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GET REAL: Supporting our calypsonians


GET REAL: Supporting our calypsonians

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IT GOES AGAINST my spirit, principles, culture and way of life.

I could not bring myself to do it. I would not pay to set foot on a beach, whether at home or abroad.  My hosts were aware enough of life outside of Jamaica to appreciate and understand. They understood that I am a Bajan and we don’t do that.  We drove a few extra miles to one of the free beaches.

Barbadians who are not aware of life outside of Barbados or who suffer from historical amnesia, will take our public beaches for granted.  I am not old enough to remember if Jack Dear made the suggestion that Barbados should have private beaches. I wasn’t reading newspapers or watching the CBC news at the time.  I am old enough though, to remember when the song “Jack” by the Mighty Gabby, was released.  

The Mighty Gabby: artist, activist and news anchor in one, made sure that the suggestion of private beaches became blasphemy in Barbados for years to come. Generations, unborn at the time of the event, would continue to sing “Dah beach is mine. I could bade any time” as a warning to potential beach elitists.  This feat along with his entire body of work, makes the Mighty Gabby worthy of National honours.

What would have been the case had Gabby never recorded that song? Would the suggestion have been seriously considered? Would the public outcry have been as blaring, if it were not captured and amplified through the mighty lyrics and melody of a social commentary calypso? Would the issue of private beaches have continually resurfaced, or would it have already slipped in through the back door?  Would our resistance to the suggestion be lower, had we not been immunised by the artistry of the Mighty Gabby? We might be paying to enjoy Pebbles Beach all now.

Government may not have been able to drop the full weight of university tuition fees on the heads of Barbadians just so, had the tradition of musical ombudsmen been as strong as years gone by.  At least not so easily.  Imagine if, in 2013 when the decision was being contemplated, some of the most popular songs had addressed it.  In my dream scenario Lil Rick and Gabby would have had a combination tune entitled “Guh Down Cave Hill Caw Dah School is Mine.”

Alas, there was little musical resistance. There was little resistance period. Apart from then Guild President Damani Parris and activist David Comissiong, there were few other piercing shouts of protest. In fact, there were many who mumbled support for the transition.  It came even from among persons who would not have easily afforded to go to university or send their children had it not been heavily Government subsidised.  They were now singing the lyric, “Make them Pay.”  It was then I realised how much Barbados had changed and why stinging social commentary was under threat. 

The bottom line

 Barbados is veering off the path of social democracy to the road of corporate oligarchy.  We are becoming all about the business and the business is ruled by the bottom line.  We are once again accepting the rulership of those that have the biggest bottom lines.  We are motivated by the opportunity to align our bottoms with them and toe their lines to get to the top.  Art that challenges the status quo will be pushed to the bottom.  Music that moves minds and spirits, must get behind music that moves bottoms.

Pun top o’ dat, writing biting social commentary calypso is one of the most difficult writing assignments I can think of.  A master of what you might call serious social commentary is expected to have social activist instincts, a grasp of current affairs like a newspaper editor, the wit of a stand-up comedian, keep his finger on the pulse of the nation like a radio DJ, and sing a sweet melody, in key, while dancing across the stage. 

If he or she makes it to the finals, there will also be pressure to conceptualise an almost Broadway worthy opening presentation. 

This is why Red Plastic Bag is not only one of the greatest calypsonians ever, he is also one of the greatest writers of lyrics ever; the Bajan equivalent of Shakespeare. His catalog is a musical history book: an educational, nation building, and consciousness raising tool as well as something you can dance to. 

RPB’s writing genius is such that at an age where even Pic-O-De-Crop pace is too fast for some he has managed to adapt and produce party hit after hit.  He is a man with his finger on the pulse of the nation.  Even he has indicated publicly, that for him, the kind of social commentary calypso he used to do may be more stress and risk than it is worth financially.

We are all the poorer for not providing him and others like him more incentive to write the kinds of material that promote the public good, pressure politicians and put a check on those who would put profit ahead of people.

The memory of “Jack” is fading.  If someone in the not so distant future were to suggest privatising beaches, would we resist?  Who would amplify the protest of the public in song then?  There are those who are still strict guardians of our calypso heritage. 

Go to a tent and support them. Pressure the radio stations to play their music.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email Adriangreen14