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Calypsonian Kelly ‘won outright’ in Grenada contest, says mentor

By Lincoln DePradine

TORONTO, Canada – Rootsman Kelly was the definite winner of Grenada’s 2017 Calypso Monarch competition, according to his mentor King Ajamu.

“He won and I think he won outright,” Ajamu said in an exclusive interview in Toronto.

Ajamu is Grenada’s most decorated calypsonian. The performer, who has won more monarch titles than any other Grenadian, was asked about criticism by some that the judges erred in awarding this year’s crown to Rootsman Kelly, because of an on-stage performance mistake by the artiste.

Former culture minister, Arley Gill, in a post-carnival commentary, said, “Rootsman Kelly clearly forgot his lines in the third verse of his first song, errantly fumbled some words from his first verse to attempt to cover the forgotten lines and won the crown.”

Gill claimed that that “both Kelly’s songs and performances would not have passed 65 on a proper scoresheet. He will be middle of the pack.”

However, Ajamu has dismissed the criticisms, insisting that Rootsman Kelly was a deserving champion, although saying the calypsonian wasn’t “100 percent on top of the game” on the night of the contest.

“That shows that maybe the others guys, they were not up to speed because they still were not able to do better than he did,” said Ajamu, a nine-time Calypso Monarch and Grenada cultural ambassador.

An arranger and composer, Ajamu also is a versatile musician who plays various instruments. He was Kelly’s musical director at the calypso final on Dimanche Gras night, August 13.

“It’s a young man that I’m proud of and I’ve been working with him for a couple years now,” said Ajamu. “As a matter of fact, I always thought that he had the ability to make it to the top.”

Ajamu, addressing the broad issue of calypso judging, said: “People must understand the concept of a competition and the criteria that you use for judging, or you will be saying a lot of things that does not make sense.”

In a competitive race, he explained, “you could stumble and still win. It wasn’t an error that I think could have caused him (Kelly) more than maybe a couple points. So, generally, even though somebody had a little mishap in one of your performance, all the judges could do is maybe subtract a couple points. But, they cannot disqualify you”.

Ajamu was in Toronto to perform at the 2017 Grenada Day Community Festival. His performance last year was cancelled when he fell ill, shortly after arriving in Toronto.

He would later be diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). He has described the ordeal of being stricken by GBS as experiencing “a taste of death”.

At one point, Ajamu was bedridden and was placed on oxygen and had to be fed through a tube inserted in his nose. He lost mobility in his legs and his vision and speech were impacted.

“I’m doing a lot better now; not quite back there yet but I’m good enough to do a couple songs,” said Ajamu, adding that he was in Toronto to thank the people for the support extended to him during his illness last year.

“They did try to help me out a bit and I’m so grateful for this and I want to use this opportunity to thank them,” he said.

Ajamu, showing no visible signs of the effects of GBS, delivered an entertaining and masterful performance, singing many of his well-known hits such as “African Woman” and “Music Man”, to the delight of thousands who were at Coronation Park in west-end Toronto.

Other visiting performers at the event, organized by the Grenada Day Cultural Association, included Grenada’s 2017 Soca Monarch Boyzie and this year’s Calypso Monarch, Rootsman Kelly; Lavaman, a former Soca Monarch; and veteran Vincentian artiste Winston Soso.

Asked about a possible return to calypso competition, Ajamu said it’s not an idea he’s contemplating at the moment.

“Competition is not something I have on my agenda. I think I’ve done my part. I won’t say never but, as it is right now, it’s not something that’s on my mind,” said Ajamu, who last captured the Grenada Calypso Monarch crown in 2015. “The most important thing for me now is trying to recover fully and after that, I will take it one day at a time, as it comes.”

In previous interviews, Ajamu has been thankful to God for sparing his life. He also has expressed gratitude for the support and prayers of his wife, family members and friends.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that God has kept me alive for a reason,” he told the congregation at St George’s Baptist Church last November.

He has said that while he would allow God to guide his footsteps, and has included gospel in his repertoire of songs, he doesn’t intend to become another Jim Reeves, the late American gospel and country and western musician.

“I’m not leaving calypso,” he said. “If people expecting Ajamu to turn into Jim Reeves or something like that, that’s not going to happen. I’m going praise the Lord but I’m going to do it in the genre of my culture.”