A few years ago while conducting a workshop designed to use calypso as a form of social expression, award-winning calypsonian Macomere Fifi (Eulith Tara Woods) asked students at a Scarborough high school to come up with a social issue and write about it.
“To my surprise, many of the young people were concerned about honour killings and I really did not think it was a big issue,” she said. “That was because I didn’t think it was happening here.”
Last January, a Montreal couple and their son were convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of four family members, including the patriarch’s first wife. At around the same time, the University of Sherbrooke released a study indicating there were 12 honour-killing victims in Canada in the past 13 years compared with three between 1954 and 1983.
“I was shocked and blown away when those family members were killed right here in our own backyard,” said Macomere Fifi. “I had to do something.”
The tragic deaths inspired her to produce a powerful commentary, “Never Again”. That selection and “Tell Me Why”, which looks at last February’s fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, earned the approval of the judges and audience at the Organization of Calypso Performing Artists (OCPA) Calypso Monarch finals last Saturday night.
Carlyle Bailey wrote the lyrics, orchestrated the arrangement and composed the melody for the prize-winning calypsoes.
“I like to do songs that are topical and global audiences can relate to,” said the four-time champion and only female among the nine finalists. “The Shafia sisters’ killings made international headlines and young Trayvon’s death shocked the world. That was easy for me to do since it was a reminder that we still live in a racist and dark era. We tend to think everything is alright until something like this happens.”
A member of the Professionals Kaiso Tent, Macomere Fifi was very emotional after being crowned champion.
“Those were tears of joy,” she said. “The hard work had paid off and it was a fitting end to a wonderful week in which I was blessed with a second grandchild.”
In addition to the grand title and People’s Choice Award, Macomere Fifi – who started singing calypsoes in 1998 and was a cast member in the Africentric acapella musical, Obeah Opera – captured the Best Composition on a Local Topic (Never Again) and Best Arrangement (Tell Me Why) individual awards.
She also won a $5,334.40 cash prize, a 50” LED television and a trip to next year’s Notting Hill Carnival in England.
Macomere Fifi won her first crown on her debut 14 years ago and had to wait a decade before regaining the title. Tracey Ann (1989 and 1990) and Lady Pearl (1992) are the only other female calypso champions.
Five-time monarch, Structure (Bryan Thornhill) and Montreal-based Dennis James, were the first and second runners-up, respectively. Structure captured the Best Lyrics Award for “The Shipwreck”, which addressed the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship and its beleaguered captain who abandoned his vessel, a $2,721.60 cash prize and a laptop computer while James received a cheque for $1,814.40.
This was James’ first appearance since 2007. His lively second rendition,” Now I am Sixty Five”, won the Most Humorous Calypso, Best Melody and Best Rendition awards.
“That song was written to celebrate my 65th birthday last January,” said the three-time Calypso Monarch who migrated from Saint Lucia in 1972. “I had a great time out there tonight and the fan reaction was fabulous.”
A fan favourite who clinched the People’s Choice Award three straight years, James has released two gospel albums – I’m A Different Man and Thank You Jesus – in the last five years.
“That’s the route I want to go now, so I really don’t know if I will be back in another OCPA competition,” said James, who retired from his full-time job last Thursday after 35 years. “I will think about it in the next few months before making a final decision.”
Most Original Calypso Award individual winner Web (Hamilton Alexander) was fourth followed by five-time champion Beginner (Michael Moore), Best Presentation Award winner Connector (Joel Davis), Redman (Michael Thomas), Pan Man Pat (Pat McNeilly) and The Crooner (Bill Newman).
The performers were judged on lyrics, melody, vocal rendition, originality and presentation.
This year’s judges were Lennox Borel, Ken Bruzal, Garth Blackman, Wilma Cayonne-Cromwell, Joel Ien, Clevil James, Richard Luces, Steve Regis and Caldwell Taylor.
By RON FANFAIR