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Spare a thought…

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07.JUL.06

Even as we welcome the thousands of Caribbean citizens, returning nationals and guests, for our biggest cultural festival, Carnival, my heart goes out to that bedrock of kaiso in SVG, the reigning monarch, Sulle. Just as he was again poised to stave off the challenges of four former monarchs to retain his crown, and even to make his own imprint on the Soca Monarch Competition, (such is the current range of his versatility), Sulle has had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.{{more}}

As a result, instead of once more displaying the abundance of his talents on Dimanche Gras night, Sulle will have to be satisfied with listening to his fellow calypsonians from his bed. Yet he has been able to rise above the ‘Why me’? and ‘Hard Luck’ syndromes, and, from his hospital bed wished his brothers and sisters in the art form all the best, encouraging us all to go and support them. If you were not planning to go to the Big Yard, spare a thought for Sulle and the other Kaiso bards and do go and so pay your tribute to the reigning monarch. Sulle will appreciate that gesture very much. A speedy recovery, my brother.

Spare a thought, too, for other cultural artistes who have recently had health problems leading to their absence from the centre stage. The names Fatty Dan and Joy C, immediately come to mind, but there are other less celebrated calypso exponents who for one reason or another, health or personal misfortune, are forced to drop out along the way. And not just calypsonians, for there have been similar mishaps, deaths in some cases, in the fields of mas and pan.

It ought to leave us thinking about the livelihoods and future of those who make such a huge sacrifice to keep the cultural flames burning. Do we really appreciate or care? We enjoy what they have to offer at their productive best, but after that? Many kaisos have been sung on this theme but precious little has changed. I was listening to a radio interview with the Junior Soca Monarch, Princess Shaz, and her plans for fuller, future involvement in the kaiso/soca world. Couldn’t help relating it to the situation I’ve described above. I’ve wondered what message are we, as a society, conveying to our youth about kaiso, pan and mas, as not just pastimes, but ennobling and enriching experiences fit for a career? Spare another thought ….

It is encouraging to see local authorities, including the police, at last taking action against piracy, another form of ‘Dis-sing’ the work of our artistes. Long have they suffered, loudly have they complained. Regrettably, it is a world-wide phenomenon associated with the spread of technology. For it to be successfully fought, it needs the active involvement and participation of YOU, the consumer. Police raids and persecutions are but a part. Consciousness-building and appreciation of the worth of our artistes have to play an even more important part. YOU can refuse to be part of such piracy, refuse to be an accomplice by purchasing pirated products. Spare another thought … .

In this context I must big-up Culture Minister Rene Baptiste for her excellent exhortations to the young calypsonians and us, the general public, at the Junior Calypso Monarch Show. Her call for greater respect for the art form, for our national recognition of Carnival must not fall on deaf ears. In particular while I have noted that given the recent success of our soca artistes, greater appreciation and air play for kaiso’s sister (soca), we have to be careful not to neglect the one in nurturing the other. That was part of the gist of Minister Baptiste’s message. Kaiso, pan and mas are as much a part of our experience as our food and religious expressions of our faith. They represent our own unique cultural experiences and reflect our developments in that field. Listen to Sulle’s 2006 tribute to the pan, and … spare a thought …

So, having spared those thoughts, do they not spur us into action? Take my starting point, the welfare of our cultural artistes. We wait until a Joy-C or Fatty Dan is ill to run around fund-raising and setting medical expense accounts for them. But should we have to wait until it gets to that stage. It is not easy to be a perennial calypsonian, the amount of effort and tremendous self-denial rules out all but the most determined (the cynics among us will say the ‘most foolhardy”). The returns in financial terms are obviously not worth it. Who has made a successful living out of kaiso, mas and pan, based here in SVG?

When others are pursuing their careers in life, Sulle and his counterparts are composing, looking for arrangers, scrambling to get music scores and back-up, desperately looking for assistance to record. Tanny Peters has gone to his grave without ever enjoying a suitable reward for his Herculean efforts in pan and kaiso. Cardo never came out of poverty despite all he did for pan, tourism and sport. Does anybody ever stop to spare a thought about that giant in mas, Roy ‘Dragon’ Ralph? How is he coping?

Yes, the onus is now on Pan-Kai-Mas, the CDC, the Government of SVG and the NIS to take the bull by the horns and develop a programme for the benefit of our cultural artistes, to be able to provide medical treatment when in need and to ensure a fitting and rewarding life in later years.

It makes no sense crowning Calypso Monarchs and Kings and Queens of the Band when we disregard them later in life. Spare a thought in this direction, and … ACT!

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