Interview With An Icon: Chalkdust
  Chris Selochan
October 2015

In this first installment of our Interview With An Icon series, Paradise Pulse speaks with legendary eight-time Trinidad and Tobago National Calypso Monarch Dr. Hollis Liverpool, better known in the calypso world as ‘The Mighty Chalkdust.’


When did you start singing calypso and what inspired you to do so?
I started singing calypso when I was a student at St. Mary's College, much to the chagrin of the "Brothers" who advanced the fiction that ‘calypso was the devil wuk,’ and that we should avoid it completely.  You would be surprised to know how much punishment I received ignoring their admonitions.  My inspiration stemmed from the people in the street who, at the time, could not afford radios or even gramophones, preferring to repeat calypsos of the day audibly.

How did you get the name 'Chalkdust’?

Contrary to popular belief, I did not adopt the sobriquet "Chalkdust" because I was a teacher-in-training.  No.  One day, I walked by Lumen Book Store in Port of Spain and I espied quite a few books that were being discarded.  Being an avid reader, I stopped to salvage whatever interested me and I happened upon a book by the name of "Chalkdust".  That sounded bells in me and so, I adopted the name.  Earlier, I was known as "The Philosopher".


Who were your favourite calypsonians while you were growing up?
There were many.  I just loved the art form.  If I am to name names then I would be happy to mention Kitchener, Roaring Lion, Melody, Sparrow, Pretender and Executor.

Did you ever imagine that you would one day attain the level of acclaim in the calypso (and by extension) the national community that you have today?

No. During the early days, I was more of an observer wanting to get in.  People never took me seriously, preferring instead to send me out for refreshments whenever I appeared at the rehearsal halls.  I never expected to attain the heights to which I have reached.


You have been the Calypso Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago on eight occasions, a record which you share with the Mighty Sparrow. Which win was your most memorable and why?


Tough question.  All my wins mean the world to me.  If you were to push bamboo under my nails, I would answer that it was my first win when I sang the songs "Ah Put On Meh Guns Again" and "Why Smut?"  That put me on the map and people sat up and took me seriously.

If you had to select one of your calypsoes as your favourite, which would it be and why?

Oh Boy!  I have written over three hundred "academic papers" (my name for my calypsoes). That is a tough one.  I have soft spots for "Ten Years Old", "P.N.M. Loves Me", "Juba Dubai", "Misconceptions", "Dey Ain't See Africa" and "Ash Wednesday Jail".


What inspires you to compose?

God Almighty and the times we live in.


How has calypso changed over the years?


To answer that question, I would invite readers to listen to my compositions "Quacks and Invalids", and "Kaiso in de Hospital".


Do you believe that calypso today has the same impact on society as years gone by?

Definitely "No."  The art form of “True, True Kaiso" is on its last breath.  Look around you.  Calypso is now a curiosity, to be taken down like ornaments come Christmas time.


Do you see calypso having a bright future?


If things go on the way that they have been going, then calypso is doomed. 


How can your concerns for the future of calypso be addressed?


What can we do?  We can try to convince the authorities to pay more attention to preserving the art form instead of paying it "lip service." Former Minister of Culture Mrs. Joan Yuille-Williams was on the right track.  Nowadays, we have certain people telling the judges in training to "’let us by-pass the Chalkdust era".  A couple years ago, when I won the monarchy with "My Heart and I", a then senior official of Trinbago United Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) said quite publicly, "It is time for Chalkie to quit."  Had it not been for the likes of Mr. Ainsley Lucky who responded in protest, the public might have been convinced.

What are your views on the proliferation of soca and, to a lesser extent, chutney soca in Carnival in recent years?

There is room for all.  It is up to the powers-that-be to show non-committal to one over the other.  No favouritism.


Do you see the traditional calypso tent surviving in its present form or does it need to evolve?


In its present form?  No.  It needs to evolve with the times.  Visit any tent during Carnival time.  What is the age group present?


Do you think that calypsonians are treated fairly by the State and corporate sponsors compared with soca and chutney artistes?

An unequivocal "No!"  Calypso is being relegated to the dinosaur heap.

Politicians on both sides of the political fence cringe when they hear your compositions. Have you ever considered a career in politics?

Yes.  Listen to "P.N.M. loves Me".  But I am more effective as "The People's Politician".  Mr. David Rudder stated it well: "Lyrics to make a politician cringe."


What were some of the surprises that you had in store for the 2015 Carnival season? Did you have any of the trademark Chalkdust surprises planned for this year?


As you know, I was not chosen for the 2015 National Calypso semi-finals, so that had scuttled me somewhat.  Apart from myself, I believe that the calypso fan has been deprived big time in 2015 because Skatie, Cro Cro and M’ba (to name but a few) were also blanked this year.  I had "Trademark Surprises", as you so aptly termed it, but alas, the public is the loser. 


Outside of calypso, what are your present professional endeavours?


Outside of calypso, I am involved in horse racing and I am keen on the inside machinations of music.

How has your career as an academic impacted on your career as a calypsonian?

At first they were ‘found’ to be at variance.  Listen to "To Hell With The Ministry".  I fought a great fight with the Ministry when I started out as a calypsonian.  I persevered.  I beat them.  Even the late former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Eric Williams came into my corner, lending me his support.


Finally, who are some of the younger calypsonians that you see taking the artform into the 21st century?


I see Brian London, Devon Seales, Kurt Allen, Kareen Ashe, Heather McIntosh and Lady Tallish flying the flag for calypso in the future.

By: Chris Selochan | FEATURES | October 2015

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