The revival of the Crop Over festival back in 1974 has to stand as one of the highlights of Barbados’ social development since independence. Those of us old enough would remember the days of “doh sing nuh banjo in this house”; when “good music” was limited to the Euro-classical genre – Chopin and Beethoven and Handel; when popular music was almost exclusively the music of North American and European singers – Brook Benton and Marty Robbins, and Connie Francis and the Beatles.
Indeed, even today many Barbadians are still obsessed with the music of these artistes, to which they have given the golden title “oldie goldies”. (Presumably the vintage music of Kitchener, Sparrow, Keith Campbell and orchestra or the Blue Rhythm Combo would not quality for this designation).
But with Crop Over came a proliferation in calypso composition, and indeed a new embrace of our indigenous calypso music. And the National Cultural Foundation, especially under the visionary Elombe Mottley, can take the credit for much of this.
Who would have thought that this wonderful development would degenerate into the debauchery now witnessed on stage every year. It started with something called the Party Monarch competition, then they added the Sweet Soca competition to that and this year we will have the Bashment Soca competition.
What is bashment? It’s everything you get on the Party Monarch stage multiplied by two: calypsos at what appears to be 300 beats per minutes, almost completely devoid of lyrical merit, and dramatised by scantily clad females and males indulging in the most licentious dance movements short of naked sex on stage.
In these presentations young girls can be seen bending over with their heads virtually touching the ground, shaking their semi-nude buttocks at the audience, or with young men gyrating on them in the most vulgar manner.
The whole exercise is best summed up as an excursion into mindless bestiality, totally unbecoming of civilised beings.
Traditional boundaries for public conduct are fast disappearing, as more and more those who chart our cultural paths pander to the lowest common denominator in youth behaviour, all for the sake of thirty pieces of silver.
It can be difficult to see the trees when we are in the woods, and as we wallow in this new moral freedom, led by the heady exuberance of the youth, we fail to take cognisance of the damage being done to the very fabric of our society by the promotion of this morally loose culture. Those with power to shape the lives of the youth must lead and never be led.
If ever there was a time for those of sound judgement and sober minds to stand up and be counted, it is now. Let us tell the framers of cultural policy and the promoters of cultural development they need to pull back from the brink of the great abyss of decadence threatening to suck us into its core.
But more importantly they need to devote some of their attention to the more sober elements of our culture. There are many Barbadian young people engaged in the study and performance of music who are being totally ignored in this mad craze for bashment.
They are singers, pianists, steel pannists, saxophonists, violinists and organists.
How encouraging if they could see more of themselves on national television or hear their music on national radio. When will we see a competition in which they get the chance to vie for big prizes like the rest? There’s a dearth of indigenous church music in Barbados. Has the agency responsible for cultural development ever thought of sponsoring a competition to encourage songwriters to compose hymns that speak to the environment and experience of the Caribbean?
The best hymns from this competition could form the basis for a new Caribbean hymnal that would enrich the musical culture of the church with a Barbadian or Caribbean character.
The evidence is there for all who wish to see that we have crossed the proverbial rubicon and have now entered a new social paradigm fraught with ominous possibilities for all of us. This new paradigm makes little to no provision for traditional notions of decency, morality – and I daresay common sense. Without supernatural intervention of some kind I fear that our society as we now know it will become a thing of the past.
– OLUTOYE WALROND