N Touch
Saturday 25 May 2019
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When Calypso is a wuk

Over the past few months we have had chapter after chapter of sketches. These, a deft stroke painted in day after day, seemed to be a reply to our insistence of who we were. Or perhaps some prophetic warning of what we risked being.

I write this on Tuesday the 23rd of April — not yet a month from the festival of Fools. And only two months since Benedict XVI tipped the table over, scattered the cards and changed the game. “The path of power”, Benedict warned, “is not the road to God.” And so he gave up power.

Few listened. Anywhere. Certainly not here. Rather, to “eat ah food” became one of those phrases through whose ambiguity we express agreement, contempt and perhaps a little jealousy.

It started with Sugar Aloes. I have a great deal of sympathy for our Calypsonians.

My father was the Calypsonian Chinee Patrick of “Sans Humanit?” and of “We have a Labour Government.” Calypsonians today are under the sustained pressure of Reagan and Thatcher’s “market forces”. In the case of the Calypso, the “market force” is the entertainment industry.

With the advent of mass culture and Woodstock in 1969 and the Rolling Stones, the entertainment industry became the live Black entertainment of a Michael Jackson or a Nikki Minaj.

The raucous, ghetto, Black popular music was chosen not by us. It was chosen by the selection of Reggae and Bob Marley as good business by White North American entrepreneurs.

Dance Hall and Hip Hop

It was Dance Hall, Hip Hop or the spectacle Soca of Kees Dieffenthaller or Machel Montano which now drew the crowds and made money.

The extent to which this was socially and religiously accepted went beyond Montano as the Mascot of the UNC. It was there in the near-naked, Carnival-dressed female advertising the presence of Montano at a Catholic Presentation San Fernando Old Boys’ fete.

Kitchener’s Calypso Tent’s future was threatened even during the Carnival season. Carnival time was now encroached upon by everything cultural as our badly funded “Arts” attempted to make money during the peak tourist weeks. I can understand Sugar Aloes tempted by the offer of UNC advertisements. They are, with government advertisements the best money thing in town. The problem is that Calypso is not quite Dance Hall. Yes, there is double-speak soft porn in some Calypso. True Calypsonians are not of the righteous. Within the Calypso tradition however, there is the prophetic recall to what we could be as there is the voice of the voiceless. Speaking Truth to Power, if you like. It was this that risked being lost when Calypso becomes only “a wuk.”

The Question of Commitment

Prof Rhoda Reddock, speaking a few weeks ago, lamented the disinclination of students today to undertake the long haul of post-graduate work at the Doctoral level. It was this which was needed if we were to increase our research capacity.

The commitment was just not there. Students, Prof Reddock complained, continued to act as if a University was the same as Secondary school and postgraduate work the same as a Sixth Form paper.

What was not said was that this attitude to learning is now culturally rooted in society.

Here, as increasingly in Latin America, the mixture of populism and of the Prosperity Gospel has not only affected attendance and membership of mainstream churches.

It is the principal channel for popular materialism. This brand of materialism is in conflict with the scientific method. It is in conflict with that centrality of learning which has marked culture until now.

The centrality of academic pursuits and of the curiosity which fashions the seeking after Wisdom, is replaced by the centrality of money and of power. It is there in politics and largely accounts for the Jack Warner phenomenon.

Jack Warner is the home boy who, getting scant attention here under a PNM government, on his own steam abroad becomes a Vice-President of FIFA.

He moves in the most exalted circles as Presidents (including Mandela) and Royalty (including the Windsors) court his influence in FIFA.

He returns home and finds his natural environment not in African Trinidadian PNM, but in the rising sun of the UNC. He admitted having prayed for the victory of the UNC publicly at the massive, beautiful, rose-stone statue of Hanuman, the monkey warrior protecting Central. It didn’t stop him being a “humble Catholic”, going to mass at Mount St Benedict and as Minister of National Security, all for Capital Punishment.

His very deep pockets, certainly helped to fuel the claim of Action Man Jack. As did his capacity for work. It helped to create an atmosphere of efficiency around “Jack”. Coupled with a certain Trini bravado, a certain contemptuous flick of the finger. That was until…

Marion O’Callaghan

Social Anthropologist, formerly Director of Social Science Programmes, UNESCO


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