In the heat of the 2014 Calypso fever, all eyes were on newcomer, QTS victor turned calypsonian, Leona Peters, as the one to rival the crème de la crème of calypso veterans with her hit song entitled ‘Baby Machine’.
However, at the Grand Calypso finals back in March, expectations plummeted, and now that the hype of the festive season has dampened, the question is was the song ‘Baby Machine’ really the smoking gun it was perceived as being?
Written and composed by renowned calypso song writer Pat Aaron, the song took the calypso world by storm even from its first debut. By the quarter finals, the entire audience was able to sing along when Ms. Peters graced the stage.
The song can be perceived as one which promotes female empowerment, as it exposes the struggles which women, more specifically single mothers, face in raising their children, particular to Dominica.
In the nature of rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, it must be said that the song was beautifully composed, and as such possessed strengths which contributed its vast popularity among the Dominican masses.
To begin, one of the major pluses to this composition, which served as one of it’s attractions was the beat of the Calypso.
Caribbean people, on average, respond to rhythm rather than lyrics at first exposure, and this worked in Leona’s favor, as her beat was both catchy and rhythmic.
Furthermore it was lyrically well matched, and said lyrics were well suited for the very nature of her calypso. The popularity of the calypso stems mainly from the raw colloquialism which colors the composition.
The song opens out in typical Dominican “bef” fashion (“I had a discussion, with a woman from Chance”), instantly commanding the attention of the listener. Every verse, and even more so, the chorus, reflected the commonly used Dominican terminologies, especially the use of the refrain “woy”, a typical Dominican exclamation.
Several lines (“they call me that kind of woman, the kind that like plenty man” and “they say I’m a baby machine, they say I ain’t good for nothing”) lent a humorous, yet down to earth feel to the song, as it delineated the zeitgeist of societal sexism and exploitative behaviors of politicians. Through this aspect, many women were able to identify with the song and its message, since it played on their ugly realities.
Although there were a few lines which sounded a bit rushed and wordy, the articulation of Ms. Peter throughout the song was commendable. Her words were clear, and in the recording more specifically, her message was conveyed.
Despite all of these theoretical positives, in calypso, it all comes down to the practical, and whether or not the calypsonian is able to impress the judges with his/her performance.
Essentially, this area is where Leona lapsed at the Calypso finals. Her performance at the finals was mediocre when compared to her performance at previous levels of the competition.
Although the crowd seemed to respond to her performance, it was owed more to them knowing the lyrics, rather than her actual stage presence.
The forcefulness and exuberance which always accompanied her on stage seemed to have dissipated. The chorus of the song came out particularly pitchy, especially at favorite exclamation “woy”, almost to the point where she was screaming. This seemed strenuous to her vocal cords, thus causing her rendition and vocal quality to fall short.
It has been reasoned that the downfall of the song was due to its lack of commentary on pertinent political issues inherent in the country, as in songs like “Time for Change” by seven time Calypso Monarch, King Dennison “Dice” Joseph.
While this may hold some modicum of truth, this view is also perception based. It can be reason also, that while Leona’s song wasn’t blatantly political, it presented politician’s activities from a different angle, which served in fortifying originality.
It has also been speculated that the calypso suffered because of its excess exposure to the public pre- calypso finals, and as a critic, I am inclined to agree. Just as too little of one thing isn’t advised, too much of one thing can prove to also be detrimental, which in Leona’s case proved to be true.
Yes, it is imperative that calypsonians effectively market their calypsos, but from the very opening of the season, “Baby Machine” had been a constant over the radio airwaves. This ultimately took substance away from her song, as fans already knew what to expect, and little was left to be desired.
Some calypsonians, because of this excess exposure tend to put a surprise verse at the end of their calypso, to keep the audience’s interest piqued, as with Dice. However, for Leona this was not done, and this may have been a small blow to her calypso.
Ms. Leona Peter is a very talented young woman, and an even more phenomenal calypsonian. Her first try in the calypso arena may not have been successful, but experience has proven to be the very best teacher. If she keeps on, then success for her is sure.
By: Melissa Morgan
Triple Major at the Dominica State College
**Note: This critical analysis is posted as part of requirements for an English Classics course at the Dominica State College.