Skinny’s ‘Famalay’ – an achievement of the highest order
Vincentians at home and abroad are still celebrating the declaration by the Trinbago United Calypsonian’s Organization that “Famalay”, a song written and performed by Gamal ‘Skinny Fabulous’ Doyle is the winner of the Trinidad and Tobago Road March for 2019.
Skinny Fabulous’ victory should be seen as the culmination of a historic process of Caribbean cultural integration that has had to defend itself against the claims of a narrow nationalism. This victory of course is incomplete. After all, although Skinny Fabulous wrote and performed the song, it would have been ineligible for the Road March competition without more than fifty per cent Trinidadian participation. Of course we have nothing but the strongest praise for Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, who collaborated with Skinny Fabulous in the performance of the song.
The arithmetic of culture, however, only has value and meaning to rule makers. But the genius of the imagination that propelled Skinny Fabulous to write that song, giving it rhythm, rhyme, and meaning belongs exclusively to the creative vision of Skinny Fabulous. And that too should command our deepest respect.
In the wake of its historic achievement, “Famalay” has revealed as intellectually bankrupt and vile, any debate that challenges the song’s representation of Vincentians in its music video. Rather, for Skinny Fabulous, it is an achievement of the highest order. For St Vincent and the Grenadines, it is an affirmation that our people’s capacity to produce works of genius recognized beyond our shores remains undiminished. And for the Caribbean, it stands as powerful testimony that our people can work together, celebrate together, and unite in song and dance to the ineffable chords that sing the song of “Famalay,” the Caribbean family.
In fact, to truly comprehend the historic significance of Skinny’s achievement, it needs to be placed within the broader sweep of the history of calypso and road march competitions in Trinidad, which for 100 years has stood as the greatest citadel of Caribbean calypso. For until Skinny Fabulous, no non Trinidadian has ever been crowned as the King of Trinidad’s Road March.
It is also crucial that we be reminded of Skinny’s Caribbean predecessors – the non-Trinidadians whose music destroyed the idea that the carnival music to which Trinidadians would sing, dance, and deem worthy of the Road March crown or the Calypso crown were the exclusive domain of Trinidadians.
For example, in 1976, the Antiguan Short Shirt’s “Tourist Leggo” dominated the road during the carnival festivities and created a tremendous controversy when the Trinidadian judges denied conferring the Road March title to the song, on the claim that Shortshirt is not a Trinidadian. Barely six years later, “Party Fever” by Vincentian calypsonian Scorcher, scorched the Trinidadian road. And only a few years later, the legendary Winston Soso and Alston “Becket” Cyrus sang songs such as “I Doh Mind” and “Teaser” which completely owned the Trinidadian road as Trinidadian revelers surrendered to the sweet melodies of Vincie Soca.
Caribbean revelers and musicians had in fact understood a principle which for a long time has escaped those who sit in judgment of our calysponians. We are “Famalay”. Our music and musicians resist the constraints of geography and identity imposed by the Caribbean Sea. In fact, long before Skinny Fabulous formed this wonderful collaborative partnership with Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, the legendary Vincentian arranger Frankie McIntosh and Trinidadian legends the Mighty Sparrow and Chalkdust had forged their own musical partnership demonstrating that the unity of our Caribbean culture supersedes parochial barriers.
So congrats to Skinny and all who worked with him to achieve this milestone. We are proud of you! #SVGProud #VincyExcellence #CaribbeanUnity #Famalay