Monday, December 18, 2017

A beautiful energy


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In an interview following his victory in the recent International Soca Monarch competition, the legendary Austin "SuperBlue" Lyons attributed his success to the people of T&T who he insisted have "a beautiful energy". He pointed to the widespread jubilation when Keshorn Walcott won Olympic gold and he said that was one event which motivated him to return to the soca scene.

Prior to SuperBlue's claim, His Excellency President George Maxwell Richards touched on a similar theme when he paid tribute to the high percentage of young people participating in the Tobago House of Assembly elections last month. He said, "I have noted the energy and the creativity that exists particularly among the younger people for whom space must continue to be made." He added optimistically, "A bright and productive future lies before you."

More than the oil and gas that lie below the surface, it is this "beautiful energy" of the people, especially the youth, that is the most valuable asset the nation owns. Unfortunately, it is a resource that can be easily wasted or embezzled, and there is ample evidence we have been guilty of both.

The energy and creativity is perhaps most evident at Carnival time, although the annual celebration also has its share of the crude, the inane and the pretentious. And this year the organisers of the new Dimanche Gras have added the dull and the unimaginative.

However, the increasing number of young boys and girls in pan, calypso and mas suggests all is not lost. In fact, some of the bands at Kiddies Carnival show far more creativity and ingenuity than their adult counterparts.

In calypso, a younger and more female segment is emerging, in stark contrast to the popular view that "kaiso" is dying. And although much more can certainly be done, there is a lot more calypso on the airwaves today than in the so-called good old days when the music was banned during Lent.

In addition, there was a time when panmen were viewed as outcasts and calypsonians competed for a brass crown and a bottle of rum. As young Helon Francis reminded us in his calypso, "Tainted Legacy", the past was not as glorious as is sometimes portrayed. He advises the older generation that before "castigating the youth" they should "go back in times and rediscover the truth".

Beyond Carnival, the younger generation is also making its mark and the President has already articulated their growing involvement in the electoral process. This is one area in which they are sorely needed, as too many of our "experienced" politicians are wedded to divisive concepts of ethnic supremacy. They believe political power is primarily about increasing personal wealth and/or settling scores, and they have no qualms about corrupting the democratic process to fulfil this agenda.

They do not seem to accept that leadership is supposed to inspire, especially when people are hungry for inspiration. Instead it is mauvais-langue, intrigue, cronyism, arrogance and shameless self-promotion. If they would only look beyond their bank accounts and the fawning sycophants who surround them, they would see the tremendous potential that exists.

And on the issue of potential, a word of caution to those investors who are seeking to exploit the commercial possibilities arising from our diverse cultural legacy. We keep hearing about plans to take Carnival to the world and to promote local culture so that more money can be made. There seems to be a school of thought which maintains that cultural art forms are only relevant when they can be sold for a profit. Certainly there can be greater efforts at marketing mas and increasing the international fan base, but there is no need to prostitute the art form for a few dollars more. I remember the late Lord Kitchener expressing concern about the call to make calypso more palatable for the worldwide audience and to produce "crossover" music. Kitch warned at the time, "Take care that when you cross over, you can't get back!"

The annual Super Bowl in the US draws millions of television viewers and Super Bowl ads are regarded as the best in the business. This year, one of the more popular items was a Volkswagen ad featuring American businessmen speaking with thick Jamaican accents. Although it generated some controversy, it is a huge success and popular American comedian DL Hughley admitted it made him want to visit Jamaica and "listen to Bob Marley". It says a lot about the global impact of Jamaican culture when a Jamaican accent is used to sell a German car to an American consumer.

And before we hasten to copy the Jamaican formula, we need to understand that before we sell our culture to the world, we need to sell it to ourselves. The main lesson to be learnt from Jamaica's marketing success is that you must first believe in and respect your own "beautiful energy". This would mean Panorama, the greatest annual explosion of steelband music, will no longer compete with a non-steelband event right on its doorstep and on the very same day.

In closing, let me add my own two cents to the many messages of congratulation that have been sent to president-designate Justice Anthony Carmona, aka the Prophet of Sisyphus, former Calypso King of UWI. If he performs his presidential duties as well as he can sing a calypso, then the State is in good hands.

• Richard Braithwaite is

a management consultant.