Raising The Flag Of Calypso In Berlin

Soca star Bunji Garlin performed his song “Cosmic Shift” at a packed club in Berlin in early 2012. In May of that same year he was on the road, performing on a truck during one of the biggest carnivals in the world-Berlin Carnival. He later said in an interview that the Berlin experience had been an eye-opener; that there was nothing like it. He vowed to keep coming back. A few months later “Differentology” was born and Bunji has signed an international record deal.

Red Platic Bag, Lennon “Blaze” Prospere and others performing with Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz in Berlin.

Red Platic Bag, Lennon “Blaze” Prospere and others performing with Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz in Berlin.

Berlin’s Karneval der Kulturen (KdK) is not your ordinary carnival. It is an international festival that embraces calypso and soca at its core. Among the 3.4 million inhabitants of the German capital, about 450, 000 do not have German citizenship. And so KdK seeks to represent all the different cultures living in Berlin. And although most participants in the band are German, there are also many people from the Caribbean, Africa or other cultural backgrounds. Yet, most gravitate to the pulsating rhythms of calypso and soca and its appendage culture.

It’s been a cosmic shift for the genre of calypso and soca, one that two copyright organizations in the region are taking notice of. And now thanks to the assistance of funding agencies, they are prepared, through their members to embark on a calypso and soca invasion of Berlin.

January 17, 2015. The Caribbean Calypso Club- Hangar 49, Holzmarktstrasse 15-18, Berlin: A number of impressive calypso and soca stars and musicians from Barbados and Saint Lucia gather for the first time together on stage. They are Nicholas Brancker, Anderson “Blood” Armstrong, Stedson “Red Plastic Bag” Wiltshire, Charles D. Lewis and Wayne “Poonka” Willock (Barbados), Lennon “Blaze” Prospere and Sherwinn “Dupes” Brice (Saint Lucia). On this night, the Berlin based calypso band “Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz”, who have been waving the calypso flag for close to a decade, joins them. The house is shaken up – not stirred – on this night, a mixture of sweat and ethnicities, with hands waving and clapping, both feet off the ground, often. The curtain goes down and the artistes return home to ponder what has been dubbed a successful event for many reasons.

One of them, Lennon Prospere has been doing calypso and soca in Saint Lucia for a number of years and has in fact performed in Europe previously with the band Reasons. “This event, I must say there was nothing quite like it. There are no words to describe that sense you get when the artistes put on a united front on stage and the response you get from the audience,” he says of what occurred in Berlin.

The Berlin showcase as well as a capacity building workshop, formed part of an international cultural exchange project in Germany called “Calypso in Berlin” held January 13-19, 2015. It was initiated through the collaborative efforts of The Copyright Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Incorporated (COSCAP) (Barbados), the Eastern Caribbean Collective Organization for Music Rights (ECCO) Inc., Lord Mouse & The Kalypso Katz and Piranha Kultur.

This was done through funding from the Caribbean Export Development Agency under the 10th EDF programme, the OECS and with additional support from the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC). The project sought to take advantage of the EU-Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and Cultural Protocol to enter new markets and build collaborative ties.

According to Steve Etienne, the Caribbean are net exporters of royalties, which creates a huge drain on limited resources. “What CMO’s such as COSCAP and ECCO are doing is facilitating the creation of exportable content by creating partnership opportunities where our Caribbean creators can collaborate with their European counterparts, thus creating content palatable to both consumers in this region and European consumers,” Etienne says. This he says can assist in shifting the balance of trade in royalties in favour of the Caribbean.

This initiative, the first of its kind has generated tremendous excitement for the
opportunities it facilitated. The activity addressed such key areas as cultural diversity, heritage as well as development of the cultural economy, something that is now key to the Caribbean, as the islands seek to create new streams of revenue.

Described as “Phase 1”, this element of Calypso in Berlin, among its several objectives sought to enhance the promotion of artistic collaborations between Caribbean and German artistes and develop new markets for Caribbean genres, specifically calypso and soca in Germany.

The selection of artistes from Barbados and Saint Lucia were based on music skills, ability to play instruments, songwriting skills, performance experience and knowledge of calypso and soca. Artistes were also required to apply for funding in advance and to secure the necessary visas to travel.

During the event, participants engaged with each other as well as presenters to discuss such topics as how to enter the European market, international distribution, publishing and copyright, promotion and self marketing. Lively discussions also ensued on issues such as raising the scope of calypso on a cultural and commercial level in and out of the Caribbean, the challenge of winning partnerships with fans and businesses to implement this target, enhancing cultural diversity and exchanges in favour of calypso as a cultural heritage and how to brand a European calypso festival.
They also had the opportunity to visit the German collective management organization, GEMA.

Prospere says that the activity was very educational and well worth it. “There are now new opportunities, not just for me, but other artistes in the OECS to package our music for Europe and indeed the world,” Prospere says. “Being surrounded by accomplished musicians, songwriters, producers in Berlin gave one fresh perspectives as to how the music should be approached and marketed for an international audience,” he adds.

Adding his voice to the success of Calypso in Berlin is Barbadian calypsonian Red Plastic Bag. He believes that in order for calypso and soca to move to the next level – beyond the Caribbean its diaspora – it is very important to look at markets like Europe. “This whole link to Berlin and the fact that there is a German band playing authentic Calypso for me, the fact that they were keen on linking calypsonians and soca artistes from the Caribbean to perform with them and to have workshops with them and to discuss having a festival of calypso and soca music in Berlin is a wonderful thing,” RPB says. “This band has the backing of a group called Piranha an organization with a link to WOMEX, the biggest music expo in Europe, and so I think the mere fact that we can do collaborations and even do recordings with this band, eventually I think the opportunities are there for our artistes in the Caribbean to perform at places like WOMEX and it also augers well for opportunities into the European market in general,” he adds.

Following the workshops in Berlin, the general consensus was that any export strategy needed to respect the original and contemporary roots of the calypso culture and these need to be an integral part of any campaign. The conclusion of these discussions also pointed out that calypso still has the rich potential to be a vital part of music consumption in society during the entire year and should not just be seasonal. The seasonal approach to calypso it was agreed, leads to less copyright income since the music is played only for one period during the year as well as less possibilities for live performances. This, it was noted, can also lead to the genre appearing to be less interesting and lucrative to a younger generation of artiste who may have been otherwise been attracted to calypso and soca.

Phase II of the Calypso in Berlin project will seek to embark on a European Calypso Festival as well as the staging of live events this summer featuring a variety of calypso and soca styles as well as workshops for both fans and artistes and exploiting the culture further through fashion, food and overall lifestyle and expressions. This is expected to set a new platform for Soca and indeed revitalize the roots of the art-form calypso.

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