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CALYPSO ALL-ROUNDER, DESTROYER … and Rising Star, Young Destroyer

This is a throwback to an article I did for the Calypso Association 50th anniversary magazine in 2007. In the interest of increasing awareness of the accomplishments of some of our iconic calypsonians and increasing appreciation for the art form, I figured I would share some of that issue with you. I’ve previously posted the issue’s articles on Calypso Jim, Calypso Joe, Franco, Swallow, King Onyan, Ivena, the Mighty Bottle, the King Zacari, and Scorpion. This particular article focused on father and son duo Destroyer and Young Destroyer. DO NOT repost without permission or credit.

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One is The Man Who Might Have Been King; the other a royal contender or The Man Who Could Be King. Of course, for Leston ‘Young Destroyer’ Jacobs – former Junior Monarch and, via the CARIFESTA Calypso competition, reigning World Calypso King – Someday can’t come soon enough. His father, Oglivier ‘Destroyer’ Jacobs, meanwhile, seems pretty resigned to the fact that perhaps he’s peaked as far as competition goes. The closest he’s come is first runner-up spots in 1971 and 1989. If you ask both of them, though, they’ve already earned the crown a time or two, notwithstanding the final decision of the powers-that-be.

Still, beyond all the competition talk, there’s a clear passion for Calypso. Destroyer, the man who – as entertainer, songwriter, tent manager, and association executive member – can be called an All Rounder in the Calypso game, declared, “up to now, I don’t listen no other music but Calypso.” It took his son only seven years of this kind of exposure before he first took to the stage. “Coming from a Calypso family, I’ve always wanted to become a Calypsonian professionally,” Young Destroyer said. “Even before 1990, I was kind of pressuring my father to put me in the competition.” It’s somewhat ironic that with his own seven-year old-daughter now chomping at the bit, Young Destroyer has decreed that she’s too young.

Both remember vividly, their first tent outing. “The first time I performed was at Kensington Court in a Calypso tent run by the carnival committee,” Destroyer reflected. “I had a song called ‘Bring back the Cat-o-Nine’. At the time, the big gun was Short Shirt and a guy named Skeech; the first runner up the year before. When he heard me sing, he came and said: “Youngster, you have a good song there, but good for the tent not for competition.” But at the end of the 1967 semifinals, it was Destroyer who made the cut – alongside the likes of Creole, Lord Lee, Mighty Dove, Smarty, and Brain; not Skeech.

Young Destroyer was, similarly, a hit, right out the gate. He went straight to the University, Swallow’s Calypso Pepperpot, where the crowd showered him with money as a token of their appreciation; the year was 1990. He won his first of four junior monarch crowns that year; the other years being ’93, ’96, and ’97. Added to this was a junior title claimed in Trinidad and, of course, last year the World Calypso King title.

Destroyer Sr. reflected, jokingly, that his young son used to taunt, “you know why you don’t want to give me no song, because you ‘fraid I goin’ win before you.” But while these words may have had the tint of prophecy, the son having claimed several crowns since his father relented and let him into the arena, both insist that there’s no rivalry. “We both share victories together,” said Young Destroyer. “I can’t be victorious without my father.”

True, he’s turned to other writers now and again and has received encouragement from others in the fraternity along the way, but his one true mentor, Young Destroyer declared, has been his father. His father, in fact, penned the two tunes – one of which includes the Best Social Commentary winner in local competition ‘Back of de Bus’ – that shook Trinidad at CARIFESTA in 2006.

Both admit having felt discouraged in local competition. There was the virtual shut-out of top positions during the Short Shirt and Swallow days. But even the decline or retreat from competition of the Big Three – King Obstinate being the third of this triad – the crown has eluded Destroyer. For him, a bitter memory is his loss in 1989 to King Fiah. His selections that year were ‘Discrimination’ and ‘Message from Gorkie’; and, he said, “I know I won that year.” What’s more, he claims that the judges knew it, too. “If is five judges,” he said, “nearly all of them come and say, ‘Destroyer, you know ah you win the crown; but how arwe go walk outa dis park wid all dem noise for Fiah.’”

