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by Steinberg Henry.

Roland ‘Spider’ James (1948-2005), is laid to rest today, July 13. His was the first Calypso Funeral celebrated in Dominica – a celebration of the dead in Calypso. I was pleased, moved. When I connected by Internet to Dominica Broadcasting Corporation, Calypsonian Kelly ‘Ghost’ Williams was singing a verse of – How Great Thou Art -. Davidson ‘Observer’ Victor, a two-time Calypso King sang another, and he was followed by Ian ‘Black Starliner’ Jackson. I heard Derrick ‘Hunter’ St.Rose, himself a King of Calypso, change lyrics of a song he had written to mark the death of Dominica’s fifth Prime Minister Roosevelt Douglas, and apply them to the celebration of Spider’s passing. Then the powerful voice of Ossie Lewis, rang out in eulogy tracing Spider’s contribution to the Art of  Calypso placing his social commentary over and above the political. Thanks to Ossie Lewis, I remembered two of Spider’s Calypsos – – Sanki Song – and – Leo Law -. Leo Austin was the Attorney General who managed drafting of the Prohibited And Unlawful Societies and Associations Act (1974) –known among the masses as The Dread Act. I hear reverberations of Spider: ‘psalm of David/Psalm of David/draw me as you draw Parillon/Psalm of David/Psalm of David/cannot live under Leo law’. In the heat of crisis, Ferdinand Parillon, a minister in the John Administration abandoned the government. Its worth remembering how Spider’s first verse began.’ The zodiac say and still say/Leo represents the Lion/he can also be an egoistic politician’. Spider was not as masked as Chubby and Midnight Groovers when they asked ‘o li yo/o ti mama nou/o ti papa nou/o li yo’. I bounced to Spider’s ‘I singing Sanki for OJ and John/I singing Sanki until homage come/Said I singing Sanki all over town/Labor Party days are done/I singing Sanki Song’. Amazingly, he was also singing Sanki ‘until freedom come’. He won the Calypso Crown that year in 1980. At the funeral service, there was poetry and song from his family members plus a memorable rendition of one of his compositions on saxophone by his brother Herman James. I missed the event. Spider was not a member of the Catholic, Anglican or Methodist churches or denomination. He belonged to what sociologist called a sect – his pastor-celebrant made reference to Yahweh. But death like wind, does not know religion.

Tropical storm Emily was approaching Dominica with rain, thunder, wind that night of the day Spider was buried, mythologically representing a faithful send-off

Calypsonian Spider

from an island where wind, rain, thunder symbolize the presence of God. Herein lies a mystery: the Dominican is not unlike a shintoist in this reverence towards natural forces. Shintoists are Japanese. Less extreme than the religious assumption, is the love that both Dominicans and Shintoists have for longevity, nature, a waterfall, mountain, moon-phases, thunder, charismatic persons – even growth and fertility can be treated by both peoples as having special and inherent delights. Spider was charismatic, to the extent where Dominica Calypso Association celebrated 2006 as Spider Year. The venue for most of that season’s festive events was named Spider City. It is a word to the art and the wise – how remarkable artists  construct their autobiographies.

Spider was reported to have died of cancer. In his 1997 – All That I have -, he comments about a visit he paid to Dr. Carissa Ettiene, then stationed in Dominica. By 2008 this remarkable Dominican woman would be appointed World Health Organization Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Services. Spider during his visit told her about a pain he was feeling in his chest. In song, he reported the beautiful Dominican practitioner told him he was stressed, but he contended ‘Dominica is all that I have’. Fascinating embodiment of a nation in transition, isn’t it? His whole being listened so intently to moods and tenor of the land; lamenting the disappearance of fine moral traditions, and an influx of lifestyles that could only bring Dominica ‘down’ as he described it.

