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Women in Kaiso forefront

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Let me begin by offering my heartiest congratulations to the respective winners of the various Carnival competitions, to the CDC and private entertainment promoters, and above all to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines on the successful staging of our historic 40th anniversary of the June/July Carnival. Permit me to also make the point that, in stressing that Carnival celebrations here pre-date 1977, it is important to document the historical record of the original festival and to also celebrate landmarks in that regard.

My very special congratulations too go out to Lornette ‘Fyah Empress’ Nedd for her victory in the Calypso Monarch competition, and as well to her sister finalists, one of whom, Joanna Christopher, better known as a national netballer, not only made it to the finals on her first attempt, but finished in third place. It could be seen as the final consolidation of the trend of women coming to the forefront in this once male-dominated field, and making their mark at that.

There were many aspects of the Calypso Monarch show, and Carnival 2017 on the whole, which deserve commendation, but forgive me if my focus is especially on our female singers. More and more they are coming to the fore, at all levels, competing with the males and demonstrating their credentials to be treated as equals. In 2017, we not only witnessed an increase in numbers on the ‘Big Stage’, but also in the quality of their delivery, in what was itself a competition of exceptional quality.

What I found most pleasing, and auguring well for the future, is the fact that, by and large, the female calypsonians of today, have rejected the old role of the degenerating ‘wine and grind’ calypsonian, the old sexist stereotype. They have brought a refreshing breadth of scope to the topics covered, with assertiveness and social awareness reflected in their choice of topics and the lyrics and forceful presentation offered. In so doing, they have struck a significant blow for women’s equality.

There are those among us who are not so comfortable with this new assertiveness, who are uneasy when Shena Collis stresses “No More”, a signal that the old days of female inferiority are over. There are those who are unhappy with ‘Fyah Empress’ strident “Guilty as charged”, and even question whether a song with explicit violent content should have emerged victorious. But the calypso judges do not have a mandate to make moral judgements on the songs offered.

In addition, Fyah’s message was not so much homophobic, as it was the expressed anger of a wife, who found that she had been deceived by a husband who was in a same-sex relationship. One can frown on her solution, but the very act of bringing the issue to the fore, on such a stage, has to be commended. We have to face up to uncomfortable issues.

In praising the female bards, we cannot ignore the contributions of their male counterparts. They contributed to a competition of a very high standard, propelling the female challengers to greater heights if they were to achieve success. The result was a competition full of pointed social commentary, as contrasted with the mere recitation of facts or allegations; satire and humour, giving a blend of a rich quality, deserving of the occasion.

Lovers of the art form can be mightily pleased by what was offered in 2017, in both fields of calypso and soca. For, our soca artistes too have been revealing the wealth of talent and creativity which exists among the younger generation. A great future lies ahead if we learn how to harness, develop and sustain this talent which must now be channelled into the year-round entertainment field, creating employment for artistes and scope for the development of the entertainment industry and by extension, the tourism and hospitality industries.

One negative aspect which continues to plague our Carnival, and those in the rest of the region too, is the growing immorality being demonstrated publicly and its impact on our children. It is an issue which must be addressed by us all. The degeneration in moral standards is reaching epidemic proportions and is casting a negative image over the whole of our Carnival. Moral standards must be as much a part of the festival as standards in all other areas.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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