Konris Maynard: King of St Kitts

Garry Steckles risks the wrath of connoisseurs by anointing Konris Maynard of tiny St Kitts-Nevis the calypso monarch of the Caribbean

King Konris performing One Song at the 2007/8 National Calypso Monarch competition in St Kitts-Nevis. Photograph courtesy King Konris/G Squared Arts

Apologies in advance to Trinidadian readers for what I’m about to write—and please accept my assurances that there’s nothing personal in it.

Pause for deep breath. Okay, here goes:

The best soca and calypso in the world these days is coming out of St Kitts and Nevis.

There, I’ve said it. And it’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m talking about the country I’ve called home for the better part of two decades.

Okay, I am a bit biased, but the fact is that traditional calypso and classic soca have never been in worse shape in Trinidad, where they have been overwhelmed for more than a decade by the jump-and-wave onslaught of ragga, the soca equivalent of reggae’s dancehall.

And it’s never been in better shape than it is in St Kitts and Nevis, where a Canadian-Kittitian calypso connoisseur, who grew up in Montreal on the music of Sparrow and Kitch (along with large doses of St Kitts’ pioneering GI’s Brass) tells me that the spectacular live concert the nation put on recently to celebrate the 25th anniversary of independence was the best live show she’s ever seen. The concert consisted of 25 Kittitian and Nevisian calypsonians competing for a top prize of EC$25,000, and the ground rules were simple: they had to come up with an original composition that celebrated, in song, the landmark occasion. And, according to my spy (I couldn’t be there, and I’m still kicking myself), what they came up with was beyond spectacular, with song after song featuring innovative, positive lyrics, outstanding stage performances and the sort of melodies that stay with you. “They were all winners,” she says. “They all deserved to come first.”

To no one’s great surprise, the performer who did actually come first in the judges’ eyes was a young man whose musical accomplishments are remarkable even by the standards of what people are already starting to think of as a new golden age of soca and calypso in the tiny Eastern Caribbean islands, with their combined population of around 45,000.

Let me introduce you to Konris Maynard.

First, a little non-musical background info. He’s an honours student and techno whiz, studying for a master’s in electrical and computer engineering at Waterloo University in Canada after graduating with first-class honours from the St Augustine, Trinidad, campus of the University of the West Indies.

He’s also an accomplished actor and debater, twice winner of the best overall actor award in the St Kitts National High School Drama Festival, and, as a teenager, a participant in the St Kitts-Nevis Youth Parliament debates in the National House of Assembly and a member of the St Kitts team that placed second in the annual Leeward Island Debating Competition in 2001. He’s also a devout churchgoer.

But all of the above, impressive though it might be, is not what Konris Maynard is best known for. In fact, he’s not even best known as Konris Maynard.

To the people of St Kitts, he’s King Konris, three times the island’s Calypso Monarch.

Somehow, King Konris has managed to juggle the demands of his studies with carving out a hugely successful career as a soca performer, and to claim three coveted monarch titles in a row, despite insisting that music’s very much a sideline until he’s got that precious master’s under his belt.

“After that,” says Maynard, “I’ll concentrate on music for a year or so and see what happens.”

So what makes King Konris such an over-achiever?

For one thing, soca’s in his blood. His father, Linkon Maynard, and his uncle, Antonio Maynard, are calypso/soca veterans, performing as the Mighty Contenda and Mighty Director respectively. Contenda, in fact, placed third in the recent 25th anniversary show. Maynard was only six when he started to compose calypsoes, and barely 10 when he released his first record, Cool Skool, in which he sang to his contemporaries that going to school was, indeed, a cool thing to do. It was an early indication of the sort of positive lyrics that were to become one of his musical trademarks.

With this under his belt, Maynard entered the National Junior Calypso Monarch contest in 1995, at the age of 12, and finished second. The following two years, he went one better, winning back-to-back junior titles.

After an outstanding academic career in St Kitts, Maynard decided to put his education ahead of his music career, and enrolled at UWI’s Cave Hill campus in Barbados in 2003 (where he was promptly recognised for the best all-round performance for a first-year student), before transferring to the St Augustine campus a year or so later.

Around the same time, he burst onto the senior calypso scene in St Kitts, winning his first Monarch title in 2005 with the mega-hit Sunday J’Ouvert and the wistful Strange Land. Amid some controversy (for the benefit of non-Caribbean readers, controversy and soca/calypso monarch titles go hand in hand throughout the region), he retained his crown in 2006—and the criticism that year stung him into raising his game even further. In 2007, with the hits One Song and Sleeping Tiger, he made it three in a row—a feat managed by only one other calypsonian in St Kitts, the legendary Ellie Matt, leader of the GI’s Brass.

The themes that dominate King Konris’s soca compositions are, inevitably, thoughtful and positive, whether the message is aimed at young people (don’t be scared to walk away from trouble, he urges his contemporaries in one of his most popular songs) or society at large.

“This is my contribution to society,” Maynard explains simply. “My message is grounded in my faith. I could have chosen to sing in church, but you need to get that positive message outside and calypso is a vehicle to do that.”

And, although he’s too modest to say so, King Konris clearly hopes that by juggling oustanding academic accomplishments with a successful music career, he’s setting the sort of example young people in St Kitts and Nevis—and the rest of the region—can learn from.

“You can accomplish most things you put your mind to,” he says.