So here it is. My BIG story on the legend I couldn’t stop talking about for weeks 🙂
Published yesterday in the Sunday Newsday – January 31st 2016
Read abridged version here: http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,223406.html
Son, husband, father, calypsonian, teacher, scholar. Dr. Hollis Liverpool otherwise known as the Mighty Chalkdust wears many hats. Also named a distinguished son of St. Mary’s College in the 1990s, he started singing calypso music while at school.
However, it was at Teacher’s Training College he knew calypso was in his blood. There he met Roy Augustus and Ramesh Deosaran and many other connections.
He recalls his first public show which was the People’s National Movement’s Buy Local Calypso Competition in the 1960s which he went on to win 8 times! He describes the feeling like no other to hear the cheers from the audience.
More great things awaited as in 1968 he got the opportunity to “touch savannah grass” as a young man at his first ever Dimanche Gras show, singing with the masters such as the Mighty Duke and Lord Blakie.
He fondly remembers that was a big deal in those days, because it was only the top 6 who qualified to perform on the savannah stage and you had to be good!
How the Artform Has Changed
Acceptance of the calypso is the biggest change, Liverpool says. Long ago calypso was accepted on all platforms: social, political etc.
He explained that the emphasis was on good melodies and strong lyrics that made sense, yet still maintaining the element of entertainment.
He continues firmly, “In so doing, you don’t put audiences to sleep with big words and big ideas…the more seasoned calypsonians knew how to sing on interesting themes and still maintain the Trinbagonian touch.”
He further explains that the tradition was to sing your own compositions. Today there are calypsonians who sing, but don’t compose and vice versa. In spite of this, if you disregard the ones that compose, but don’t sing you would have lost some good calypsos.
The key he says, is remaining consistent every year. He acknowledges talented artistes such as Kurt Allen, Pink Panther, Devon Seales, Michelle Henry and Lady Tallish as well as Sugar Aloes who he taught at Nelson Street Boys.
Uniting the world with calypso
From the borders of Russia to Finland, Sweden, Norway, London, North America and the Caribbean, calypso music has taken the Mighty Chalkdust to stages on almost every corner of the world.
However, the most memorable performance was in the 1970s in Jamaica where he shared a stage with Jimmy Cliff for CARIFESTA at the National Stadium.
“I looked out to the audience and there were thousands of Jamaicans applauding calypso! Jamaica just went crazy as they embraced our culture wholeheartedly.”
Second to this was Norway, he shares. Simply because of the composition of the audience which was predominantly European.
Third, was Fasching’s Jazz Club in Stockholm, Sweden where Lord Nelson once sang.
“Only the rich and famous were present and there was Trinidad singing calypso!”
Toronto was another memorable occasion where he captivated an eager audience with his music sung with guitar in hand.
Some may know that the Mighty Chalkdust is also a great scholar.
In 1973 he won the best undergraduate thesis of all three campuses in History and Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies.
This was later published in a book – From the Horse’s Mouth.
He was the first UWI student to graduate with a Master’s degree in History.
Based on this, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue his PhD in History and Ethnomusicology at The University of Michigan.
He completed his PhD with the second fastest record (3 years, 8 months) in the history of the university which ranks in the top 20 schools globally.
While there he also worked playing steelpan at the Hugh Borde Orchestra.
After many years of teaching at the primary and secondary school levels, Liverpool lectured at the University of the Virgin Islands for 8 years and is now the Programme Professor at the University of Trinidad & Tobago where he lecturers on Carnival Studies – the only master’s programme of its kind in the world, now in its fourth cohort.
Advice to young calypsonians
Liverpool advises calypsonians to stick to the original rhythm patterns: 2/2 beat, 4 verses, 16 bars in the verses and 16 bars in the chorus. He says you must understand the artform, as well as your role which is to inform the public on societal issues.
“Sing for the right reasons, not for fame or to make money. It is not about singing about the moon and the stars, but singing about the moon and the stars in a way that is Trinbagonian.”
Liverpool recommends that there is a need for training in the fundamentals, for calypsonians by TUCO and other bodies. Through the Ministry of Culture, his mentoring workshops in past years have produced top calypsonians such as Shawn Daniel, Bodyguard, Twiggy and Stinger. He wishes to see more of this in the future.
The Legacy of the Mighty Chalkdust
“My style is unique because I am me. A leopard can’t change his spots. My uniqueness lies in my juba dance, juba dubai cry – a war cry of the Zulus.”
He shares that an artform is a projection of your own ideas. Years from now, students will quote the great calypsonians long after they have died, in books, theses and dissertations.
“Your legacy is your songs, thoughts and ideas. If you’re not a composer, the legacy you leave is not your own.”
The Mighty Chalkdust seems to have mastered all aspects of his life. He recently celebrated 53 years of marriage with his wife whom he shares 5 children, who all have a basic foundation in music, though have pursued different interests.
He gets pensive as he brings to mind persons calling for the “end of the Chalkdust era” and admits that he does not compete to win, but to keep the artform alive, the standards high and the fires burning.
“From the cheers alone last Sunday, the people are saying to me don’t ever stop. It was encouraging to be called for an encore even before I came on stage!”
As he strums his guitar, he begins to hum a tune he composed in 1973, “My aim is really not to win a crown, but until I die, they’ll hear my cry, Juba dubai,” and replies with a determined smile,
“What is my goal? As long as God gives me health and strength, I will fulfill my purpose on this earth and continue the Chalkdust era.”
Dr. Hollis Liverpool can be contacted via email: email@example.com
Thank You Dr. Liverpool. It was such a joy meeting and chatting with you.
(Who knew a trip to the pharmacy would turn into a chance meeting with a Legend!)
I’m sure my Daddy would have been very proud.