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Politicians and Calypso - July 19, 2004

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Our Best on Display

Hello St. Lucia,

Today and tomorrow, the best of all the colour and creativity from the Mas Camps and Calypso Tents around the island will be paraded before us. Our world will reflect a chorus of music and lyrics and a kaleidoscope of carnival colours. The competitive spirit will reign, but we’ll have fun – just for fun --whether in sun or rain. The melodies of our musicians, the lyrics of our calypsonians and the costumes will culminate with a friendly but exciting clash of sound and song, colour and splendour. Such is the spirit of St. Lucia Carnival.


But we cannot talk about carnival without talking about calypso.

People always ask me how I feel when calypsoes are sung about me. As you know I am a big calypso fan. So too are the Ministers of Government. Mario Michel, for example, is an unfazed fan. He attends all the tents! So too does Ignatius Jean, Felix Finnisterre, Ferguson John and our own Damian Greaves.

I never miss the finals, for example. I guess at first, it was a little strange to listen to a song about myself. At the shows, I catch people sneaking glances at me, trying to see how I will react when the song is about me or the government. To be honest, sometimes I wonder - should I clap loudly? Should I smile, or should I keep a straight face? Should I clap for a song that denigrates me, my family or persons who occupy high office in our country? But, generally, the song gets the better of you. You can’t help applauding if it is good, or laughing out loud if it is funny.


You know, as with other types of calypsoes, I appreciate humour and wit. I enjoy good picong. To me, that is the real spirit and uniqueness of kaiso. For example, my wife and I love Bingo’s calypso, “Kenny an’ Tony.” It was a very clever calypso. So too, we love Invader’s “Take My Money” (better known as “Lajan”), and the gem “Pin Dook.”


I think most politicians appreciate fair and genuine political commentary - whether it is in the calypso arena, or in the media generally. That is part of our democratic process, a part which we have redefined with our own calypso culture. Of course, calypsonians tend to be given more leeway, whether by us politicians, or by the public at large. Calypsonians tend to get away with a lot more. Actually, all entertainers do, although it can backfire on some occasions. Remember what happened to Janet Jackson when she bared her breasts. Look at the controversy surrounding Whoopi these days. But, I do think that, even with calypso, there is a line to be drawn. I don’t think, for example, that a public figure, whether a politician or otherwise, should have his family held up to ridicule, just to score cheap points. The public is generally turned off by those antics, anyway. And too, there is something to be said for respect for an office. I have seen it happen often in Trinidad - just as the public is turned off by raw smut, so too they get turned off by crude disrespect. They much prefer sauciness and innuendo.

So again, I come back to the point that much of the beauty of calypso has to do with the skill of the calypsonian --how he or she uses words, wit, humour, double entendre and so on.


Of course, I am aware that once you become a politician, you grant the licence for every budding and established calypsonian to sing about you. After all, where would calypsonians be without politicians? Calypsonians need politicians. We are their prime fodder. Whenever a calypsonian is stuck, can’t get an idea for a calypso, he or she can always rely on the politician. For sure, he knows that he will always get a response there. At least, I am happy that politicians are able to provide them with an opportunity to explore their talents - no complaints there!


I often wonder which is worse - being a politician who all the calypsonians completely ignore - or are afraid to sing about, or being the butt of every calypsonian’s pen.

Not all of these calypsonians are political opponents, as some people assume. It is all part of the show. Some of them meet me and say “Boss, I will be singing a calypso on your head this year but don’t worry, I still support the party”.

It is just not fashionable to praise politicians who are in office. I suspect that it is not an accepted part of the game. Even if someone wanted to sing a complimentary song, his fellow calypsonians and indeed, the “Tent Pinez” might invite him off the stage. It is simply not acceptable to praise the government of the day.


But, then again, there are positive political calypsoes in a broader sense. Politics is not just about politicians. Occasionally, there are some inspiring calypsoes which speak to the broader political process - where we should be heading as a people - our responsibility as citizens of our country - to contribute, to build, and not to break down. Remember Robbie’s song, “I know, there will be mountains to climb . . . I am gonna make it . . . With God on my side . . . I am gonna make it.” Those calypsoes are just as precious gems, or perhaps, even more precious, as the funny ones, the critical ones. They uplift even us politicians, who are faced with the daily, uphill battles of trying to make a difference - to improve the lives of our people. They remind us that we are not alone.


Sometimes, calypsoes say what many others want to say, but cannot, or are afraid to. And, don’t think for one moment that calypsoes only speak for the general public. Sometimes, calypsonians are able to say what public figures, and even politicians, want to say, but cannot. Perhaps calypsonians are able to say it more frankly -- without offending anyone and without losing the message. Remember this line: “Little black boy - stay home and learn.” Or what about this line: “You doh have no money - yuh getting a wife - Somebody go horn yuh…”

Then too, they can often explain political issues much more clearly - speak directly to what matters to people and speak with authority - and others listen because it comes from their own experiences and fears. Listen, for example, to how the public responded to Lady’s Spice’s song on the abortion debate.

So, calypsoes have important educational roles, not just to expose, or to make society aware, but also to instruct - to guide. Calypso is great fun - great entertainment - but it can also be a powerful force, a unifying force, a positive force.

Long Live Calypso!

May you have a wonderful Carnival – And, by the way, support our local entertainers too!


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