OFF CENTRE: We much betta dan dat
SOME SAY IT WAS ABOUT celebrating enslavement. I say our celebrating is often a kind of self-enslavement.
Last Wednesday at the Inscription Ceremony to mark the listing of Historic Bridgetown And Its Garrison as a World Heritage Site, the Royal Barbados Police Force Band blasted it out with infecting joie de vivre. Later, its originator came on stage and he, too, with a contagious effervescence, belted it out: I Am A Bajan.
“166 square miles” “pure love” “pure smiles” “cold sand” “crystal blue seas” “symbol of pride and industry” “drinks, rag, repping my flag” “vibes, music” “We love Crop Over” “Jazz Festival, Reggae On The Hill” “get your belly fill” “love the cou cou and flying fish”.
And I started thinking back to other supposed “nation” songs. Like I Am A Barbadian (“and ah like to have me fun” “ah like to know that ah bouncing” “shake up me waist” “drink till ah get tight” “ah know what de girls are good for”); like Barbados Ah Come From (“how ah happy so” “how ah smiling so” “how ah friendly so” “how ah lively so”).
What about Colours? What kind of portrayal of us is that?
Even if these songs throw in something higher, they foreground music, dancing, smiling, food, light-heartedness (or is it light-headedness?).
Enslaving us to low notions of ourselves!
I will not quietly endure people depicting me as a skinning, grinning, gyrating, happy-go-lucky, flying-fish-and-cou-cou-eating, sit-on-the-beach, do-nothing, have-no-strong-character-qualities person?
I am tired of this air-headed depiction of me and my people. Yeah, we say, the tourists like it and it brings them back. Listen, I believe that we should get to know that there is such a thing as patronizing. It’s no skin off the tourists’ noses if some, mostly black, people skin and grin and wuk up and drink rum. You think I am going to take my cue from some kick-backing, leisure-seeking, looking-for-fun outsider?
We got to stop these artistes from dumbing us down.
And people planning these special occasions must aim higher too. Where is the deep thinking that goes into guiding what people will come and present when we say we are making a cultural presentation?
Where are the “firm- craftsmen-of-our-fate” planners? As I wrote in Our Anthem Dishonoured? in this paper almost eight years ago: “In seats of decision [for special shows and ceremonies like the inscription one], let us put persons who have the requisite intellectual grasp, keen moral sense, and national sensibility. And let us, the rest, arm ourselves with alertness and jealous regard for national repute.”
Yuh remember what happened when we had a chance to press forward our qualities in celebration of Obadele Thompson’s glory bronze at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. We tek de man’s blood, sweat and tears, de man’s resoluteness, de man’s body-wracking devotion, de man’s poise, de man’s never-say-die last-metres desire, and turn it into a jump-up song.
So no weighty apprehension. No gravity. No chest-swelling pride.
Buffoons to the world!
Some time ago I was in the United States and I heard a stand-up comic talking about Caribbean people and their music.
(I am not going to identify his race, ’cause if I say he was white, people will say, “Dem people don’ like we anyhow” and if I say he was black, they will say, “Wuh dem cahn tell we nutting”. So let me say he was an orange Martian.) He said something like this: “Those Caribbean people freak me out. They make it sound such fun as they sing, ‘My dog has died’ or ‘My wife up and left me’. They just freak me out.”
They freak me out too.
Where are the lofty portrayals? Where are the sober, elevating “nation” songs about us? About
our strength, courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, frugality, charity, sacrifice? Or about our faith, industriousness, temperateness, indomitable spirit, “make-do”, fervour about a better future for our children, heroism and more?
Don’t let the fact that we got warts, lots of them, make us default to a dwarfish view of ourselves – and the dissemination thereof. We Bajans don’t only wuk up and drink and dance and smile and chill out.
Rupee, and whoever else, when you are going to sing songs representing us, remember that we much better dan dat!
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]