Saturday, December 16, 2017

As always, ready for the road


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Teenage daughter, who spent the Old Year's over there, returned with T-shirt bearing the samaan-tree logo and memories of the Bunji Garlin "Ready for the road" song, with its signature electronic chimes and synthesised staccato trumpet riffs, that had been played at a TOP (Tobago Organisation of the People) meeting.

The campaign rallies, I expect, must also be soca party events involving T-shirt giveaways. But I notice a kind of comeback for the long-time word "fete". I'd been moved to pay more attention to the words, especially those in soca, where the utility of pungent words can be reduced to garnishes for the dance rhythm.

Back to "fete". Two years ago, Benjai, over a soca rhythm sampled from 1980s Ed Watson, sang: "We from Trinidad and Tobago…I's a Trini...I's a Trini…a proud, proud Trini!"

In this election campaign that often appears directed against a place called Trinidad, Benjai's "Trini" doesn't work as a short-form collective reference to both T&T.

Benjai can this year be heard proclaiming: "I's a feter" (with the "-ah" stress on the second syllable). Disapprovingly, I had watched "feter" creeping into newspaper reporting prose. Now, Benjai may be giving the usage legitimacy.

 I failed to find "feter" in Lise Winer's dictionary of T&T "English/Creole". And when I'm not looking, the auto-correcting MacBook program keeps changing it to "deter".

It's been years since I have been able to sit through an entire calypso tent programme. These days, I have to "cover" it as work.

Reckoning the shortfall of bottoms on seats, the tents, absent of State subsidy, cannot pay their rent and their talent. Most radio stations just ignore the calypso output, so it's not until the big Skinner Park Kaiso Fiesta broadcast that mainstream audiences are introduced to most current calypsoes.

Soca, then, at these times constitutes our immediate personal environment. We are engulfed by the constant circular celebration of the action in soca events, at which everyone is, as it were, looking in a mirror and endlessly admiring the same thing that everyone is doing.

It's a single theme, with few variations. Tirelessly, critical masses assemble to do the same things, mouthing a handful of hook lines absorbed into memory through repetition.

International pop songs are invariably about love. But soca is about soca, about dancing it, about singing the easily remembered short lines.

As the Bunji Garlin song plays, I scribble. "Twenty-four parties we hit in a row…. We going to party all night…. Nobody want to dance by theyself…Everybody want to dance on somebody…. We ready…We ready…."

The refrain "We ready…" he repeats ten times. Maybe it's the church influence, like repeating key words in the rosary.

One large excitement of this season comes from the return of SuperBlue, more revered now as a producer of superstar offspring and offspring-in-law. The originator of soca as-spectacle, SuperBlue has delivered a song this year, explicitly drawing upon Christian religious themes.

"Hallelujah", he sings, in a benediction of the "Fantastic Friday" of the Soca Monarch. "If the Lord is our shepherd…Who shall we fear…. We are blest by the best…. The party start…. Mash up the place…. Thank God, it's Friday…."

This is SuperBlue, master of the craft, who aims to raise people to the highest heights at Soca Monarch. He finds the words for the phrasing scripted to pump an exciting musical moment to a pinnacle. "The bouncing start…The bouncing start…" his refrain goes on, ten times. After which, well, anything can happen.

 I know I am narrowing the focus. Soca gets by with fewer and fewer words, simply repeated, maybe 40 in all: "wine", "rag", "jam", "wave", "misbehave", "free up", "bumper", "bubble", "mash up", "work it", "wave".  Soca is about the now-internationalised but still "Trini" goings-on Benjai attributes to "feters".

At my request, a historian explicated how "fete" expressions evolved. In the late 1950s, he said, it was "a slow wine, perhaps a jock waist and, occasionally, the dog jook. Decent with a mere hint of the vulgar. Today, (it's) a more ostentatious celebration of the body."

It happened that I arrived at the season with mind full of impulses and attitudes deriving indirectly from VS Naipaul after reading the Patrick French biography of him late last year.

It appears that VS, the ultimate man of words, writing in England, once vowed "to show these people that I can beat them at their own language". He did. But he also retained for 25 years an Argentinian outside woman who, he said, had got by, and kept him, with only 50 words of English.

I'm yet to read literary or clinical diagnoses of the Naipaullian condition. But I derived an insight that bacchanal is a Trini, if not a T&T, condition, a stripped-down readiness to "love up" things and occasions of the flesh.

If you can imagine Nobel laureate Sir Vidia actually speaking in Trini dialect, then you could picture him swimming, in company with Sam Selvon, in waters off Cedros, both men only in their jockey shorts.

And, yes, VSN has been known to sing a calypso. The world is what it is.