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Sound, fury and a little learning

Sherwyn Walters

Sound, fury and a little learning

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Forwardness in Barbados will reach its zenith in the next few days.
Because Sam Couchie and the Duppy; Tom, Dick and Harry; maybe even Jean and Dinah will be ’round de corner posing as those who know who should win or should have won the Pic-O-De-Crop calypso monarch title.
They will be in bars, in lunch rooms, on the block, on the beach, behind microphones, with fingers on computer keyboards, on BlackBerrys, on iPhones, on Facebook, on Twitter.
Now, let me make something very clear. This is not about people expressing their likes and dislikes. Like away; dislike away. That is absolutely, incontestably appropriate.
However, people should respect the difference between expressing taste and assessing value. Fixing value requires a good grasp of the technical features of the thing under consideration and should be approached with caution.
What I am on about, therefore, is judgement: that song is “brilliant”; this other song has “strong lyrics”; this nedder one is a “boss calypso”; that song “en nutten”; this calypsonian should have won or placed higher.
This week people will talk about “social commentary” or “the message” as though art is about message or comment. If a song is to be distilled down to its comment, its message, what is its art?
People need to know the difference between song and pamphlet. That is probably why Bob Dylan told Phil Ochs: “You are not a songwriter; you’re a journalist.”
I would have used the word pamphleteer instead of journalist.
A pamphlet, like an opinion column, can have great social, moral, political or religious value. But it should not win an art competition against a short story.
So if I offered Take Yuh Meat Out Me Rice in a competition and was told that We Pass That Stage had better lyrics because of a social message, I would conclude that I was not in an art competition.
But since they call calypso an art form, I would have been thinking that I had to selectively recreate some aspect of “reality”, bringing something to life – not just to light – by depictive, sensory, emotive, experiential, affective power – just for starters.
Sam Stone, with no stated message or comment, touches the spirit, the soul in a way that Stay Away will never do. And She Thinks His Name Was John engages your core more elementally than a million public service coaxings to be faithful and condomize. That is what art aims at.
Moving on. Art can’t be the frame in which it is presented – song form – either (’cause using the form of poetry does not make art out of postcard verse).
Neither can art be a kind of embroidery, something that adds fancy trimming, like cleverness, which often rises little higher than false wit, with its childish straining after humorous effect and superficial dazzle.  
Sorry, but cleverness often does not meet the weighty demands of art.
If it does not, for example, experientialize, cause emotional participation, generate a “seeing” and “knowing” beyond the grasp of intellect, it is artistically impotent.
Now, this column has a message and some cleverness. So, you mean if I put it in the form of a poem, with some rhyme, it would be art? Not.
But all man will charge forward this week talking about an “art form” in terms of commentary and message and cleverness. And will gush about quality, while disregarding melody, rendition and stage presentation, as though a lyric, even if artistically impressive, can by itself determine the winner of the contest.
Song is a thing of the spirit. And its best writers use the tools of the spirit. We should at least understand that.
Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.