“Lyrics to make a politician cringe”
Nov, 24, 2000
By TERRY JOSEPH
CALYPSO is playing an unprecedented role in the run-up to next month’s general election and in a way that redefines the widely held interpretation of a “party” song. Calypsonians have lyrically risen to the challenge of an added opportunity to showcase their skills and are also enjoying the unbridled license to put in stout defences of their political beliefs. Many of them have voluntarily supplied songs of support to fuel the propaganda machinery of preferred parties.
The strategy first witnessed in 1986, when the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) commissioned calypsonian Deple to sing “Vote Them Out”, has proven successful. Now, both major parties, the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC) have hired professional wordsmiths to pen pieces and popular performers to render them. As expected, the ruling UNC is the popular target of professional political commentators. And as evidenced most recently at the final of the annual Police Calypso Monarch competition, even the amateur singers have gone that route.
Calypsonian Gypsy, the UNC candidate for Ortoire/Mayaro, has provided ready fodder for his colleagues. He has been singled out for special persecution by those who confine the electorate’s voting options to ethno-cultural considerations. They label him “traitor”, arguing in song that he has let down the tribe with which he is most easily identified. Some complain that he has betrayed the very art, citing the lyrics of “Little Black Boy”, the song that won him the 1997 national calypso monarch title. Fellow calypsonians compare the importance of that song with his current status and use their findings as evidence of a radical shift in social and political allegiance, a move with which they seem quite intolerant.
At the police competition, Cyborg asked: “Who Will Sing for the Black Boy Now?” Last week, satirist Pink Panther premiered a re-tooled version of “Little Black Boy”, twisting the lyrics (See lyrics below) to redirect every last ounce of venom against its creator, an application of craft that brings several encores at each performance. Not to be outdone, Gypsy, who has a singular skill at extempo, has fired back from the platforms.
Three-time national calypso monarch, Cro Cro has also had a lot to say about Gypsy’s political move. In addition, he has done a remake of Ras Shorty I’s “Watch Out My Children” that cuts deep, as it targets the UNC political leader, Prime Minister Basdeo Panday—the person who suggested that the very song be put on the school curriculum. He cleverly opens it as a tribute to the late entertainer, then swings his lyrical guns on Panday, with the chorus:
“Watch out my children (repeat)
It have a fella called Lucifer
With he head white like powder
And he doh want to powder yuh face
But to bring shame and disgrace
On the poorer race.”
Nor is that the extent of his assault on the UNC. Best known for his political commentary at Carnival, Cro Cro has taken an inventive lead in one tributary of the genre’s downstream, by using the popularity of parang rhythms (ironically associated with the season of goodwill), as the launch pad for another salvo.
Again he targets Panday, through a “Message to Arnim Smith”, the former Pan Trinbago president, now a highly visible UNC strategist. In the song, Cro Cro sets up the serene scenario of a rural village parang festival, then positions Smith as trying to impose pan music on the event. He then echoes the villagers’ chorus: “We don’t want no Pan Dey, We doh want no Panday again.”
But the UNC is not taking any of this lying down. Their hired guns are smoking still. Gregory “GB” Ballantyne and M’ba, both of whom were commissioned to come up with campaign calypsoes, have each gone back to the studio, to come out firing a second salvo. GB’s “Double or Nothing” deals with UNC achievements during the party’s stewardship and bears no acrimony toward the challengers. The lyrics confine themselves to the matter at hand. Still, he has suffered for it, being ostracised by some of his colleagues who share different political persuasions.
On Friday last, he told the Express that a popular colleague (and former calypso monarch) physically resisted his effort to shake hands at a public function earlier that evening. “I knew he was avoiding my calls all the while,” GB said, “but to refuse to even shake my hand and pull away his in a public setting was hardly what I expected from him, since he pretends to be an exemplar in the calypso world.” That has not deterred GB from going back to do a follow-up to his first work, this one called “Conscience”, which challenges anyone with a conscience to not vote for the UNC and by the same opportunity, upbraids the PNM for not having original calypso material. “I never said I was a PNM until I dead, like some other calypsonians have said,” argued GB. “The constitution defends freedom of choice and my profession does not debar me from working for anyone.”
M’ba has suffered the same kind of pariah-like treatment. His “Put We Back” is also a rally favourite for the UNC and snippets are being used as paid radio advertising by the party. He has since come up with “Democracy” for the UNC, in which he says he is singing “straight from the heart.”
