This was the assertion of Dr Hollis Liverpool, a.k.a. The Mighty Chalkdust, in a lecture that was part talk and part song at the National Library in Port-of-Spain last Thursday (July 3). Citing lyrics from numerous calypsos from past decades, Chalkdust noted that the solutions to crime proposed by various calypsonians such as Terror, Sparrow, and Duke included public whipping of convicted criminals with the cat o’ nine tails, putting pepper and lime in their wounds, and hanging them without trial.
“If they were doing that from 1959 to now, there would be no criminals,” Chalkdust said, smiling widely, adding that if this approach resulted in some innocent persons being executed, this was all right since Luta had sang that “the Master will understand an honest mistake.” His recommendations were enthusiastically cheered by the mostly middle-aged audience which had filled the 100-plus seats of NALIS’s audio-visual room.
Chalkdust, who is now a Honorary Distinguished Fellow at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), was arguing that calypsonians were the equal of social scientists in their understanding of society and their recommendations to solve social problems. But, he complained, “Most governments never recognised calypsonians as being intellectually stimulating in the same way as social scientists.”
Chalkdust argued that, while the research of social scientists was considered scientific and true, the research by calypsonians was seen as the outcome of serendipity or accidental discovery. But, he said, the discoveries of social scientists were also often accidental. “We depend, to a large extent, on common sense,” he said, complaining, “But governments don’t see artistes as capable of research.”
Because of this, politicians have not accepted the findings of calypsonians as a basis for policy-making. Chalkdust said that the hypothesis of his paper was that the findings of calypsonians were as “potent, authoritative, and true” as the findings of social scientists and that “The conclusions are the same in most undertakings.”
Focusing on crime, Chalkdust went on to cite a paper by psychiatrist Dr Hari Maharajh and Aklima Ali which found that the consumption of beer was responsible for 64 percent of minor offences, while beer consumption and unemployment was responsible for 92 percent of such crimes. “What was the thinking of calypsonians?” asked Chalkdust.
Backed up by a three-man band, he sang calypsos by Creole (written by Chalkdust himself) and Brother Mudada from 1969 and 1976 which dealt with the problems people from Laventille and John John had in finding work, even when they had university degrees. He also sang Sparrow’s “Education” from 1967, saying, “If that calypso was played in classrooms every day from then to now, we would have less criminals” , adding to enthusiastic applause from the audience that educators should also “cut children’s backsides”. He noted Professor Ramesh Deosaran saying in 2005 that poverty, parenting, lack of moral values, less religion, and lack of education were all factors in rising crime, and said that calypsonians had long identified all these same factors.
Throughout the decades, said Chalkdust, the calypsonian had criminalised certain behavioural actions and sought to prevent further crimes being committed. These included domestic violence, prostitution, and murder. “But many of the behavioural patterns condemned by calypsonians are not considered crimes by the State,” he added, frowning. This behaviour included “excess profit”, he said, citing a calypso by Duke which identified white-collar crime as responsible for many social problems and which called for “profiteers” to be locked up just like thieves and killers. He also cited Kitchener’s calypso on the trial of Abdul Malik, which focused on public disapproval of the immunity given to a man named Parmasar, who was one of the killers of American socialite Gale-Ann Benson, but who had become a State witness in return for immunity. The calypso, whose hook line was “Parmasar, dey say you too coomoosar” was sang in its entirety by an Indo-Trinidadian man from the audience who brought great enthusiasm, but only a few on-key notes, to his rendition.
“Calypsonians have been in the forefront of combating crime,” Chalkdust asserted, with a serious expression. Their recommendations included Kitchener’s advice about proper parenting; Singing Francine’s exhortation to women to “run away” if they were victims of domestic violence; and Scrunter’s recommendation to young women who were attacked by men offering them lifts – Take De Number.
“Great advice,” said Chalkdust.
He also sang from his own calypso, emphasising the key line that “The world can’t create civilisation without a Trinidadian”, which listed TT’s winning beauty queens and athletes as proof of this assertion. In another of his calypsos, Chalkdust said in order to stop murders “A child must understand the sanctimonious nature of man”. But he probably meant “sacred”, since the calypso did not actually deal with how man makes a show of being morally superior. In concluding, Chalkdust recommended that the universities should give calypsonians awards and degrees. “They are the equal of social scientists,” he said. And as the evening ended, he was given a standing ovation by most, but not all, of the people in the audience.