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Saturday, May 18, 2024


April 27, 2001 -– While thousands of Caribbean people danced in the streets and prepared to choose a calypso king and play mas, 200 scholars from around the world sat in conference rooms a few miles away, watching slides and videos and listening to experts talk about the African origins of Carnival.
In one session, a panel and its audience addressed two topics: the economic impact of Carnival and aspects of kaiso (calypso).
Lauren Larsen, a St. Croix native who taught in Washington, D.C., for 20 years before returning to work for the Education Department in the Virgin Islands, presented a paper on the "Music of Resistance" – reggae, calypso and, specific to the Virgin Islands, quelbe.
Hollis Liverpool (calypsonian Mighty Chalkdust), who chaired the panel, said kaiso grows out of knowledge of a community, history and culture.
"If you want to be a good calypsonian, you have to be educated," he said. He drew laughter with a story of listening to a young man sing about eating a "watty." Turns out he made up the word to rhyme with "party."
Louis Ible, four-time Virgin Islands calypso monarch, delighted the group by illustrating two types of kaiso, the political satire and social commentary, singing portions of his winning songs. He soared to stardom locally with satires based on puns on the names of two sitting governors ("For really?" for Alexander Farrelly and "She-neider" for Roy Schneider).
But when he performed on other islands, he said, he realized he needed to write about more universal themes. Hence the more serious works "Back of the Bus" and "Million Man March."
Ible made a surprise announcement in a brief interview after the session: He's coming out of retirement to defend his four-win record. Speaking just a few hours before Thursday night's Calypso King Competition, Ible said he would be forced back into competition if Whadablee (Sinclair DeSilva) won the crown for the third time.
That is exactly what happened.
Gary Garcia, professor at the University of the West Indies, sparked a discussion with the presentation of a paper he had co-authored on "The Organization of Carnival and its Impact and Contribution to the Economy."
Examining the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Garcia said the government there realizes a return on investment of about 350 percent. Its direct monetary contribution to the event is $23 million, and the amount spent by visiting revelers is $80 million.
Many people make money from the event, he said, citing as an example his own grandmother, who earned enough at Carnival to care for her family for about one-third of a year.
"It's also an engine for Caribbean integration," Garcia said, with the "Trinbago" Carnival spreading throughout the region and other islands adding their own flavors to it.
Eintou Pearl Springer, director of the National Heritage Library in Port of Spain, Trinidad, said she doesn't believe that the prosperity of Carnival makes its way down to everyday people.
"From the time it started to attract big money, it was taken away" from the Africans in the island's poor sections, she said. "Who is the money going to?"
She also argued that the artists, who Garcia said contribute the most and make the least, lack the "cultural confidence" to fight for a bigger share of the profits.
While there seemed general consensus on that point, Gene Emanuel, University of the Virgin Islands professor, said the artists may be less interested in making money than in creating.
"I don't want the artist to be concerned about making that dollar," he said, suggesting that others in the community should help look out for their financial interests.
The session was one of dozens held this week by the Arts Council of the African Studies Association at Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort.
Robert Nicholls, a UVI associate professor and chairman of the ACASA committee for the symposium, said that in addition to the museum curators, professors and graduate students attending, "We're also getting a lot of local interest."
This is the 12th triennial ACASA symposium and the first held outside the U.S. mainland. It began Wednesday and will continue through Sunday.

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