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Calypsonians and the spirit of our times

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Fri July 19, 2013

by Maxwell Haywood

Vincy Mas 2013 has just ended, and the evaluation of its outcomes is taking place. We must do so since Carnival is our foremost cultural arts festival. So, what is the value of Carnival to our nation? One thing about the cultural arts sector that makes it a potent force is its ability to reflect the human condition with high emotive outcomes that are socially beneficial, but at the same time could be negatively felt. On one hand it could liberate the human mind and positively transform reality. But, on the other hand, it could facilitate the oppression of the human mind and perpetuate an oppressive or exploitative reality.{{more}}

Vincy Carnival has once again served to release messages that that are vital for nation building. This year, the calypsonians have made their contributions to the national effort to reflect on the nation’s heritage and to promote its positive features and contributions. With heritage taking a back seat in many development efforts, it is refreshing that calypsonians have not retreated.

In his song “Wey he dey”, Dennis Bowman made his contribution about the current debates that are raging regarding the person who should be the next National Hero. A national conversation is in motion on this topic. A national committee was established to get “…recommendations of a person or persons for the Conferment of the Order of National Hero of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.” So, it is good that calypsonian Dennis Bowman, in this very powerful song, makes the case for Chief Joseph Chatoyer, SVG’s first National Hero, to be more prominently displayed throughout the entire land mass of SVG.

Bowman is adamant that the name and legacy of Chatoyer should not be muted or slighted. Bowman is definitely not pleased that many people are still asking who Chatoyer is. He is not pleased that the nation honoured Chatoyer and then abandoned him. He sings: “cause when ah look around the town and in the country/Ah just can’t find his excellency/Ah cannot believe my eyes when I see no signs of his historical memory/In other countries of the world/National Heroes seen everywhere/But in SVG not a boy or girl/Could take a photo named Chatoyer.” He points out that there are symbols honouring national patriots like George MacIntosh, E.T. Joshua, Milton Cato; and even Patrick Manning, the former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago has symbols honouring him in SVG. However, Chatoyer is not given that same respect. This is a major blunder according to Bowman. I fully agree with him.

Moreover, he provides recommendations in his song. He demands that we must make Chatoyer’s name live on by promoting awareness of his contributions. In addition, Bowman proposes that the international airport been built at Argyle should be named after Chatoyer. Furthermore, he wants the nation to create a new local honour system, which moves away from the colonial honours. In this context, he calls for the establishment of the Order of Chatoyer.

Another historical issue that was brought to the forefront during Vincy Mas 2013 was reparations. As we know, this is a major topic of debate in SVG. Recently, the Government appointed a national committee to seek reparations from Britain for robbing and brutalizing the indigenous population and for chattel slavery against black people. Caribbean cultural artistes, including calypsonians of course, have always championed the demand for reparations for black people and for full liberation from the economic and political systems that have been oppressing, suppressing and exploiting black people. Joy C’s song called “Reparations” is a clarion call for us to be bold in demanding reparations from those who enslaved black people. After all, Joy-C wants us to know that our ancestors fought for justice.

According to Joy-C, who could wrong us for calling for reparations now? She lists a number of wrongs that need to be made right via reparations. For example, she highlights the brutality of chattel slavery; brutal abuse of our sisters and brothers; the millions who were thrown overboard the slave ships; legacy of no human rights; the wealth black people created for the Europeans without compensation; slave owners were given huge payouts but black people got nothing; and white people got rich from the blood of our ancestors. She wants Caribbean leaders to now speak with one voice in demanding reparations. She holds up the legacies of compensation to the Jews as an example. According to Joy-C: who say we can’t get compensation for our past experience with chattel slavery? She boldly sings that those who arrogantly refuse to support and provide reparations, we should descend on them like a tidal wave. She bellows out that no one should tell us it’s too late for reparations.

Quite often we reminisce on our past as a society and we wish that the positive aspects of our past will come to reality again. Our culture of living within our means set the foundation for many of the positive attributes in our present society. Lady Diya in her song reminds us about our past cultural practices and she asserts that “We inherit that”. It is interesting to note that her Granny, who is a source of knowledge of Vincentian heritage, provided her with the information on SVG’s national heritage. Her Granny wants local history to be taught to everyone.

The art form of calypso has a rich legacy in our society. This year, it received its share of reflections too from Tajoe and De Man Age. Both calypsonians praise the legacy of calypso and lament the state of the calypso art form today. Tajoe laments the slow death of calypso. He reminds us that calypso had a rich heritage of bringing value to our society. Now calypso is crying out for rescue. He sings that Vincentian children once had great love for calypso; now calypso is crying out for love. Singing in the voice of calypso, Tajoe chants: “Because me nah slack like dancehall, you want to run me out of my own yard”. He expressed that fans stop coming to tent shows, and DJs don’t want to play calypso. Like Vincies have lost their love for calypso. Similarly, De Man Age in his song “Calypsonian MIA (missing in action)” recalls the legacies calypsonians have left via calypso finals at Victoria Park – a legacy of bold critiques without apology to the status quo. He thinks something must be terrible wrong since calypsonians are missing in action (MIA).

He reminds us that calypsonians use to sing about things that are mashing up the country. But, as De Man Age points out, calypsonians today have flipped the script.

The social and natural heritage of SVG did not escape notice by the calypsonians. This is evident in David “Chang I” Morgan’s song call “100% Vincy”. He proudly proclaims that SVG has no gold but it is still a beautiful nation. He highlights the food dishes, the volcano, the many islands of SVG, the historic botanic garden, the Falls of Baleine, beautiful women, and honest people. He loves to see Vincentians continuing the struggle, and no matter where Vincentians go they make SVG proud. Even if their pockets are empty, they stand up and be counted.

Some calypsonians want to see some questionable and in my view negative legacies continue. For example, Ebony wants to bring back the cat o’ nine tails, which is seen as a legacy that we should not repeat. Others call for corporal punishment, which is a negative part of our heritage, to be instituted

The significance of this focus on heritage and legacies should not be underestimated. Heritage and legacies have a serious impact on national productivity by being a source of inspiration and motivation. The calypsonians for 2013 have once again made their contributions to nation-building by contributing to the spiritual fibre of our nation. There were more songs about the nation’s heritage, but due to space constraints, I only highlighted some of them. Let me say thank you to the calypsonians for staying true to the spirit of our times.

He reminds us that calypsonians used to sing about things that are mashing up the country. But, as De Man Age points out, calypsonians today have flipped the script.

The social and natural heritage of SVG did not escape notice by the calypsonians. This is evident in David “Chang I” Morgan’s song call “100% Vincy”. He proudly proclaims that SVG has no gold, but it is still a beautiful nation. He highlights the food dishes, the volcano, the many islands of SVG, the historic Botanic Gardens, the Falls of Baleine, beautiful women, and honest people. He loves to see Vincentians continuing the struggle, and no matter where Vincentians go, they make SVG proud. Even if their pockets are empty, they stand up and be counted.

Some calypsonians want to see some questionable and in my view negative legacies continue. For example, Ebony wants to bring back the cat o’ nine tails, which is seen as a legacy that we should not repeat. Others call for corporal punishment, which is a negative part of our heritage, to be instituted.

The significance of this focus on heritage and legacies should not be underestimated. Heritage and legacies have a serious impact on national productivity by being a source of inspiration and motivation. The calypsonians for 2013 have once again made their contributions to nation building by contributing to the spiritual fibre of our nation. There were more songs about the nation’s heritage, but due to space constraints, I only highlighted some of them. Let me say thank you to the calypsonians for staying true to the spirit of our times.

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