Hitting the Horns

January 24, 2001

HISTORICALLY, the use of horns in calypso music added brilliance and intricacy to orchestration or supplied colourful solos during each chorus.

Of late though, a very different type of application has surfaced.

"Hit the horns," a voice cue from the calypsonian, would induce a brassy celebration of his music from saxophone, trumpet and trombone players and imbue audiences with enhanced jollification.

But lately, the only horn we are hearing about in calypso is the one turning up in the lyrics of every second song, its inclusion triggered by non-musical and thoroughly scandalous motives.

Now, its not that I am cloaking myself to parade here as some Supermoral Nuncio, sent by the Vatican to bring reason to the rambunctious. Infidelity, a breach of trust peculiar to humans, has existed for so long it required a separate paragraph in The Ten Commandments, lest that other biblical philosophy of: "Do unto others" was routinely taken out of context.

It was said to be specialist work of the devil himself and first described as "putting on the horns"—presumably Beelzeebub’s originals—as a prerequisite for being unfaithful to one’s significant other. As frequency increased, for ease of reference, the term was reduced to "horning"; then truncated to plain and simple "horn".

It used to be a closet condition, with any leakage discussed only in whispers between cantankerous types, except where its effects manifested in obvious physical and mental aberration. A sequence of observed degeneration in victims was agreed upon by rumormongers.

At first, there would be signs of tabanca. Among its gentler manifestations were social maladjustment, like suddenly bursting into raucous laughter during the most solemn rituals at a funeral. Tarangi caused him to wait every evening at the same spot for hours, convinced that his lover might one day pass there.

The third level, Tabooki reduced its victims to pointless pursuits, like trying to lower the tide at Maracas Bay by bailing water out of the sea with a paper cup and "Bip", the final stage, was patently pitiful.

Experts insist that there existed an advanced condition called "Oogoo-roogoo". In that state, they tell me, affected persons, thinking themselves most profound, continuously mutter incoherent rubbish; such as we hear daily on many radio stations.

Even so, calypsonians rarely tampered with this taboo topic in the old days and when they did, their songs were cleverly crafted, masking the affliction or its victim’s identity in double-entendre, or explaining its relevance where candour simply couldn’t be avoided. Perhaps as a component of general social slippage, such precaution is no longer necessary.

But given the high incidence of murders and suicides directly linked to infidelity these days, it is a source of utter astonishment that calypsonians tackling so sensitive a theme would almost unanimously glorify the concept at Carnival; a season already conducive to reckless dalliance.

To his credit, reigning national calypso monarch, Shadow, has opted for an advisory role in "Yuh Looking For Horn", a song that has made him the star of the season to date. In the work, Shadow cautions a jobless young man intent on marriage, with a series of admonitions not unlike the message of home-economics inherent in Sparrow’s 1967 blockbuster, "No Money, No Love".

However, Shadow is singular in his treatment of the "horn" line. Anslem Douglas can, I suppose, rely on the noble tenet that confession is good for the soul in "I’ve Been Knocking Your Girl", even as he admits to a series of sexual escapades involving his best friend’s current love interest.

Roy Cape and the Kaiso All Stars go for the philosophical approach in "Don’t Take it On", the chorus of which opines: "A horn is a horn (repeat twice) only when you take it on."

That, my friends, is about as far as the supply side stretches. The majority of other songs on this subject make no pretence at supportive postures. In fact, one radio station has refused to air more than five of the horn songs delivered to its library, on the basis of offensive lyrics.

One that is not only aired but stands out this season for its beautiful melodic lines, sung by Vincentian road march king Godfrey Dublin, even goes as far as threatening: "I taking away somebody’s woman, I know it going to cause confusion."

Perhaps the singers are only reflecting the state of our society. At the fetes, lead vocalists often poll their audiences on the issue, asking for a show of hands in answer to this sequential inquiry: "Anybody here married?"

"Anybody here single?" "Anybody here divorced?" "Anybody here horning?" The last question is always repeated and invariably gets the loudest response, with more than a few people putting up both hands for added emphasis.

Nor is it only indigenous music. One of the biggest hits of the last quarter of year 2000 that is holding still as part of the playbill at Carnival fetes, is dancehall star Shaggy’s "It Wasn’t Me", in which he admits to having been caught horning in flagrante delecti, but denies that it was him.

But as the old folks’ saying goes: "What is fun for schoolboys could mean death for crapaud." The fun that singers hope to evoke across the board by hitting on the horn line, may not always be taken in the spirit intended and the final effects might not become known until well after the current season subsides.

Then again, who would have thought that the world’s most righteous Baptist Minister, Rev Jesse Jackson, or former US President Bill Clinton would become the reference position in matters of horning?

Given the league from which those examples come, I guess soca singers can find solace in the lyrics of another calypso hit from 1967, Cypher’s "If the Priest Could Play (Who is Me?)".

Terry-J at I-Level