By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2014 Bocas Lit fest blogger
Carnival 2014 is but a few weeks away, as even a cursory glance over this season’s sea of fêtes will demonstrate. Happily, one of Carnival’s longest standing traditions, the musical business of penning calypso lyrics, was the focus of our February NGC Bocas Lit Fest workshop, presented in collaboration with TUCO, the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation. The three-hour session, held on the first of the month at NALIS, was moderated by veteran kaisonian Llewellyn Mac Intosh – or, as he’s better known in the kaiso tent, Short Pants.
The workshop attendees flocked from parts both adjacent and remote to Port of Spain, some venturing up from the deep Southlands for a taste of Short Pants’ expertise. Participants of various provenances and motivations had their pens poised at the ready, hoping to have a calypso or two sung as part of the afternoon’s official proceedings. (On this score (or, indeed, any other) Short Pants did not disappoint!) Many were active or retired educators; several were there for mental stimulation, and there were more than a few creative writers in the mix. Each of the attendees shared a common goal, expressed in a compelling callalloo of ideas: they wanted insight into the world of lyrics writing, a deeper gleaning of the realms inhabited by those chanteuses and bards of the calypso elite.
Short Pants, who began his calypso singing career at the Calypso Theatre in 1975, covered generous terrain in his presentation. Armed with dictionaries, workshop attendees sought out defining terms for the very building blocks of lyrics, beginning with what constitutes writing itself. Establishing clear differences between prose and verse, Short Pants focused on the intricacies that go into writing the latter. The two-time National Extempo Competition finalist employed a detailed PowerPoint presentation as the backbone of his instruction, but his tutelage was scarcely limited to digital fora. In fact, his several chatty and nostalgic forays into the great calypso and kaiso pieces of yesteryear held workshop members in collective amusement and a shared, remembered delight.
“There ought to be a multiplicity of meanings to each line of a calypso,” Short Pants opined, adding that “the ability to say things in economic terms is a craftsman’s purview.” He punctuated this assessment with telling examples from some classic calypso standards, such as Shadow’s “From Then to Now”, and Lord Maestro’s paean to Hasely Crawford’s 1976 victory, “Gold”. Workshop-goers frequently bobbed their heads in agreement, and when one or two presented opposing views to the theories put forth by Short Pants, constructive feedback flowed through the group.
Indeed, it was in the full circle approach of group work that some of the session’s most strident engagements were made. Short Pants assembled the participants into smaller clusters, and assigned them each two pieces of verse work. He charged them with identifying literary devices and parts of speech. Attendees pored over Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”, Lord Relator’s “Deaf Panmen”, and “Graf Zeppelin” by Atilla the Hun, among other gems. The sole gripe that workshop participants expressed was over the session’s length, since the hours flew by as quickly as time goes in a raucous talk tent segment itself.
It takes years of honing one’s skills on the page and stage, to achieve mastery at this craft, Short Pants pointed out. His comprehensive workshop on February 1st served as a delectable amuse-bouche, a sampler of encouragement to budding lyricists seeking to expand their calypso consciousness. The NGC Bocas Lit Fest team is deeply grateful to Llewellyn “Short Pants” Mac Intosh for unstintingly sharing his time and experience with our workshop group. We’d also like to acknowledge the enthusiasm and high spirited participation of our workshop attendees, as well as TUCO and NALIS’s support of the event.
If you missed this February rendez-vous with wordsmithing, never fear: we’ll have a full line-up of immersive workshops during this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Stay tuned to our website and social media for details on those, including signup information, as #bocas2014 draws nearer!
All photographs taken by Kathleen Tompsett, Programme Assistant, Bocas Lit Fest.