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Raffique Shah


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Backward step

By Raffique Shah
February 15, 2009

Bunji Garlin is correct on two points he made regarding calls to ban his runaway hit, “Banana”, from the airwaves. First, censoring any artform, be it music or dance or “bois” simply makes the censored item more popular, more appealing to those who want to know why it was banned. And second, his song is no more suggestive than a thousand (well, maybe I exaggerate) songs of differing genres that became monster hits long before Ian Alvarez was born. Which is why I think the Jamaican Government’s bid to use cultural censorship in a bid to curb crime is an exercise in futility.

Where Garlin, and scores of other soca and dancehall artistes, and I differ is on the quality of today’s double-entendre songs. I have contended for several years now that our soca artistes have sacrificed their gifted voices, the craft of leaving the vice to the listeners’ heads, as Sparrow used to say, and melody-all of which combine to make a good song a memorable one. I note that Fay-Ann Lyons, in defence of her husband, told the Woodford Square crowd that “Saltfish” and “Banana” go together.

I’m sure they do-if one is referring to the popular Caribbean dish, not the songs in question. In fact, Lyons may have unwittingly fingered the real difference between yesterday’s dirty-ditties, and today’s overnight successes that fade by the time people sober up the next morning. Sparrow’s “Saltfish” was sung decades ago, when “Birdie” was at his dirtiest-best, for want of a better description. I have long maintained that Sparrow, besides being one of our calypso greats, also has a repertoire of “smut” to outclass any other calypsonian, living or dead.

That Lyons and Bunji, in defending “Banana”, could immediately recall “Saltfish”, proves the point I make. Who will remember “Banana” five years from today? But everyone remembers “Saltfish”. How many people can recall what the Road March was last year or the year before?

But for a few of his more outstanding songs, who remembers what Machel Montano sang five, ten years ago? The same can be asked of “Superblue” incarnation. The song that brought him to the forefront of the musical calypsoes line-up, “Soca Baptist” was the Road March in 1980-29 years ago! Yet, if its first note is struck at any of today’s fetes, even the young among the crowds would go wild.

And herein lies a lesson that today’s soca artistes ignore to their peril. If I write “Wine on Something” and “Bacchanal Time” and ask anyone to hum the songs for me, they would be lost. If I tell them those two came back-to-back in 1992 and 1993 as Road March winners for the “new” Superblue, they would scratch their heads. But should I mention “Rebecca” (1983), they would most likely say: dat was song, boy! As an avid calypso and pan lover, I can go on and on in this vein. Bahia Girl? The answer would come in a flash: David Rudder, 1986. Tempo? Rose, 1977. Flag Woman? Kitch, 1976. Bassman? Shadow, 1974. Steelband Clash? Blakie, 1954.

These classics have party lives beyond those of their composers and singers. I am not about to get into the generational gap debate. I, too, was young, and I experienced my parents’ generation frowning on our choice of music, whether they were the new-age calypsoes Sparrow introduced in 1956 with the immortal “Jean and Dinah”, or pop and rock songs coming from the heavy foreign fare we were subjected to by the two radio stations of the era.

Should I add that calypsoes were banned during the course of Lent, today’s young people would think I’m mad. But that is the truth. Still, finding myself hooked on the artform since I was around six, even my parents could not stop me from learning and singing the some of the dirtiest ditties of the day. One of Sparrow’s most vulgar numbers, “Elaine, Harry and Mama” was never given air play during those days of hypocrisy. But I learned it from some older boys (young men, really) who had been to the tents. Kitch’s “My Pussin” and Blakie’s “Maria” won the Road March title. In fact, Blakie’s “Hold de Pussy”, a perfect, melodious piece of vulgarity, was a runaway hit.

Of course, entering the arena of raw smut, few could equal the late Zandolee, and-this might shock many, the Hindu Prince! “Zando” was a master-craftsman from Mayaro.

His lyrics were so cleverly crafted, he would get encores aplenty anywhere he sang. His “Iron Man”, “Merchant of Venice”, “The Whip” and “Stickman”, generously put together on a CD (along with hits from Black Prince and Blakie) by Rudder, would make any true Trini roll with laughter-a case of “Kaiso, Kaiso!”. Nothing Bunji or Machel or Iwer sang could measure up to Zando’s double-entendre. And how can I forget Gypsy’s “For Cane”!

Hindu Prince was in a world of his own-the tent! You would not hear him anywhere else, because he would have been arrested for those lyrics. Real Indian, eh. Real Hindu, too. But talk about smut. Bunji, Fay-Ann and Denise Belfon would hide from that bard’s tainted tongue. Nuff said.

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