Sunday, January 21, 2018

Political messages in the calypso lyrics

Express editorial logo342

Mark Fraser

The plethora of anti-Government calypsoes this Carnival, some featured in the State-sponsored Dimanche Gras show, reflect an ongoing trend in public opinion. 

On the one hand, it is democratically healthy that, in a competition funded by the State, the performers are free to criticise the Government. On the other hand, this freedom is only apparent since many calypsonians practise self-censorship when their preferred poli­tical party is in office, as was demonstrated during the ten years of the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration headed by Patrick Manning. In that decade, calypsoes critical of the government’s many failings were few and far between.

This fact allows the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration to dismiss the calypsonians’ commentary as biased. That response, however, would only persuade those who are themselves biased toward the ruling coalition led by the United National Congress. After all, the criticisms offered by calypsonians this year are only echoing what public opinion polls, as well as four electoral defeats, have already said. Moreover, the critiques of the Government were not accompanied by songs praising the Opposition People’s National Movement.

Nonetheless, the most popular calypso commentaries, from Chucky’s winning “Wey You Think” to Bodyguard’s last-placed but well-aired “False Papers”, add to the challenges the People’s Partnership coalition will face in its remaining year in office until the 2015 gene­ral election.

In this regard, it is telling that Chucky’s calypso specifically targets Mrs Persad-Bissessar, whom the polls show remains not only more popular than the coalition she heads, but also more popular than PNM leader Keith Rowley. Chucky’s critique is ironic, unlike the unsubtle offerings typically made by pro-PNM calypsonians such as Cro Cro, last year’s champion, Pink Panther, and (until he needed Government sponsorship to keep his calypso tent business in the black) Sugar Aloes.

By contrast, the second-placed winner, Kurt Allen, as usual offered a blanket condemnation of politicians with his “The Lost Psalm of King David”. But it may have been the different messages of the two calypsonians’ second songs which caused the judges to give Chucky the nod over Allen. Allen’s “Sweet Sizzlin’ Summer” is a song with an ironically upbeat melody that paints a failed-state picture of Trinidad and Tobago, while Chucky’s “Wedding of the Century” depicted the musical fusion of soca and chutney and, by implication, the racial harmony touted as T&T’s ideal and aspiration. Indeed, Bodyguard’s unsubtle race targeting may have assisted him into last place given that calypso, at its best, requires satire or double entendre.

The People’s Partnership administration will likely face one more Dimanche Gras before it goes to the polls. The coalition clearly has an uphill struggle but, if the calypsonians’ indifference is any indicator, the PNM cannot expect to coast to victory in 2015 either.