Saturday, January 20, 2018

Carnival and uncaring leaders

Clearly very disgusted with present soca and chutney music, R Ackbarali, in a letter to the editor in a Sunday paper, says “we have to contend with the utter rubbish these people call lyrics. The public is fed up of the crap. What kind of society have we become to accept these performers’ utterances as music and culture?” 

Sarah Parks, in her letter headlined “Dotish, dangerous soca lyrics rotting T&T”, says many soca songs “promote tribalism, violence, immorality and foolish decision-making”, telling children that “fun as an adult is to be an alcoholic and to indulge in lewd mash up rather than build and nurture... that destroying families to fulfil sexual lust is okay.” She concludes, “it is nonsense that those who sing these nation-destroying songs get paid (by the Government) to do so.” 

These are just two samples of the growing concern at the condition of our Carnival music that produces a preponderance of lyrics like these:  “And when she flip, and then bus the split, ah feel like I am in a red light district”; and  “a gyul in front ah me, ah prowling like a hunter, gyul wine on it, wine on it”; and “when soca play and dem gyul shake the bumper, every man say they activate the lumber”; and  “any woman that can play the role, vertical, horizontal, once they can handle the pole”. Behold our “soca bards”. Hear their poetry.

It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of citizens are either at home, at the beach or abroad during the Carnival. But turning away is another example of our powerlessness. Our Carnival continues its decline, eating away at the social fabric, and all we can do is turn to the beach, Miami or cable TV whilst the swampland spreads to eventually engulf us all. Sarah Parks says, “the nation spends over four billion dollars a year of tax dollars on implementation of counter-measures to undo the damage brought on by immoral, violence-inciting soca lyrics”.

But tens of thousands, mainly young of all classes, jump, dance, prance in vacuity. This is dangerous. These thousands and their high priests of carnality are carriers of a generational cultural disease that has been corroding the society for over 25 years, producing soullessness and an epidemic of annual teenage pregnancies for example. And the parents of elite participants shouldn’t fool themselves that their children are safe from contamination in their exclusive high-priced fetes and segregated Carnival, separating the “huge constituency of the upscale, fit and attractive young people” from the lower classes. They too “wine and grind” to the same music, mouthing the debased lyrics, the women, according to a female commentator on a US$500 fete, “made to bend over like dogs in a circus, whilst a man tames them with his loins”. They then return to “decency” at home or work, the respectable routine, the utter aridity that makes them return every year for more. The disease is deep in this philistine place. 

But neither the singers nor their followers bear the major blame. Performing artistes driven by monetary gain, will produce muck if it brings profit and mindless youth will always follow the crowd, always doing the “in thing” when there is no alternative. And we have had none for decades. Ackbarali bemoans in his letter that for the past 22 years we have been hearing the inanities, “‘everybody scream’, ‘put your hanna in the air’, ‘raise yuh rag’, ‘wave yuh flag’, ‘anybody from Trinidad, anybody from Jamaica, anybody from Penal, anybody from Arima, anybody from Barbados?’” He ends up pleading, “somebody, do something, our society is in a decrepit state.”

Any leader listening? No. They too are following, not the music but the path to power. None will stand up against the depravity in our soca and chutney music. None will threaten to withhold funding until lyrics improve. Instead they identify with the degeneracy to win votes. They do not care to lead us to a cultured, discerning, refined society. In our 50 years as a nation, no government has had the vision and fortitude to arrest the cultural decay of the society. Listen to Keith Rowley in the face of this decadent Carnival: “we are about to witness what has been described as the Greatest Show on Earth for what will surely be two rapturous days...when we demonstrate our creativity, fun-loving nature and of course, our ability to party like no other.” With such emptiness, will he ever develop the insight to discern the condition? Thank God Kamla was not here so we have been spared her predictable artificial rhapsodies over the Carnival. 

So don’t expect any real effort from our present politicians to stop the barbarisation of our society and the trivialisation of the human condition by the present Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago, its soca, chutney, mas bands et al. Don’t expect them to see the urgent and absolute need for collaboration and a national enterprise in this diverse society, to fashion a comprehensive cultural policy and plan for Trinidad and Tobago.  Will they ever realise that such a plan will help in the fight against crime, drugs, teenage pregnancies, and all the social ills facing this country? Don’t they know it could help to diversify the economy, develop national character and help to secure the future for the children? But alas, if they can’t see the need to collaborate against crime which is on the surface before their very eyes, how will they ever act together at the deeper level. Of course they joined hands recently to increase their salaries. Our leaders really do not care.

• Ralph Maraj is a playwright, actor and former cabinet minister