Friday, February 12, 2010

Calypso # 1: Blame it on de Gardener

As per the post immediately preceding this one, I'm as serious as a heart attack when I say that I have written a Calypso this year. Initially, I had intended to write one about the introduction of the Breathalyser and the lengths people were prepared to go to avoid it (including in one case a lady who offers to blow something else). But that just hasn't gotten off the ground as yet due to an apparent lack of either a) confidence or b) inspiration.

Enter the very latest in the series of gaffes perpetrated on this nation by the current band of Government officials: Water-Lawn-Gate!

The background:
The country is in the midst of a severe drought and as result the authorities have taken to extreme measures to ensure that water is being conserved.

The sin:
It would appear that the Prime Minister (or someone on his household staff) takes a serious issue with the idea of dry, brown grass adorning the front lawn of his palatial $180M palace and decided that it was best to run the sprinklers until the heavens open up. The authorities intervened (after the press highlighted the oversight) and ordered them to stop.

The outcry:
This happened less than 24 hours after the PM called on his constituents to do all they can to conserve water - so you can well imagine the hue and cry.

The aftermath:
The Landscaping Contractor whose apparent duty it was to keep the grass green was fired forthwith (mercifully without the benefit of Commission of Enquiry or the appointment of a Special Investigator). Forget the Butler, the Gardener did it!

So touched were the Jamaican people by the plight of the Prime Minister's lawn that several forward-thinking citizens decided to ship $8M worth of the finest Jamaican 'grass' to Trinidad to make up for any deficit caused by the drought. (See story here:,115717.html ).

Inspired by the above, I was able to write a calypso in all of four minutes as the lyrics literally flowed out of me faster than the water out of a Hotel standpipe. I've called my masterpiece 'Blame it on de Gardener' and I have every intention of recording it - so doh pirate meh. Yuh hear?!

Blame it on de Gardener

Verse One
It would take a degree
in Patopsychology
To understand truly –
what happenin to we

Wid all kind ting taking place
And all kinda people runnin de place
It is plain to see
It is plain to see

Before you bawl and you complain
And point a finger at Minister ‘Wha he name’
Blame it on de man
Wid a big hose in his hand

No water in yuh pipe – Blame it on de Gardener
No police in sight – Blame it on de Gardener
No judge to protect yuh rights – Blame it on de Garnener
How we goh sleep tonight? – Blame it on de Gardener

Verse Two
I doh mean to strain yuh brain
Or cause you undue pain
I cyar plant at all
I only wettin lawn

All kinda big men cryin here
And big, big money spendin – where?
It is plain to see
It is plain to see

Next time you bawl and you complain
And point yuh finger at Minister Wha’ she name
Blame it on de one
De one wid de green thumb

Chorus :
Panday lose he stand – Blame it on de Gardener
Kamla break she hand – Blame it on de Gardener
Hazel have a plan – Blame it on de Gardener
Sleep alone in St Ann’s – Blame it on de Gardener

Instrumental / Percussion break:
(Now wet meh…….)

Million dollar flag – Blame it on de Gardener
Summits full of swag – blame it on de Gardener
New Taxes – cat in bag – Blame it on de Gardener
Calder start to brag! – Blame it on de Gardener

Verse Three:
Wid de IQ of a flea
Dat Sando duncee
Have all of T&T
Like a set a damn bobolee

De kinda tiefin going on
Not a soul see nuttin wrong
But it is plain to see
It so plain to see

Next time instead of bawl and complain
Pelt a stone at Minister Wha he name
Blame it on de man
Who yuh tell to wet de land

Swine flu come and gone – Blame it on de Gardener
Students watchin porn – Blame it on de Gardener
Comission takin long (Right Max!) – Blame it on de Gardener
Whatever going wrong – Blame it on de Gardener

Wid all kind ting taking place
And all kinda people runnin de place
It is plain to see
It is plain to see

De Mighty Sobriquet is born!

This week I gave birth to my latest alter-ego: De Mighty Sobriquet. I have written poetry since I was ten. And admittedly I tried (and failed) at being a calypsonian before in High School although in one particularly memorable year I sang (attempted to sing, whatever!) my own tune, sang back-up on two more AND made an important appearance as 'Soca Smurf' during yet another performance. Its not that calypso has ever been my first choice for artistic expression - but in this island you sometimes need to give something a try before you decry it.

So its been two decades since I was pelted with wet toilet paper and booed off the stage (by my own classmates mind you!) and since that time I have not put pen to paper once (out of jest) but I cultivated a serious appreciation for Calypso as an artform.