As for Young Destroyer, he’s come close; 2002, for instance, when he was second runner up with ‘Don’t Write me Off’ and ‘W’ine Back’ or 2003 when he placed first with ‘Queen of My Heart’ and ‘Antigua Means Everything to Me’. Some contend that, like Jim a few years ago, he sang the wrong song when he didn’t pair ‘Popeshead Street’ with ‘Back o’ De Bus’ in 2006; but given how low he placed, Young Destroyer is not convinced it would’ve made a difference.

These disappointments made the victory in Trinidad that much sweeter. “I had this gut feeling that I would go down there and come home victorious just to prove to them that I have good talent and I have good songs to win the crown here any time,” Young Destroyer said. “I don’t know why I keep getting low marks, but I just wanted to prove to them that my father is still one of the best writers in the world.”

High praise indeed! Still, it’s not the first time Destroyer’s songwriting ability has been praised. Dorbrene O’Marde’s Calypso Talk, at one time the Antiguan Calypso bible, in 1988 praised his storytelling ability; its relevance and specificity. That relevance and specificity can be found, for instance, in lyrics like

“They move de surcharge from we light bill
but fuel variation killing we;
is All Fools Day,
is fool they fooling we.”

His favourite of his tunes, however, is ‘Woodpecker Sarah’, one of the best examples of the double meaning he likes to give to his lyrics. In the song, a single mom is forced to go in search of “wood” (wink wink) to burn coal to support her children.

Among his favourite songs by other Antiguan Calypsonians, meanwhile, are Latumba’s ‘The Love I Lost’, Short Shirt’s ‘Inspite of All’, and Calypso Joe’s ‘Poor Little Negro Boy’. Young Destroyer’s favourites include King Obstinate’s ‘Wet You Han’ and ‘Always Come Back to You’, Short Shirt’s Tourist Leggo’, Swallow’s ‘Fire in de Backseat’, and his dad’s ‘Woodpecker Sarah’. In fact, he added, “I like all my father songs.”

Talk of his father’s songs must inevitably lead to his father’s politics and its influence on his music. Destroyer wears his red proudly, joking when picking up his 2007 National Vibes Star Project Award for producer of the year for ‘Back of de Bus’ “bury me with this and red.” But he’s of the view that he’s held true to the Calypsonian’s mandate to sing it as he or she sees it. “When Labour was in power, I sing ‘Jail Cart’, ‘Country Running Good’, and ‘All Fools Day’ and all them things there,” he said. “Even Labour Party supporters, even ministers come and say, ‘if you’re a labour supporter, why sing these songs? You not doing the party no good’. I tell them ‘is Calypso, you sing what you see’.” His son’s ‘Greedy Horses’ and his own ‘Beg Georgie Pardon’ were also anti-establishment. It could be argued, however, that he was showing his colours when he came down harder on current Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer than he did on former PM Lester Bird when singing of the injustices done to late activist, analyst, and newspaper editor Leonard ‘Tim’ Hector. But as Destroyer sees it, he was merely looking at it from Tim’s perspective. “When I was writing that song, I did some research with some people close to Tim,” he said.

Of course, if we touch on Destroyer’s politics, it’s only fair that we touch on Young Destroyer’s widely reported brushes with the law and the potential impact this has had on his Calypso career. “Well, look where I am now,” he replied when quizzed about this. “I’m now the Calypso King of the world. Sometimes in life there are obstacles in people’s way. It can make you better or make you worse. It’s how you plan to come back from these obstacles. Young Destroyer is a person that lets nothing bring him down, regardless of what people think. I know what I’m headed for.” What he confidently asserted, during the interview, that he is headed for in 2007 is all the crowns – party and Calypso – and more. “This album, the world is looking forward for this album,” he said, “so we can’t politicize this album. This album is to market Antigua, to market the product, and reach even further than CARIFESTA King.”

Destroyer, meanwhile, wouldn’t be competing, at least, not up to press time; but he remained on track with his work with the Masters Calypso tent, where Young Destroyer was scheduled to make his latest run for local Calypso glory.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, unless otherwise indicated, this is written by author and Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse. All rights reserved.

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