Picong: the verbal “duels” of calypsonians
Posted: February 16, 2015 Filed under: English, IMAGES | Tags: Black History Month: Picong in Calypso
Silhouette pen and ink by Bruce Patrick Jones_The Calypsonian Master wears many hats: Party inciter, social commentator, dueling wordsmith!
Picong or Ex-tempo, is light comical banter with music, usually performed at someone else’s expense. As part of the Trinidadian Calypso tradition, it’s a way in which West Indians (particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean) tease, heckle and mock each other – usually in a friendly manner. The line between humour and insult, though, may be a slender one, and often shifts; at times the convivial spirit may degenerate into more heated debate. So the ability to engage in picong without crossing over into rude insult is highly valued in the culture of calypso music.
The verbal duels between the The Mighty Sparrow and his friendly nemesis, Lord Melody, are the stuff of calypso legend, and the following 1957 ex-tempo session – a witty, improvised exchange of humorous insults – is a great example of the art of picong.
As they used to say in the old days: Santimanitay (Sans humanité)! Without mercy!
The Mighty Sparrow vs. Lord Melody (from the Emory Cook album “Calypso Kings and Pink Gin”, 1957):
. . .
Currently, an “Extempo King” (and sometimes a female “Monarch”) is crowned each year as part of the carnival in Trinidad. Recent crowned verbal acrobats have included King Black Sage, Lady Africa, Brian London, Abebele and Lingo, who is 2015 Carnival’s ex-tempo king.