Kaiso archivist Ray Funk gets Chaconia Medal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

WHAT THE FUNK: Calypso archivist and retired US judge Ray Funk speaks with reporters shortly after receiving his Chaconia Medal (Silver) during a brief ceremony on Tuesday at President’s House. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

PRESIDENT Christine Kangaloo presented retired US judge Ray Funk with the Chaconia (Silver) medal for researching calypso, mas and pan, in a brief ceremony at President’s House, St Ann’s. Also present were Chief Justice Ivor Archie and his wife Denise Archie and Kangaloo’s husband Kerwyn Garcia, SC.

Funk later told reporters how honoured he felt to get the award he was initially set to have received at last September’s national awards ceremony, which he was unable to attend.

“I’m extremely honoured. I have always felt hundreds of people are more deserving of awards for their contributions to Trinidad’s culture and the arts.”

Ray Funk, centre, stands proudly with his Chaconia Medal (silver), presented by President Christine Kangaloo, left, at President’s House, Port of Spain on Tuesday. At right is the president’s husband Kerwyn Garcia, SC. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Despite his shock of white hair, Funk portrayed the zest of a perpetual student for all things Carnival.

He related the happenstance of several key moments in his life which led him along this path of cultural researcher and archivist, for which he lacked any formal training. Funk said his working life had been as an attorney and judge, which has been balanced by his research into the arts. The resulting articles are often published in Newsday.

He said he has enjoyed visual arts, theatre and playing mas, having revelled with rapso group 3canal, musician Etienne Charles and mas band Moko Somokow.

Funk has enjoyed pan and kaiso plus Monday’s night’s extempo preliminaries, he said.

“There is so much richness of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture that is not easily available to secondary and tertiary students. I can help.”

He said he loved to search and find personalities in the arts. He recalled finding calypsoes in old movies, including a 1950s song, Last Train to San Fernando, remade in bluegrass style and featured in a movie, Asteroid City, plus a calypso sung in a movie by Guyana-born actor Cy Grant. “I love tracing things like that.”

Funk said in Alaska, where he was born and grew up, he would do his legal work by visiting jails on Sunday mornings, but by the afternoon would be interviewing elderly gospel singers.

He related that he had once phoned in to a local radio station to correct the announcer’s mispronunciation of a Louisiana singer’s name and had then had a stint at running the particular show including playing music from his vast record collection. Funk later got a Fulbright scholarship, which he described as “a lark.”

Ray Funk with his Chaconia Medal (silver) at President’s House, St Ann’s on Tuesday. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Recalling his love for Lord Melody’s, Shame and Scandal in the Family, and for Lord Kitchener, he said, “Those are the kind of things that got me going.”

Funk expressed his admiration for practitioners of extempo, which he described as a very hard art form to do, singling out Winston “Gypsy” Peters and Joseph “Lingo” Vautor-La Placeliere. “I’m just fascinated by all of that.”

He liked Roderick “Chucky” Gordon’s current calypso, Charlesie, describing it as having a very light style but  a very serious message about reparations.

Replying to questions about changing styles in calypso down the years, he said, “There is always a challenge trying to keep up with the calypso.” He admitted to sometimes having to inquire what certain words/phrases in calypso meant.”Lyrics in calypsoes could go far if annotated and introduced so that people outside of local culture would know what they were about.”He was fascinated by how much calypso and extempo dealt with current topics.

Funk ended by giving a brief speech in the style of a midnight robber, in his adopted character, The Arctic Avenger.