By Lincoln DePradine
Ajamu, Grenada’s most decorated calypsonian who has won more monarch titles than any other Grenadian performer, returned to Toronto last Saturday to thank people here for their assistance after he fell ill in the city during a visit a year ago.
The nine-time Calypso Monarch, whose real name is Edson Mitchell, was here in 2016 to perform at the annual Grenada Day Community Festival. However, he never made it to the performance at Coronation Park; instead, he was admitted to a Toronto hospital.
Ajamu would later be relocated to a hospital in the United States, where he was treated for Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks a person’s nerves. He would describe 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,’’ Ajamu, a Grenada cultural ambassador, told The Caribbean Camera.
“I’m here to basically thank the people of Toronto for all the support that they have given to me. 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.’’
Ajamu, showing no visible signs of the effects of GBS, delivered an entertaining and masterful performance on Saturday, singing many of his well-known hits such as “African Woman’’ and “Music man’’, to the delight of thousands who were at the park.
Other visiting performers at Saturday’s 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; an veteran Vincentian artiste Winston Soso.
A similar Grenada Day event – involving a variety entertainment, and the display and sale of art, craft and food – was held Sunday in Brooklyn, New York.
Although Ajamu was not an artiste at this year’s August 13 Calypso Monarch competition in Grenada, he still was involved in the carnival show. He was on stage as musical director for Rootsman Kelly.
Some, including former Grenada Culture Minister Arley Gill, have criticized Kelly’s Calypso Monarch victory, claiming the judges erred.
“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 wrote in a commentary. “At the end of the day, 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, saying Rootsman Kelly was the “outright’’ winner of the competition, although 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. He won and I think he won outright,’’ reiterated Ajamu, who ho was made a Member of The British Empire in 1998. “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, Ajamu explained, “you could stumble and still win. It wasn’t an error that I think could have caused him 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’’.
Rootsman Kelly, Ajamu said, is “a young man that I’m proud of and I’ve been working with him for a couple years now. I always thought that he had the ability to make it to the top’’.
Asked about his own 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, an arranger and composer, who plays several instruments.
“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.’’