The Calypso Tent, 10 Years Later, Still Dying

“Calypso Tent Dying a Slow Death”, 

“Calypso Tent to Close Down”, 

“Low Turnouts at Calypso Tent”

…headlines similar to these have been featured nearly every Carnival season for the past decade or more. 

 The most recent story that aroused my interest highlighted the financial plight of the Kalypso Revue Tent. However, what shocked me was the Minister of Community Development, Nyan Gadsby-Dolly’s blunt response to the complaints from tent management about their lack of sponsorship.

She said:

“What disturbs me the most is that this tent, a staple on the Carnival landscape, with such a proud legacy, is not attracting significant patronage."

“Even if the Government was to underwrite the entire cost of production, it would not solve this more fundamental problem.”

“This may be a signal to all tents that a change in modus operandi is required to improve their brand and attract more corporate sponsorship.” [1]

 I was pleasantly surprised and can’t recall when last a Minister kept it real, regarding this issue.


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My curiosity led me to do a little research on this so-called demise of the calypso tent. I stumbled on a well-written analysis by Debbie Jacobs (“Is Calypso Dying?”) from back in 2008, hence the use of “10 Years Later” in the title of this blog. The article is as much relevant today as it was back then. [2] Upsettingly enough, it has led me to wonder whether the calypso tent is really dying because passive leadership isn’t giving it a fighting chance at life.


In Jacobs’ article, Brother Resistance lamented the fact that marketing was “stuck in the past”…that managers were operating on a blueprint of the 60s. Tents needed to figure out how to market a tent and not an individual as in the time of Kitch and Sparrow. Ten years later, the Kalypso Revue Tent for example is as strong as its headline acts, Sugar Aloes and Chalkdust. 

Putting aside your opinions on the marketability (or lack thereof) of these names, it is now common knowledge that any modern business has to have a good web/social media presence to flourish. When I Google “Calypso Tent”, in between all the articles speaking of the demise of the calypso tent, the only useful site that appears is which gives the locations of the tents. Of course this information is only useful if I already know that I want to go to a specific tent. What about the artiste line up, the opening dates, the costs etc? 

Some tents have Facebook pages, but which are mostly inactive with meager followings. It’s not expensive to advertise on social media and every backyard fete to boat ride to All-Inclusive is doing it. If the news article on Kalypso Revue Tent did not crop up in the feed of one of my social media networks, I don’t think I would have known that tents were still around.

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State Dependency

If a Calypsonian is guaranteed a salary from the Gov’t, then it’s only human nature that they do not need to create anything special artistically. Short Pants expressed this opinion in 2013. [3]

Does this idea reflect the reality? Does this lack of creativity transcend the running and marketing of tents as well?

Frank Martineau, co-founder of Spektakula Promotions has never relied on State subventions to assist with their shows. They hosted a sold-out show featuring calypso legends only a couple weeks ago.

He weighed in on the issue, “Maybe the traditional tents are not doing enough in terms of being creative to bring out the people.” [4] Frank boasts that Spektakula has tried consistently to reinvent itself, to be ahead of the advertising game, to be creative and different.

 Debbie Jacob’s article communicated another detriment of the State funding tents, i.e. tents were in a way being taken over by the Gov’t. Calypsonians had to sing politically correct calypsos and were getting caught up in the divide and rule tactics of the politician. [2] Short Pants concurs with the idea and interestingly; Sugar Aloes claimed that he only sang ‘She’s Royal’ to PM Kamla Persad Bissessar on a People’s Partnership platform in 2012 to secure funding for his Kalypso Revue tent. [3] He was publicly ridiculed by the Calypso-following for this ‘sell out’.



 It’s no secret that politics and race are heavily intertwined in our society. Calypsonian Trinidad Rio believes that tents got themselves into trouble by allowing political calypsos. These usually targeted the UNC political party and its mainly Indo-Trinidadian base. Rio reminisced of a time when patrons of East Indian descent would arrive by the busload to Shadow’s Master’s Den. Unfortunately Calypsonians started to attack the Indian man, eventually isolating him.

“It just doesn’t make sense to target your economic base,” Rio said. [2]

 Ten years later in 2018, Sangre Grande calypsonians Eric James now emphasizes the need to bring Indo-Trinidadians back to the tents. “The East Indians have been bashed in the tents for too long. Let us get real, you don’t think one day will stop come.” [5]

He suggested carrying tents to other non-traditional parts of Trinidad such as Debe and Barrackpore and being business wise to bring the nation back to the tent.

 Is there a comfortable place for the other minority races that make up Trinidad such as the Chinese and Syrians at the calypso tents? Is there a place for tourists at the tents? Can tourists understand and enjoy calypsos dominated by local political themes?


 Tent Locations and Population

 Eric James’ idea got me thinking about the location of tents. Is the population density of tents in Port of Spain a liability to most of them succeeding? 

According to, up to the time of the last update, there were 11 tents operating in Port of Spain and environs. With dwindling audiences, if the focus is not on finding new demographics, then maybe there needs to be more collaboration and coordination amongst tents to ensure the institution survives. 

In Jacob’s article, calypso expert Dr Gordon Rohlehr suggested that tents were spreading themselves too thin, especially as all-inclusive fetes, shows offering a variety of generations of calypsos and comedy shows were now directly competing for similar audiences. Some tents such as Yangatang have diversified their content, offering humour.



 In my late teens, I attended Talk Tent and thoroughly enjoyed it. The show offered a variety of content, including light humour, musical prowess and some mentally stimulating social commentary. Seeing Robert Munro shred on a cuatro for the first time was inspirational and hearing Short Pants read the lyrics to Blaxx- Breathless with the intonation of an academic was hilarious.

 What has led to the decline in the popularity of the traditional calypso tent? Is the Trinidad population so fatigued by our morbid reality that we just can’t stand to hear about it again in song and poetry?Rohlehr suggested a similar idea 10 years ago, hence the migration of audiences to lighter, more humorous-type shows.

 Today, ten years later the Minister is signaling the need for a change in modus operandi. The content of the calypso tents in addition to all the points listed above must continue to be part of the discussions of the way forward i.e. if tent managers are even interested in fighting for survival.

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 Debbie Jacob concluded her article, “no matter how you look at it, calypso tents are in peril. They’ll have to find a new act to stay in the picture.” [2]

 Today, ten years later, most calypso tents still have not found that ‘new act’ or seem to be even interested in finding it. Complaints of low turnouts at the tents continue to resonate year after year together with the cries for more Gov’t funding. Hopefully this period of ‘belt-tightening’ in our country’s history will provide the impetus needed for the remaining calypso tents to evolve into more sustainable products.









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© Stefan Roach 2013