A victory for Calypso. A sad, yet powerful day for his children – their Father’s labor and love for Calypso was not in vain. They should now live through his songs. His pessimism is now their optimism. His point of departure may represent for them a point of entrance. Everytime the Calypso world thought he was out, he returned. He could not stand idly listening to song in his head only, thinking yet doing nothing about the bass-part pounding to his feet, having not been inspired for himself. Indeed, his inspiration to lyricize was not in and off itself. In his soulful song was manifestation of a collective will – he praised his God and informed his people. I can hear his voice now. No wonder there is a storm. The pan which played at his funeral was said to be the music of heaven. We will witness again the rise of another potent force in Calypso. He’s alive in Dominica’s Calypso today. He is born again today. Forest spirits gathered their carbon to listen to voices in the wind today. Chatagnier rock their rings gently in wind in memory of carnival today. Spider, whom Norman ‘Ency’ Cyrille thought should’ve won more than one Crown throughout his Calypso history, and who Super L remembered as the Calypsonian whose delivery every competitor feared on the night of Finals, made an exceptionally unique contribution to fun and play; two ways of enjoyment eroding under the weight of an invisible hand of uninformed organization. But there is resurrection, redemption, and we shall remember him in the voice of another, surely attuned to global whirlwinds as he was.

Today, July 13, 2005, twenty-seven people are killed in Iraq, sixteen of them children. So many children were born today. I can say so many children were buried today including Spider. I cannot say so many rose from the dead today, but it would be redeeming if I could.

(This is an extract from Steinberg Henry’s soon-to-be-published work Calypso Drifting Now (An Archive Of Sorts)).

© Steinberg Henry 2010.

Steinberg Henry is a Dominican writer and researcher in Culture and Wellbeing. This extract comes from his new book Calypso Drifting (An Archive Of Sorts) which should be in print by year-end 2010. He is the author of two other works: A Thick Environment (Notes On Dominica’s World Creole Music Festival, 2001) and As She Returns (2009). Steinberg Henry Stays just outside Attlanta, Georgia.

7 comments to SPIDER!!

  • Augustin liberator St louis

    Spider my friend my brother may his soul rest in peace.

  • Jefferson "Challie" Challenger

    The essence of Spider is captured beautifully here by Steinberg. Not sure why it is so difficult to appreciate what you have when you have it! You tend to see it only after it is gone. I will amplify Ency’s thoughts here: You should have won more than one crown!
    But wherever you are ma Bro, “Thanks for your contribution; you made us proud!! RIP!”

  • Arlington James

    In August 1997, Spider performed olne of the suport acts at King Hurricane’s 10th Anniversary Special. (Stein was MC at that show, which was thoroughtly enjoyed by the patrons). How I wish that we could have had a SPIDER showcasing of his armry of his memorable hits, delivered bby himself … From “Mas, Mas, Play Mas”, all the way through to “All that I Have”. But…..

  • Richie Rocks

    Roland ‘Mighty Spider’ James has surfaced time and time again in conversations of Dominica Calypso. My most captivating experience of him was in a sweeping finals performance of perhaps his all time greatest anthem, the 1980 “Hello Hypocrit”. I remember well the resounding euphoria of the night after the man had satiricalized in top form, his critical analysis of the then ruling conservative government, in such a majestically catchy and well composed song. It was like the whole nation had suddenly descended, finding their voice with this song. The massive victorious mood was something quite new to me and was probably my first introduction to a frenzied crowd. Quite a liberating feeling to behold at fifteen. I heard that song ONCE, live, and maybe a few times on radio, and that was more than enough to imprint in my mind for many years to this day. I am happy to know that his contributions have deservedly found scholarly merit in the writings of Steinber Henry. Lets hope that some of the calypsonians today are able to draw inspiration from his clever witty songs. Long live Spider’s memory and music.

  • colin baptiste

    one of d greatest ever he is in my top 5

  • Anthony osmael

    I will miss listening to his music. Loved Spider.

  • Vellie Nicholas-Benta

    I am just reading this moving article by Mr Henry and I’m so moved! This conversation is relevant today as it was yesterday. Long live Calypso!

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