OCPA awards honour the best in local calypso



Just over three decades ago, Toronto-based calypsonian, Structure (Bryan Thornhill), was enrolled in Barbados’ Garrison Secondary School reciting poetry and enjoying his drama classes while Beginner (Michael Moore) was hundreds of miles away in Toronto preparing to participate in the first Calypso King competition.

Structure started singing calypso in 1983 and has dominated the Toronto landscape since migrating to Canada nine years ago.

He and Moore are the only calypsonians to win five titles, a remarkable feat of which both men are extremely proud.

Who is going to be the first to capture a sixth crown is anybody’s guess.


“I am going to be coming strong next year,” Beginner told Share at the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) 30th annual awards show last Friday night in Scarborough. “It’s going to be war.”


Structure downplayed the historical significance, saying the record is not his number one goal.

“I just love performing and executing the art form,” he said. “I look forward to the competition and if I happen to win, I will certainly be very happy. The thing, though, that drives me is just being able to come out on stage and put on a good show.”

Judging by Structure’s stunning performance this year, few will bet against him reaching the magical mark first.

The Kaiso Forum tent’s founder/manager hit a home run in last July’s final with his second song, Trenton Monster, which took aim at former Canadian Forces Base Trenton Commander Col. Russell Williams who a year ago was convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Structure’s dominance was evident in his almost total sweep of the individual prizes. He captured the Best Lyrics, Best Melody, Most Original Calypso, Best Rendition, Most Humorous and People’s Choice awards and shared the Best Presentation title with newcomer, Newton Philip (Newton P).

In addition to celebrating Structure’s accomplishments, OCPA also paid tribute to the many calypsonians, volunteers, sponsors and others associated with the organization and its events over the past three decades.

The seed that eventually became OCPA and Kaiso 365 was planted in 1980 in a barbershop Beginner owned at the time in the Bathurst & Dupont Streets area. Frank Cuthbert, the proprietor of the now defunct Cutty’s Hideaway nightclub overheard Beginner and other calypsonians, including Juno De Lord, De Vibrator, Protector and Smokey, boasting about their singing prowess and challenged them to organize a competition with the promise that he would put up a $500 prize for the winner.

“That was big money then and we jumped at it,” recalled Beginner who failed to reach the final of the inaugural competition which was won by Smokey.

Beginner won his first of five titles the following year at the Masonic Temple Concert Hall and retained his crown in the 1982 competition which was sponsored by British tobacco manufacturer, Rothmans International.

“To have a mainstream organization being the lead sponsor in just the third year was huge for our art form,” said Beginner, who started singing soul before transitioning to calypso. “It’s a pity we could not build on that momentum. It’s sad that 30 years after OCPA was formed, we cannot award $10,000 to the winner. We have great writers and singers here who deserve better. We should be offering a car or $25,000 to the winning calypsonian.”

Structure, who earned a cash prize of $6,020 and trips to next year’s Atlanta and Notting Hill carnivals for winning the 2011 crown, agreed.

“The winners get cars in the Caribbean and we should be entitled to the same here in a country like Canada with a lot more resources than the region,” he said.

The first Preston Shepherd Memorial Music scholarship was presented to St. Basil The Great College Grade Nine student, Rashida Clarke.

“This is quite an honour,” said Clarke who migrated to Canada three years ago.

The daughter of calypsonian Denise “Spice” Alexander, Clarke performed Mommy Taught Me in the 2010 Kaiso Forum tent and If I Could Change the World this year.

A former OCPA president, Shepherd passed away last year.

“Preston did a lot of good work with the organization since he became a member in 1985,” said his wife, Arlayne, who presented the scholarship. “He would have been proud of this moment.”

Awards were also presented to first runner-up Tara “Macomere Fifi” Woods and Pat “Panman” McNeilly who won the Best Composition on a Local Topic prize for his rendition, Stop the Gravy Train.

New York-based Calypso Rose (born McCartha Sandy-Lewis), who broke the art form gender barrier at age 15 and has penned over 800 songs over the last five decades, made a guest appearance at the show.

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