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Calypso Drift

The following excerpt is from Steinberg Henry’s “Calypso Drift.” It is drawn from Chapter 59.

— In 1987, Super L would win song of the year with his lyrically outstanding “Good Citizens,”highlightingSteinberg Dominican musician and music teacher L. M. Christian, Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister Dr. Eric Williams, Barbados’s prime minister Errol Barrow, Grenada’s prime minister Maurice Bishop, Jamaica’s reggae superstar Bob Marley, Jamaica’s black liberation leader Marcus Garvey, Antigua’s Cricketer Andy Roberts, Antigua’s Cricketer Vivian Richards, Trinidad’s storyteller Paul Keens-Douglas, Jamaica’s storyteller Louise Bennett, Tobago’s Calypso Rose, Trinidad’s and Grenada’s Dr. Sparrow, Dominica’s obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Bernard Sorhaindo and noted trade unionist E. C. Loblack, Super L’s father. He would remind me, however, that judges were heavily party politicized in the mid- to late-1980s. Results were just as questionable. I may complicate the matter further by adding that somewhere between 1982 and 1988, Rabbit asked a calypsoic question in his rendition “Tell Me Why.” He sang, “tell me why The New Chronicle / is the ruling party Bible.” Personally, as in the case of Spider’s “Hypocrite,” I do not need the correct year to appreciate value in this select narrative artifact.

What research excitement!

Going back to Ency, I think the Exile song was the most popular, if not as equally popular as his brilliant rendition on rising HIV issues. This is debatable, to the extent that it generates a rich discourse on the confluence of cadence-lypso, calypso, and artistic reclamation of primary motifs in popular song. I believe the road march in 1987 was Gordon Henderson and Exile One penetrating the scene with “L’Hivenage.” That was chante mas, battle song at its Kaiso-Driftbest, not anti-calypso as such, but within and against a strong and pervasive legitimized American culture in song, attitude, dance, and politics a la Michael Jackson et al. Ha-ha. Ency and I will be arguing this for a long time, and he loves a good calypso discussion. He would fight back again in 1988 with “Celebration Year” and “I Must Sing About It.” It seems that he was being criticized for not being global in lyrical content. He responded in “I Must Sing About It.” “I sympathize with Ethiopia / and all those famine victims out there / I am happy the world has heard their cries of despair / I pray to God peace would reign in Lebanon / and that the Russians will move their troops from Afghanistan / But what about AIDS / I am very much concerned / especially we got many homos in our homes / I try to warn my people about it / on my song dey place a ban / giving de impression that I am a vulgar man / O society playing bias / keeping me down for indecency / de same society is condoning buggery and adultery.” By then, he was leaping in the tradition of this text. He didn’t care whether Freedom Party hated him. He had other things thinking. Scrunter had mushroomed, tieing for road march with Cauliflower. While in 1988, the female calypsonian Cauliflower sang in diamond tones about “Pressure,” Scrunter sang “Catholic.”

Scrunter drew Pentecostal girls into his commentary sphere, wittily lyricizing that “when dem young girls change deir religion / some of dem is just to sex with precaution.” That was 1988! What an uncovering. He seemed to have observed their out-of-church behavior. They were leaving his Catholic faith. “When dem young boys playing pastor / is just to knock on those young girls door.” Proliferation of pastors had begun.

A calypsonian functions lyrically in the upper and underworld, unmasking semblances of sacredness. Semblances. Stone turnings.

1988 was the year Super L sang “Proud West Indian.” He was vehemently opposed to “foreign intervention,” “cultural domination,” America’s tendency to invade and cause “disaster,” and the silencing of OECS leaders whom he said “love to bow to Reagan.” West Indian pride was put on trial at the dawn of the 1980s. As a subset, the OECS nation states needed commanding voices hailing integrity, dignity, and wonder history. Calypsonians structured a platform for processing and sending these virtues out to politicians, but those of the ’80s and ’90s barely saw beyond economic performance.

Toward the end of the 1980s, Rabbit was still in striking form and Hurricane kindling to face Scrunter. By then, Ency discerned it was time to leave. Let it be remembered, however, that throughout the 1980s, Norman “Ency” Cyrille was a prolific writer who won the OECS monarch

In 1989 and 1990, Hurricane, Rabbit, and Scrunter lost to Merlin “Wizard” St. Hilaire, though Rabbit in 1989 and Hurricane in 1990 captured cool road marches. Rabbit, in “You Follow,” related the story of Chief Magistrate Glenworth Emmanuel, a Freedom Party appointee who was sending young men to prison one after another. Rabbit drew attention to “violence” and “burglary” rampant in the country in 1989.

American soap operas, long before cell phones and long after transistors were so well cultivated in the Dominican mind, in 1989, Wizard was naming his bouncy song “Young and Restless.” His other calypso was a telling commentary for that time. It was titled “Feed My Brother.” Its lyrical sweep was broad reminiscent of Ency’s reach. He sang, “one dollar will buy a bullet / a dollar can also buy two loaves of bread / why do we spend it all / to end the life of our fellowmen / such a better world it would be / if we end starvation instead.”

In true calypsoic tones summoning the powerful, he called on Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Reagan to turn their eyes to Africa’s famine and hunger, to Jamaica and Haiti still teetering from effects of a 1988 hurricane.

While Wizard scythed the global songscape, in 1989, Scrunter was involved in village productivity wailing justice for farmers in “De Farmer Banana.” He tried to place banana’s centrality to economy in context, singing “is me who feed the town,” “pay civil servants increments,” “pay for the new hydro plant dey build for we.”

In 1989, the Charles administration had initiated a new hydro expansion scheme. In fact,

under the tutelage of free-market America, privatization of every potential resource, especially utilities, was a buzzing idea, ideology. Furthermore, though still the leading economic indicator, traditional agriculture was slipping under the weight of negligence and a false sense of openness. Tourism could not replace agriculture as was thought. That expression of capitalism never seemed to materialize. In the case of Dominica, William Demas, Walter Rodney, and Andrew Royer would understand why the replacement would never work. Even the spirit of the landmass would revolt!

 Calypso Drift/Chapter 59. The 2014 publication is available in hard and soft covers and as an e-book. Currently, they can be sourced at