Calypso music has been used since the days of slavery, as a form of protest against oppression.
It survived slavery as a strategy of war in the ongoing struggle for social justice and political equality. Social and political commentary in calypso survived various state-sponsored restrictions and censorship for over 200 years.
There was a time when social and political commentaries were censored by law. Previous administrations, perhaps most notably the People’s Revolutionary Government used censorship laws to muzzle political commentary thought to be anti-government or ‘counter-revolutionary’.
After the collapse of the revolution, government censorship disappeared for the most part. Calypsonians used social and political commentary to educate, to shed light on many of the issues affecting the people and to highlight misdeeds and shortcomings of governments.
In the late 1980s, throughout the 1990s and later, compositions such as Smokey’s “Herbie”, Moss International’s “Jambalasse Rule”, Wizard’s “IMF”, “When De Carnival Over”, “Tell Stone” and countless other commentaries from Bubbler, Beast, Scholar and many other calypsonians, played a pivotal role in raising awareness among the population. During Wizard’s 50th Anniversary concert last Saturday, Elimus “Inspector” Gilbert confessed that the first time he heard about the IMF was when Wizard’s song of the same name was released. He thanked Wizard for educating him as a little boy, on the very existence of the IMF. Such is the power of commentary in calypso.
Noticeably, after the 2013 elections, there was a high level of unofficial and/or self-imposed censorship. Some calypsonians steered clear of compositions that were too critical of government. Others like Beast, stayed away altogether. Scholar even sang a calypso in an attempt to explain his participation in the unofficial or self-censorship. He explained he and others suffered from “lock jaw disease”.
When victimisation and economic discrimination is the order of the day, many come down with lock jaw disease and calypsonians are not immune.
The issue of self-censorship in any sphere is not one to be taken lightly. It points to the existence a fear of adverse consequences for exercising one’s fundamental, inalienable right to freedom of expression. More so, in light of the critical role commentary in calypso has played historically, it is a cause for deep concern and introspection when self-censorship intrudes on this aspect of our life and culture. Such censorship points to not just free speech being under threat, but democracy itself.
Fortunately, as with our ancestors, in the face of severe oppression, commentary as a battle strategy can never be truly stifled. So this year, political commentary is back in full force. The people of Grenada welcome the return of political commentary as providing a voice for the voiceless.
While the lock jaw epidemic ravaged the calypso fraternity, Mitchell ran amok and the calypso tents and Dimanche Gras saw fewer patrons. But the full-time lovers of calypso are always there and perhaps their sparseness at the calypso shows over the last few years was their way of sending a message to calypsonians that they must pick themselves up and return to the commentaries as it is part of their ‘sacred’ duty.
This season we welcome the return of commentary in calypso with new artists like Kande, others of more recent vintage like Baraka, Big J and Sour Serpent and the veterans like Beast and Scholar. Lovers of calypso are in for a treat. We expect to see the number of patrons at Dimanche Gras increase; a good thing for the art form.
The entertainment value however, is just one reason for our applauding the return of commentary. We recognise the very important role of the calypsonian in keeping the powers that be in check and incentivising and educating the masses. So as Lincoln “Bubbler” John (RIP) admonished us in his classic composition, let us all “Put a Hand for the Calypsonian”.
We now join the rest of the nation in heartily congratulating Elwin Mc Quilkin, the Black Wizard on attaining 50 years of service to the people of Grenada and the region in the calypso art form. He is a true wizard of calypso in every way. It was refreshing to see so many local and regional artistes celebrate with him at his anniversary concert last Saturday. What an honour it was to have the younger artistes perform his songs so beautifully. It was indeed unfortunate that no one from our government saw it fit to celebrate with Wizard.
The NDC wishes all of Grenada an enjoyable and safe Carnival 2K19. Congratulations to the Spicemas Corporation on a job well done so far. When the NDC set up the SMC in 2011, it was our vision that this would be the vehicle to take Grenada Carnival to the next level. Though there is still a long way to go in fully realising our vision, there have been some notable strides and for that we are pleased.