Saturday, February 17, 2018

Yes, thanks. Kiss me for Christmas


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This could have been also Pat Castagne's year. In this Trinidad and Tobago Independence jubilee year, we could have remembered the Guyana-born Trini who had composed the national anthem. He had originally written the "Forged from the love of liberty…" lyric and music as the anthem for the West Indies Federation.

By August 1962, the Federation was history. But the "Side by side we stand…" sentiments he had distilled into a song could yet become historic upon being applied to these two southernmost "islands of the blue Caribbean Sea".

If he was remembered at all in 2012, it wasn't in any way that I could recognise and remember. A man of song, Pat Castagne's known body of work is hardly as extensive as that of, say, Sparrow, or Kitchener, both specialists in calypso.

But the musician who died (as did Kitch) in 2000, was a composer of songs, a contributor to the national songbook, who also wrote calypsoes performed by the late great Lord Melody. At least since those spontaneously reverential days immediately following July 27, 1990, nationals stand erect for the anthem and, at least the women, sing along, or lip-synch.

The other night at the Hilton, I heard a gospel-influenced version performed as a male-female duet. Nobody I know, and not even Google, could recall a chutney version. So the Castagne oeuvre qualifies as an item of creole, if not Afrocentric, "ethnic stocking"—that Christmas gift to T&T's political vocabulary from artful Caricom partners in Jamaica.

A man of words, and a compulsive grump about usage, I went looking for "ethnic stocking". None of my dictionaries helped and, after the third screen yielded "communalism", I gave up on Google. (I notice that to the linguist Winford James, it also was a new expression).

As I write, and in advance of reading, say, Tony Deyal on the topic, nobody in increasingly humourless T&T seems to be having word-play fun with "ethnic stocking", though the term, on first encounter, should provoke a chuckle.

I hadn't expected Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, wearing a Santa Claus bonnet, giving toys and spreading joy among children, to take it so seriously as to assume it connoted something as provoking in its own way as her own "kurta-clad" for Opposition Leader Keith Rowley at Divali Nagar.

So that to assign Pat Castagne's work to "ethnic stocking" on the creole side is knowingly to run risks of giving offence. But this is that time of year, and I'm claiming Castagne for Christmas on the basis of his iconic song on that theme.

After attending "Come All Ye Faithful" at Queen's Hall last month, I groused on Facebook about the absence of Castagne's work from that Christmas show by the Malick Folk Performers, Exodus steelband and Signal Hill Alumni Choir. Their "MESH" show was fun: its dramatisation offered, instead of kings, three queens of the Orient who, following the biblical star, were finally led to Trinidad and Tobago.

I would be left to grouse and vent again by other Christmas shows that hymned about snow and mistletoe, and joked about "Santa Baby" being sexily invited down the chimney, but excluded Castagne's "Kiss Me for Christmas".

It's a "great song", musician Ronald Aqui agreed. Yes, but who, apart from bespoke crooner Kelwyn Hutcheon, sings the indispensable love-theme hook line of the title?

Castagne's swain had waited for Christmas, for a tropical Christmas party, involving "moonlight, and laughter, and you in my arms, and midnight a moment away". The thrill of expectant excitement—"the clock strikes midnight"—emboldens the gush of that romance-charged seducer's come-on:

Kiss me for Christmas, and then

Kiss me for Christmas again

The Trini composer of this "great song" must have been, I suppose, inspired by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, two 20th century American balladeers who worked with or were themselves the copywriters of unforgettable lines. The anthemic exclamations such as "Here every creed and race finds an equal place" live on. But tunesmith and wordsmith Castagne is all but forgotten, even at Christmas when, his song says, "the world is in love", the season he associates with kisses in celebration of love prevailing or prospective.

The world, across which the South Korean "Gangnam Style" music video has been played more than one billion times, is too far gone to imagine achievement anywhere of musical autarky. Still, T&T is entitled to its own songbook, available for use by other peoples. Again, the utility of that songbook should advisably be demonstrated by T&T nationals in the first place.

Does Castagne's estate derive copyright considerations whenever the T&T anthem is played? How does that work?

Annually restocked, Panorama and Carnival and chutney compositions are destined for ghettoisation inside their tiny T&T milieus. This is a process often aided and abetted by the composers themselves who, when they can, ignore the local product and pander to the more familiar foreign.

 Is this something that the State, by means of any of its ruling administrations, can correct? So far, all I can discern is the gift of a political project to the Rubadiri Victor movement.  

Meanwhile, I'm content to have my ethnic stocking filled with samples of "Kiss Me For Christmas".