Even David Bereaux, who did nothing more offensive than sing a calypso in support of Public Utilities Minister Ganga Singh’s promise of “Water For All in 2000”, has not been spared the wrath of some of his more sensitive calypso colleagues.
Well before Cro Cro’s intervention, the People’s National Movement (PNM), enjoyed the advantage of having his mentor, the late Calypso Grandmaster, Kitchener’s bountiful legacy of songs favourable to the party. Up to his last album, Kitch asked of Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung “Where the Money Gone?” Some 20 years earlier, his clairvoyant “Not a Damn Seat for Them” had completely demoralised the Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR). In the interim, he never failed to sneak one in for the party.
The PNM has also dusted off the 1991 Anthony Alexis composition “Shake Yuh Balisier”. They have come up with new product too, in a remake of Sanell Dempster’s Carnival blockbuster, “Nothing for You,” shaking a finger at the UNC.
Dempster said she has heard only snatches of the remake so far, which is performed by Marvellous Marva.
Like Brother Marvin’s “Jahaaji Bhai” in 1995, the only songs both parties seem to agree on are Machel Montano’s “Real Unity” (for which each side has developed a version) and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, the latter because its chorus says, quite ironically, “Don’t worry, about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing’s gonna be all right.”
“There was a little black boy
A black boy was he.
All the boy ambition was to join UNC.
But the boy eh know nothing about politics
So they put him Mayaro to get a lotta licks.
‘Cause the little black boy like he can’t talk at all,
When he went on the platform, he make himself small.
Before he talk about Amoco or about InnCogen,
He say ah want allyuh know Jack Warner is mih friend.
Little black boy
When are you going to learn?
Little black boy
You are going to get burn.
Little black boy
Just like Griffith and Lasse
Yuh prove to your people, you are a Judas.
This black boy gave chambers a solid warning
He said: ‘Captain, captain, the ship is sinking.
But now he jump on a ship called the UNC
and like he can’t see the ship is in difficulty.
The ship cannot sail, it just can’t make the trip
Even Dhanraj and all abandon the ship.
But little black boy like yuh harden for true
It look like The Sheriff have more sense than you.
Look at the bridge, see who is the builder.
Look at the road, see who is the paver.
Look what they do Marilyn Gordon.
Look how they treat poor Robinson.
Look what they doing at TTT.
They getting rid of black boys just like you and me.
Look what they do Wendell Constantine.
Black boy don’t you know that you are next in line.
This little black boy not too long ago
He sang us a real beautiful calypso
And since the party in power was not PNM
He had to be talking ‘bout Panday and them.
He say them politician are roaming the land
Stealing the soul of our nation
But little black boy it is our belief
We believe the upholder is worse than the thief
Be black, be black and be conscious
(repeat and fade)
DOUBLE OR NOTHING By: GB
It was in a ole parlour
Ah listening two neighbour
While a nex’ one sitting on de fence
One say “30 years I here
You now come and yuh gone clear
Yuh increase old-age pension
Yuh build police station Ah hah! Ah hah!
Introduce minimum wage
On crime yuh take advantage
And I was de one who had money in a rage”
Is double or nothin
Doh mind how dey plotting
We pass de test
We show dis nation progress
Is a double on de run
For the Rising Sun
De sun too hot, town say
We go bun’ ‘way de balisier
All de people
Man in trouble
If he cyar hear
All de people
Man in trouble
Cause we gone clear
National steel orchestra
Bus service regular
54 new bridges in less dan 5 years
Prison transport privatised
Justice on Time before yuh eyes
Unemployment keep droppin’
Quik Shoppe gas stations poppin’
Ah hah! Ah hah!
Economy like de Rising sun
TTPost make business fun
Car license streamlined, Common Entrance done
Train 400 nurse this year
30 ambulance for health care
22 health centres, Cedros to Toco
Domestic violence hotline
50,000 jobs added
60 more schools now guarded
Ah hah! Ah hah!
Food prices stable and low
While foreign investments grow
And we pay public servants $1 billion we din owe
Conversation end so nice
Ah say dis is paradise
Not a gun, not a cutlass, not a bad word
Everybody talkin’ sense
And those who was on de fence
Dey make a decision
To vote dis election
Ah hah! Ah hah!
This time dey eh making fun
Dey say de balisier bun
Dey decide dat dey votin’ for de