Catholic News contributor Felix Edinborough aka The Pierrot Grenade interviewed veteran calypsonian The Mighty Chalkdust a few weeks ago, long before his appearance at another Calypso Monarch finals. Feature writer Kaelanne Jordan reports.
Dr Hollis Urban ‘The Mighty Chalkdust’ Liverpool has never taught a lesson without integrating Calypso. In fact, he admits he always uses Calypso “mercilessly” in the classroom.
To the Calypso fraternity ‘Chalkdust’ or ‘Chalkie’ for short, is a veteran calypsonian and nine-time National Calypso Monarch. But to his students at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) he is called Professor. Dr Liverpool is also the recipient of the country’s highest award—the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for distinguished and outstanding service in the Sphere of Education/Culture and Research in 2019.
A teacher by day [since 1968] and a calypsonian by night, is how Dr Liverpool sums up his profession. He explained that it was through teaching, he became a calypsonian.
“Because trying to understand the history [of Trinidad and Tobago] I bounce up [Lord] Beginner, and I bounce up Atilla…. It is through history I studied Atilla and [Lord] Executor…. And that made me become a calypsonian,” Dr Liverpool said.
Dr Liverpool revealed in his early teaching career he was dismissed from teaching for teaching Calypso. He returned to the profession under the guidance of then Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams who he said remarked: “I don’t know what they hambugging the young man for”.
Throughout the half century as an educator he taught at the infant, primary, secondary and university levels. “So, I cover the whole works of teaching. I enjoyed it,” he said.
Of his teaching career, Dr Liverpool shared a story, one he said, that has never been told before. He said as a young boy leaving St Mary’s College, he required recommendations for a job as a pupil surveyor. A recommendation from Fr Scott said, “Go and teach…God wants you to be a teacher”. “I say what the heck is this…” he recalled.
In hindsight, Dr Liverpool is convinced he’s a teacher by God.
“I wasn’t convinced in those days, but I’m convinced now…because I would never be a teacher. I didn’t know what it is to be a teacher.”
Dr Liverpool, when asked which of his talents has helped him the most in his development said Calypso. “If I weren’t a calypsonian, nobody might have known me,” he said. He however said he was “shocked” at receiving “one of the most cherished awards”—named among the top 50 educators in Trinidad and Tobago. “…every time they talk about my Calypso, they talk about education. And every time they talk about my Calypso, they say they learned something from them. And I call my Calypsos academic papers because I take a lot of time to compose them,” he said.
He went on to explain sometimes persons have five minutes to compose a Calypso. “But I take the five minutes composing it and then I spend a next five minutes massaging it and making sure the lines are right and the research is right and …above all, I’m not harming anybody.”
Calypso in the classroom
Dr Liverpool is of the view that all teachers should be trained in the artform because the history of our country and the Caribbean is written in Calypso. And for every event in the history of T&T, there are Calypsos for it. “So, I was shocked that a lot of teachers don’t use that and that teachers don’t know it. And I always say some of the Calypsos haven’t come to the children as yet because it ain’t reach the teachers,” he said.
He boasted every student under his tutelage learned Sparrow’s ‘Education’. As the former Director of Culture from 1993 to 1999, and now Senior Academic Fellow with UTT’s Academy for Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs, Dr Liverpool said he has used his portfolio to develop related programmes as an integral part of teaching and learning. “Because so many know the Calypso, but they don’t understand the background to the Calypso…. We don’t use Calypso sufficiently,” he said.
Commenting on Felix Edinborough’s observation that some Calypsos are “not inspiring” Dr Liverpool said to a large extent, he is quite right. “Because young people can’t make Calypsos,” he said. He believed it is because no-one taught them, or sufficiently taught them or they simply just do not understand the artform. “When a fella sang a Calypso long time you see a whole shape. You see a congruence as you go from line to line. Lord Kitchener was the boss of that,” he said.
While Dr Liverpool was not taught Calypso in a classroom setting, he learned the artform as an apprentice from his fellow calypsonians. He shared stories of during auditions his peers would remark “change that line”, “add this” or give him picong “why you saying that for?”. He remembered one day The Mighty Duke told him “Big man like you singing that…boy what happen? You rhyming dollars with dollars?”
He remembered Lord Kitchener told him “if you can’t find a word for big say tremendous,” he said with laughter.
Dr Liverpool observed that the younger generation are not learning from the veterans. Rather, he said, they criticise and curse him.
The only thing that can save the artform he said is its history and legacy. “If we [the veterans] come out of the artform, it gone. It’s all over.”
He shared the same sentiment with extempo adding that the only person still performing extempo is Gypsy “because the rest of them singing all kinda thing”.
For now, Dr Liverpool expressed plans to write more books, one particularly on Calypsos in schools. He shared the vision of the book detailing calypsos on one page, how to teach Calypso, the history of the Calypso and exercises for children. “I have a lot of books to write about,” he said, adding another idea is to produce a book on ‘Badjohnism’.