Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph
Don't Stop At Sugar Aloes
By Terry Joseph
WHEN a vituperative piece of doggerel wins public money and loud
acclaim in a national competition for performers of indigenous arts, arguments
resulting therefrom should not be limited to its author's taste.
By coming in second in last Sunday's national calypso monarch
competition, Calypsonian Sugar Aloes, singing the contentious "This Stage is
Mine", reflected not only the opinion of the judges, but the view of a large
percentage of the population, which apparently thinks little or nothing of
denigrating Oma Panday, the Prime Minister's wife.
Although singular in its lack of calypso craft, support for the
song was nonetheless evident throughout the season. Aloes enjoyed repeated
encores as he performed nightly at Kitchener's Calypso Revue. Post Carnival,
the approvals continue via letters to the press. The Revue, located in one of
the political strongholds of the Opposition People's National Movement (PNM),
afforded any singer of anti-government songs guaranteed applause. Several
performers regularly milked the predictable sentiment of the tent's hardcore
Any anti-Panday joke, no matter how trite, purchased tremendous
laughter and in the latter-day, uncomplimentary remarks about his wife became
equally popular – even among women in the audience. Some people have even
suggested that the PNM may have funded Aloes' song, a concept not altogether
alien to either party.
In the absence of any statement that distances the Opposition
party from attacks on Mrs Panday, we may at least conclude that the leadership
of the PNM is not unhappy with the intent of the piece and will not – on
principle – change its mind, in the event that it returns to power. Mrs
Manning (?) be warned!
Interestingly, the PNM Women's League took time out this week to
congratulate the national calypso monarch, Singing Sandra and the road march
monarch, Sanell Dempster on their recent successes, but remained silent on the
continuing issue about whether Mrs Panday qualifies for insult, merely by dint
of being married to the Prime Minister.
Mark you, objections raised by the executive of the ruling United
National Congress (UNC) and a curious combination of businessman Lawrence Duprey
and calypso king of the world, The Mighty Sparrow, were at least ill-timed,
coming mere hours before Sunday's show and may well have backfired; by helping
to galvanise PNM support for Aloes.
They would have done well to remember that Sugar Aloes is a
businessman. Having studied the
market in which he was trying to hawk the song, he simply fashioned the product
To offer a kinder, gentler version of the same song would not have
satisfied his blood-thirsty audiences. You cannot offer sponge-cake to corbeaux,
as the old folk-saying goes. In an earlier manifestation, his comments about
another female, MP Pam Nicholson, may well have been similarly inspired.
By his own admission, Sugar Aloes is a member of the PNM. Years
before the song about Miss Nicholson, party founder, Dr Eric Williams, had
instructed that the medical records of an airline pilot be read out in
The PNM has never apologised for that indiscretion. To expose Miss
Nicholson's personal problems in a calypso tent was, therefore, only following
that disgusting example.
That Mrs Panday, who is hardly a politician or diplomat, could
continue to come under attack at every opportunity, for a single indiscretion
committed mere months after her husband's ascendancy, is also an issue by
which we may judge a society that pretends piety on every other issue affecting
Mark you; even the most rabid of PNM supporters are not always
that callous. When the wife of a senior party official was caught shoplifting in
Miami, only two responses flowed from them – silence or sympathy.
Now, the PNM is widely viewed as being representative of the African
Trinidadian. So when any aspect of an art perceived as being identifiably
African is allowed to ascend to the point where a passing butcher can publicly
chop people to pieces and eat them raw for money, the party has a responsibility
to make its position known.
Calypso cannibalism, without even the saving graces
of craft or comic-relief (as in Sparrow's
"Congo Man"), does nothing for the art-form or the party and
certainly cheapens the argument for freedom of speech.
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