defending champion Macomere Fifi (Eulith Tara Woods) and 2009 champion Redman (Michael Thomas).
The program’s host is Rhoma Spencer while England’s 2010 Calypso Monarch Alexander D Great (Alexander Loewenthal) will make a guest appearance.
Loewenthal, who was born in T & T and raised in England, has 30 years experience as a professional musician, composer and arranger. He returned to his calypso roots in the late 1980s, creating his own fusion of calypso, soul and blues which he refers to as “socablues”.
The owner of a 10-piece band, he also runs a record label and does calypso workshops in educational institutions. For the past 11 years, Loewenthal has been Calypsonian-in-Residence at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), delivering satirical calypso fortnightly.
Tickets for Saturday’s final cost $35 in advance and $40 at the door. They can also be purchased at www.ticketgateway.com.