POLITICIANS AND CALYPSO
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.
NO CARNIVAL WITHOUT KAISO
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.
HUMOUR, WIT AND PICONG
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.
CALYPSONIANS NEED POLITICIANS
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
WHICH IS WORSE
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
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.
POSITIVE POLITICAL CALYPOSES
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.
CALYPSOES CAN GUIDE
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
Long Live Calypso!
May you have a wonderful Carnival – And, by the way, support our local