Extempo is an unscripted, improvised and spontaneous form of spoken or sung artform in the calypso world, and indigenous to T&T—derived out of the centuries-old extempore traditional art of public speaking. Its accompanying musical refrain santimanitay/santimanitey originates from the French word sans humanité, which means merciless/without humanity. In the calypso extempo, it’s whatever you sing, the opponent tries to top that act whether more hurtful or more artfully, but the camaraderie is never lost; competition, friendly.
And today, during this distant period of life as so evolved from the rampaging COVID-19 global pandemic, the extempo king of the world, T&T’s decade-long champion, two-time National Calypso Monarch, former Minister of Culturalism and the Arts, and current chairman of the National Carnival Committee (NCC), Winston “Gypsy” Peters, must be feeling totally proud to be witnessing T&T’s extempo genre of music’s global reach.
In 1997, he won his first National Calypso Monarch title with his renditions Little Black Boy and Rhythm of a Nation, and, despite the extempo calypso and its competition as being indigenous to T&T, one little black boy from the tiny Caribbean island St Martin/St Maarten, calypsonian Andrew “His Majesty Baker Jr” Richardson, initiated an extempo COVID-19 Stay-at-Home challenge.
The son of T&T’s Grenada-born vintage calypsonian, Antonio “Mighty Bomber” Richardson, Andrew threw out the challenge to family members and also to T&T’s reigning National Extempore Monarch Brian London who took bait, and further extended the challenge.
Included in the now-blossomed extemporaneous saga—some, their maiden attempt —apart from traditional calypsonians, are medical staff: nurses, Barbadian frontline and American mother-and-daughter, Grenadian Dr Satesh Bidaisee, Professor of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at the St George’s University (SGU), also a pilot and humanitarian—he himself having been quarantined, and T&T’s Dr Amery Browne, a former government minister.
Like the disease itself, spreading through the world like Australia’s wild fires in early March, the challenge fashioned seeing children, the elderly, families, diverse hues and ethnicities pulling chord; even a virtual Extempo Newscast emerged, crafted by our very own Myron Bruce ( The Incredible Myron B), himself a monarch in calypso.
Other countries taking up the challenge embracing the rhythm of the (T&T) nation were: Guadeloupe, St Vincent, Brazil, Saba, Aruba, Anguilla, the United States, Dominica, Barbados, Statia, the United Kingdom, Antigua, St Lucia, Germany, Martinique, St Kitts Nevis, and France.
Some artistes paddling in the gravy include Grenada’s Groovy Soca artiste Whinroy “Blaka Dan” Ogiste, Thamara “Song Bird” St Bernard, Jermaine “Superstar” Simon; St Lucian musician Arthur Allain, Trinidad’s Chutney Soca king Raymond Ramnarine, reigning National Calypso Monarch Terri Lyons, Heather Mc Intosh, Kareem “Preedy” Chance, Michelle Henry and Kevan Calliste.
With the latest figures as at April 28 from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) being “more than three million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide and more than 211,000 deaths,” it remains sketchy if the “curve” is near or far, as “flattening the curve involves reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases from one day to the next,” informs the JHU, but life must go on whether grieving, hurting or not.
In love with the artform, Dr Bidaisee asserts he’s “always loved extemporaneous music, and during this time, it’s encouraging each other to do the right thing…that this period could be therapeutic and rewarding.”
From the essential horses’ mouths, the doctor advises, “the only full-proof method of curbing the spread of the virus is to socially distance yourself,” while Barbados’ front line nurses’ stern warning is to heed the precautionary measures to avoid ending up in the cemeteries,” and America’s being, “we will fight through and through; wash your hands, wear your mask, and don’t get corona up in your,” adding a bit of humour and matter-of-fact to the mix.
In a different category of key essential worker, saxophonist and Kalypso Revue calypsonian Michelle Henry states, “this is a time to put country first. This is not the time to be selfish.”
Literally, as American hip-hop artiste and youngest son of the late legendary Reggae artiste Bob Marley, Nas Damian Marley states, “the strong will survive,” and so, the selfless, the wise, the respiratory and circulatory-healthiest and psychologically-strongest will survive.
So it’s acutely wise to stay within our personal or national borders, but welcome Extempo’s journey through.