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Thursday 22 February 2018
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NO APOLOGY

One week after winning his ninth National Calypso Monarch title, Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool yesterday stood firm by his controversial composition, Learn From Arithmetic, even in the face of mounting distaste for the song in some quarters.

In fact, Liverpool, unfazed by fresh criticisms about the selection, stressed he had no intention of apologising to the Hindu community or his detractors in other spheres of national life.

“No, I am not apologising,” Liverpool declared in a Sunday Newsday interview. “When I make calypsoes, I don’t make them for groups. I sing calypsoes. If they do not understand calypsoes, that is their business. Calypso is for intelligent people.” The veteran calypsonian said child marriage “had nothing to do with one race, group or religion,” but was a worldwide phenomenon that needed to be properly ventilated. He maintained the song was not directed to any individual or organisation.

“I am not talking about any particular person,” he said. “I just used Sat Maharaj (Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha) because he is the link to that in Trinidad and Tobago.” A popular selection in the runup to last Sunday’s National Calypso Monarch competition at the Dimanche Gras show, Learn From Arithmetic addressed the topic of child marriage, referencing the Hindu community’s stance on the issue.

The song, at specific junctures, made mention of Sat Maharaj, with its tagline, “75 cyah go into 14.” The issue, which formed the crux of the Marriage Bill 2016, was debated on Friday in the House of Representatives. Maharaj has openly condemned the song, saying that Liverpool, a 50-year veteran of the calypso artform, has misrepresented the Hindu community.

The outspoken Hindu leader’s condemnation of the song has since triggered a barrage of criticism from other quarters. In the Parliament on Friday, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath said the song fuelled misconceptions about child marriages in the country. Padarath specifically took issue with the fact that the song neglected to mention other religious groups such as Christians as well as civil marriages that had no minimum age requirement.

“If it is Hindus that the calypsonian is asking that 75 can’t go into 14, can we also ask the same of the Catholic community in the interest of fairness?” Padarath questioned.

Also on Friday, Liverpool’s former university colleague Dr Errol Benjamin, in a letter to the editor, said Learn From Arithmetic “seemed flawed in terms of message and style.” Benjamin commented that the “central mathematical impossibility of 75 not being able to go into 14 with its overt sexual overtone seemed an oversimplification of a complex ageold cultural practice to merely its physical/sexual component.

“What of child marriage between children or child marriages entered into for economic considerations, some bordering on share survival?” Benjamin asked.

Benjamin also observed that, in terms of rendition, “what seemed intended to be sexual innuendo, turned out to be much less so in its explicitness, reducing its subtlety, exacerbated further by references to margarine and oil with their obvious sexual connotations.” Benjamin said the song conjured “a distinct sense of an explicit conversation on the block in which the participants are salivating over the impossibility of a 75-year-old attempting to ‘go into’ a 14-year-old girl.” Yesterday, political analyst Dr Indira Rampersad, in a separate newspaper column, wrote that Liverpool’s song was flawed on several counts, including attire for the presentation.

“Chalkie dons the garb of a graduand, a student, yet proceeds with his ‘lesson’ in arithmetic with flipboard and marker in the role of the teacher/educator that he is, not of a student,” she wrote. Rampersad also suggested that the child marriage message may have very well been lost in the punchline “75 cyah go into 14.” “Therefore, Chalkie’s chorus, which sent women a-giggling and senior males a-frowning, was not one revolving around the child marriage controversy but rather one which focused on older men’s impotence.” Meanwhile, All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union leader, Nirvan Maharaj, in adding his voice to the raging debate, called on Liverpool to apologise to both the Hindu and national community. “It was indeed shocking that one of the best calypsonians, a master of the artform, respected and acknowledged as an objective thinker and one for whom I have the greatest respect, would have descended into the realm of pure bias and subjectivity and stereotyped an entire community contrary to the facts in the matter of the child marriage issue,” Maharaj said in a statement.

Maharaj said Liverpool failed to say that several large Hindu organisations such as the Vedic Community and Chinmaya Mission, had supported the Government and the changes to the Marriage Act to raise the legal age of marriage to 18.

“Chalkdust failed to say to the national community that several other religious leaders, Islamic, for example, came out and were just as vociferous as Sat Maharaj and even more so at times concerning the Marriage Act,” he said. “Why did Chalkdust leave out certain leaders of the Muslim community, the Orisha and certain Christian denominations who also had the same views of Sat Maharaj, but attacked Mr Maharaj, giving the impression that it was him alone and several members of the Hindu community who had issues with the Child Marriage Act?” But speaking to Sunday Newsday, Liverpool, a headliner at the Kalypso Revue, denounced his naysayers, saying: “All of them should compose one (song about child marriage). I wish all of them, Errol Benjamin, Barry Padarath and Indira Rampersad could compose one.” Saying he was shocked and disappointed by the fallout surrounding the song, Liverpool said it was clear that some people still do not understand the artform.

“I am not even studying Sat and I am not responding to Sat. I was not even thinking of Sat,” he said of the song. “You have to understand the artform. I wanted people to understand the issue of child marriage but I was not talking about Sat personally.

Sat was just the link, that’s all.

That’s calypso and the audience has to understand the issue?” The veteran calypsonian also lashed out against a Newsday editorial, last week, which, he said, misrepresented the song. The editorial had described the song as a “thinly-veiled personal attack (against Sat Maharaj) under a fig leaf of current affairs.” “That is a biased editorial,” Liverpool said. “I did not attack any race.

I did not attack anybody in my calypso.

I attacked an issue. I did not attack any race. They have no sense.” Liverpool said calypsonians have long referred to politicians, dignitaries and other office holders in their work.

“We have sung about kings, queens, governors, (Arthur Andrew) Cipriani (late labour leader and politician) and Butler (legendary labour leader Tubal Uriah Buzz) Butler. So, who is Sat Maharaj?” he asked.

“We sing calypsoes on all kinds of people.

There is no bias in that. You take an issue and if you call a person name, people think calypsonians are biased. They are not. They think issues.” Chalkdust said. “But nobody is biased against anybody’s race or religion. When Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) sang about the Queen of England, you think he had anything personal issue with her?” Liverpool asked.

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