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Hark! The Herald Sparrow Sings

By Sunity Maharaj

 Now that the prime minister has done her bit to boost the economy of China or whichever country her toys are imported from, distributed enough plastic to keep her memory alive in landfills for centuries to come, reinforced gender stereotypes through gift-giving to yet another generation, racked up new debts to political financiers and made her contribution to obesity by incentivising the purchase of flour, oil and rice, we can now turn to the real glad tidings of the season.

The fighting voice of the Sparrow came as we were summoning our collective might to push Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology” through the leaden door to international recognition of our music.  

On the phone to the Guardian’s Peter Ray Blood last Tuesday was the universally-acclaimed Calypso King of the World, an entertainer who has planted calypso’s flag on every continent. In trademark style, he had a message for us from New York:

“Tell my fans and the people of T&T, they better watch out, because Sparrow is coming to town; and I am coming out dancing.  People think it will be Santa, but when they look closely they will see it is Sparrow.”

 With that he broke into a few bars of “Santa Claus is coming to town”.

With Sparrow’s record, only a fool will break his own heart by betting against the Birdie. 

But whether or not he ever makes it back on stage, Sparrow must surely know that he, above all, has been the soundtrack of our lives. 

He is written into the story of our years even as he has written them for us, chronicling and interpreting the details of our lives in a style that continues to defy the seasonality of the art by keeping our hearts singing and our feet dancing. 

After the diabetic coma into which he had fallen in September, it is a Christmas gift just to know that he has emerged with the fight and fire as intact as ever.

Admittedly, our debt to Sparrow is unpayable; but we must try.

For starters, he must not be allowed to shoulder those exorbitant medical bills by himself. Any honour that we might consider bestowing on Sparrow when, as inevitably, he, too, dies, will be debased if we fail to give him tangible support now. As the most enduring representative of Trinidad calypso in the United States and around the world, one would expect that the NY Consulate and its Consul, Nan Ramgoolam, have been in touch with Sparrow and his family throughout the period of his illness and that they have the information to coordinate the handling of his bills on behalf of the people and government of T&T.

If they haven’t, they must do so now.

If Sparrow does return to the stage it must only be because it gives him joy, not because of bills to be paid.

As the global herald of calypso finds his voice again, we also glory in Bunji Garlin’s successive breakthroughs among US audiences.

Bunji’s dedication to his own difference conveys a commitment to craft and artistic integrity that are reaping their own rewards. 

As a grandchild of calypso, his sound marks an evolution that bridges oceans of cultural division while opening new channels of musical communication.  

As always, our artistes are leading the way while we stay behind and talk.

Imagine how much more useful it would’ve been to our creative productivity and economy if the toys distributed under State patronage had been designed and made in T&T. We could make sense of our investment in art and craft education if we had the self-confidence to tie it to existing markets for goods.  

As T&T’s Santa Claus-in-chief, we could applaud the PM’s penchant for toy distribution if we knew that it was tied to a local content strategy designed to stimulate, support and grow the non-oil sector. 

We would applaud her even more if we were assured that the materials used were bio-degradable and designed to convey the message of environmental conservation to the children and adults around them. 

And imagine what kudos would be sent her way if we discovered that her Christmas gift-giving was informed by a gender sensitivity designed to break down old stereotypes that keep us trapped in a destructive battle between the sexes.

A more imaginative approach to government expenditure might also have suggested a gift subsidy for healthy, locally-produced Christmas fare instead of imported flour, oil and rice. But, of course, all of this would’ve needed planning to transform mere spending into strategic expenditure. Without planning, expenditure is just consumption with no potential for becoming a stimulus for production.

But Christmas is a gift that keeps giving. Assuming that the Government holds to the end of 2014, the Prime minister will have another chance to redeem herself by challenging the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development to come up with imaginative ways for ensuring that every cent spent in spreading Christmas joy goes towards building the local creative sector, whether or not it is paid for by the treasury or political financiers. Transparent government, however, demands that we know exactly who is paying and how much.  

Next year, when we distribute our locally-made, eco-friendly, gender neutral toys, we will lift our voices and, with apologies to Sparrow’s version, declare that There’s no place like home, for our money.

A wonderful Christmas to all, with special wishes of good health and great cheer to our enduring King Sparrow.

 
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