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Don't Stop At Sugar Aloes

By Terry Joseph
Feb 1999

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 patronage.

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 accordingly.

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 Parliament. 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 women.

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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