Now, I love Machel as much as the next guy but please be mindful that Soca and Calypso (as characterized by calypsoes in its heyday) are at best third cousins, twice removed with suspicious grandparents all round. What passes as music nowadays is utterly disposable and largely forgettable. Even now as Carnival fast approaches I am still experiencing a great deal of difficulty in discerning between this year's crop of 'jump / wine / jam' songs and those of prior years. It says alot that the favorite for this year's Road March competition (for the uninitiated, the Road March is simply that one song played the most times during the Parade of the Bands on Carnival Monday and Tuesday) is the first attempt by two renowned radio DJs with no past pedigree or linkage to the industry. As infectious as Palance is this year, will people still be palancing down de road two, five or even twenty five years from now?

Even the main competition among more traditional calypsonians appears to be suffering the effects of a combination of the creative drought and the shortened collective attention spans. Not only are the songs largely unoriginal and oftimes fall far short of the double entendre brilliance and rebellious protest of past masters such as Sparrow, Kitchener, Cypher and Spoiler, but the format of the competition has now adapted so that modern day calypsonians need only expend the energy of producing just one worthy calypso to be judged upon. Needless to say - this has not helped at all.

I am certain that I am not alone when I say that I miss calypsoes of yesteryear and their ability to make one laugh, to titillate, to tell a story, to reflect the ills of society, to build up heroes, and to tear down would be kings. Calypsoes are the original rebel songs born from the ribald tradition of the European minstrels crossed with the rhythms of Africa and India. They were a means of expression for the generations before now. And a way to make the world around us seem so much closer.

Certainly the world started to take notice and for a while came to us. The Andrews Sisters hit 'Rum and Coca-Cola' is originally a calypso written and sung by Lord Invader. And calypso was popular enough for actor Robert Mitchum to record an LP of them in 1957. I have long held that Calypso was on the crest of becoming a very relevant, popular and international artform in the 1940's and 50's and were it not for Bill Haley and the Comets it could have well been. In reality, Rock 'n' Roll became the choice of the mainstream and Calypso was duly consigned to being an exotic and niche delicacy known and appreciated by a dwindling number of admirers.

Even here locally, and in spite of this being its birthplace, Calypso is underappreciated and overlooked routinely and like the traditional mas that I wrote of in my previous post, appears to be facing a certain death. But as with my other ambition (playing Bookman) perhaps there is still time (and place) for De Mighty Sobriquet to bring aid to Calypso and ultimately play a part in its revival.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Viey la Cou

I have long harboured a burning desire to portray the 'Bookman' in our local Carnival celebrations. Bookman is in short a caricature of Lucifer who spends the two days of our national festival making annotations into his 'book' as to which souls are his to claim come Judgement Day.

I have always approached the character with a great sense of levity and irreverence, and have tended to ask half jokingly: Are the masqueraders the dammed? Or is Bookman in fact jotting down the names of those who fail to take full advantage of two of the greatest days of revelrie and abandon known to modern man?

Traditional 'mas' is rich in its history and its portrayals. From Bookman to the Pierrot Grenade to the Burokeets - each comes with own sense of origin, history and significance. Sadly, traditional mas is dying and could soon be extinct.

The last bastion of this form of carnival, an event known as Viey La Cou is aso apparently making way for the death knell of bikinis and mind-numbing music and has been moved out of Port of Spain altogether this season, suffering the ignominy of a mundane name change as well. (Its now to be known by its less impressive Creole to English translation: 'The Old Yard'.)

I have not yet read any of the reviews of this year's Old Yard event but I can surmise from the level of local support and patronage in previous years as well as the fact that Viey La Cou had become a true tourist event, that it was probably a poorly attended affair.

Isnt it ironic that it is always the foreigner who seems to fully appreciate Carnival when it tends towards its most interesting and creative?

I hope that for its own sake that in the same way that so many other aspects of our Carnival has been exported to cities around the world, that perhaps traditional mas could be granted one last reprieve, and perhaps in the years to come we will all be poring over photos of Pierrot Grenades in Boston. Minstrels in Toronto. Firemen in Miami. Burokeets in London. Dame Lorraines and Baby Dolls in Tokyo.

And of course, among them all, the solitary figure of Bookman, (pronounced nose, horns, goatee and all) taking careful note in his oversized ledger, of those who have deigned to preserve the artform and the names of those who have chosen to forget it.