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OFF CENTRE: So why you got to ‘judge’ kaisos?

Sherwyn Walters

OFF CENTRE: So why you got to ‘judge’ kaisos?

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What are some of your favourite songs? Let’s Get It On? Stardust? Burn? Amazing Grace? Ten To One Is Murder? Thriller? Kiss Me?
What about No Woman No Cry? I Will Always Love You? I Hope You Dance? Ent? Emmerton? Over The Rainbow? Kiss Me? The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face? Bromley? African Queen? My Way?
Or perhaps Umbrella? I Kissed A Girl? Unconditionally? How Many More? Bridge Over Troubled Water? Sometimes When We Touch? Something’s Happening? Dance With My Father? Strange Fruit?
Why are they your favourite songs? How did they pull you in and lodge themselves in your heart/psyche – or wherever it is that songs ensconce themselves? And got you weeks/months/years later walking ’bout singing them, whistling them, humming them, requesting them, in your quiet moments embracing them, getting a special feeling from them, reminiscing with them, letting them wash over you?
Did you ever talk about them in the way that you talk about songs during Crop Over?
Did they become your favourites by meeting you at the point of your holding forth about something you called “strong lyrics” or “positive message” or “interesting topic” – where you were not talking taste or emotional impact or experiential power but expressing yourself in what amounts to an effort at deconstruction?
 Where am I going with this? I think we are committing emotional suicide. Strangling our souls as we ease into the sometimes strange follow-patttern tracts of our culture, as we step outside of our normalcy and end up in a place that does not feed our spirit.
How? With all the tried and true ways that you have arrived at liking songs and installing them as your favourites, when it comes to Crop Over you abandon yourself and try to judge songs in ways that you don’t authentically do!
Why all of a sudden, with no gun to yuh head, you got to slide into clothes that don’ fit you?
The people who have to technically deconstruct songs or films or novels or plays or news stories or English “compositions” and can’t in those roles be real audience deserve some pity.
I don’t mean that disrespectfully: I simply mean that those involvements, some of which are engaged in for noble purposes, do not truly engage the product in the way it was meant to be engaged. And the assessors have to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly.
Do you think that when they are not sitting down in the formal judges’ chair, judges are looking at songs like competition judges? If I use myself as an example, the answer is no.
That is a special role, taken on at special times. A dirty job, you could say, and if competition is a necessary evil, someone’s got to do it – but afterwards you run away to real life and take in songs authentically.
Look, I have judged several calypso competitions and I worked for 30 years in what is arguably one of the world’s most sophisticated set-ups for assessing exam composition products (among other things), with its preparation, standardisation, quality assurance, assessment layers, fail-safes, ongoing dynamic interactions, allowances for necessary adjustments, refinements and reassessments.
Why I mention those things? Because although under the Caribbean Examinations Council system I assessed so many stories, so many persuasive essays (this wasn’t no four/five-hour once-in-a-while thing; this was hours pun top o’ hours pun top o’ hours, days pun top o’ days pun top o’ days), I always, like any normal human being, wanted to get back to the real world of reading “compositions”, not to formally judge them. For their own worth. For the purposes for which they were written.
And when I judged calypso I always wanted to get back to the real thing.
You have any idea, whether you are assessing exam “compositions” or calypsos, what an organised body of knowledge you got to bring, how much technical stuff you have to keep applying, how much weighting, how you got to keep the competing aspects in line, how much comparisons you got to keep going, how you got to keep to a standardised approach (’cause you en just walking in with your expertise and doing what seemeth right in your own eyes), how alert you have to be to nuances, how hard you got to concentrate for very long periods?
And let me tell you, as somebody who has walked the different roads, if, just for the sake of argument, a persuasive essay got ten things you must bear in mind, then a story got 50 and a song got 250 because it is not only the worded composition, but elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, prosody, a whole range of things having to do with song form, memory, considerations of the artistic, delivery – and in stage-presented calypso, performance. So you could imagine how much practice and consultation during the event would be necessary to comfortably cover the bases.
So I don’t understand why with nothing tying them to such a formal arrangement, so many non-judges want to jump informally into the judges’ seat.
And for what? You trying to help a songwriter (and why would you think that would be one of the better ways, anyhow?)? You practising to be a judge? Are you seeking to aid people who, for some reason between you and them, show that they want to look at songs more technically?
With all this personal “judging”, songs are turned into little more than cultural objects. Unless you must, why would you want to make a song an object, when you are free to make it a companion or an experience?
Yuh like Gun Town? Well, you – yes, you, average listener – don’t have to try to judge it like you is a competition judge. Just guh ’long and let it engage you – as you do all through the rest of the year with other songs. Unless they threaten you wid a bull pistle, that’s where it’s at. You don’t have to be a cultural follow-pattern.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]