The Association of British Calypsonians (ABC) is an organization which was formed in 1991. To this day, it remains the only representative body for British based composers and singers of the music of calypso, both in the United Kingdom and Europe. The ABC was formed out of what was seen as necessity. Years of calypsonians being exploited by rapacious promoters led to action being taken to ensure some kind of protective body for these artists. The organization is itself a “federation”, with members coming from backgrounds all over the English speaking Caribbean: Anguilla, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago, et al.
The London Calypso Tent (LCT) emanated from the ABC, providing a space and a platform for calypsonians based in Britain to perform and share their musical offerings. The LCT had its first and only home up to 2007 at the Yaa Asantewaa Arts Centre. A solid partnership was formed between the ABC and Yaa and the London Calypso Tent has undoubtedly become more popular over the past 20 years. In the 5 weeks preceding Notting Hill Carnival, the ABC’s LCT is appreciated as that carnival’s ‘cultural precursor’. The ABC and the Yaa Asantewaa Arts Centre are both the founding partners of Carnival Village which went on to include two other partners: Ebony Steelband Trust and Mangrove.
Though the ABC is a British phenomenon, it does acknowledge that there is some obligation to paying respect to fundamental traditions borne out of the culture of calypso from Trinidad and Tobago. The decision to use the term ‘tent’ as opposed to ‘house’ or some other alternative, the insistence on an awareness of the importance of calypsonians adopting a sobriquet for performance and the more obvious practice over the years of having guest calypsonians from Trinidad and Tobago perform at the LCT: all this is in appreciation and respect for the culture that has travelled from Trinidad and Tobago and which has come to position itself in its own extraordinary way among the multitude of musical cultures to be found in the United Kingdom.
The ABC began to actively reach out to children through the music of calypso in 1993, having recognised that there was an apathetic response to it from the younger generation. 1993 saw the start of a highly successful process of involving children and young people in calypso – by bringing to England, young calypsonians from Trinidad and Tobago on an annual basis - Kerwin Du Bois being the first - and also by developing the now annual Junior Calypso Monarch competition. This writer remembers being asked to judge the first ever Junior Monarch competition in 1993. There were only 3 competitors and Lady Puni emerged as Britain’s first Junior Calypso Monarch! The progress made by the ABC in regard to dismantling the notion that calypso music is “only for old people” has been impressive and the work that it does to ensure there is an active awareness of the music continues through workshops in schools and in other local community spaces. Children are taught about the history of calypso, thinking about themes, writing lyrics, adopting a sobriquet, elements of effective performance and more. All this, with a decidedly British flavour!
The organisation is currently working with the cultural writer and folk music historian Ray Funk on the writing of its history as well as incrementally laying plans for the eventual ‘Calypso Museum’. Both the biography and the museum are projects that are regarded as vital to the sustainability of the Association of British Calypsonians.
Through its efforts and vibrant, cultural contribution the ABC continues to make certain that British calypso remains alive and well.
© Nicole-Rachelle Moore 2013