Trinidad and Tobago


Real unity

June 13, 2001

EVER since we discovered differences in skin tone and culture among our people, there has been a continuing quest for mechanisms to bring them together in harmonious circumstances.

The national anthem, politicians, religious leaders and other persons and groups with shared interests have long sought to identify some magical rallying issue, one in the embrace of which every component of the social mix could find equal comfort.

Success has been limited and even so, sporadic. A few initiatives have enjoyed good shelf life, while others amount to little more than fleeting assemblies, constructed on flimsy foundations, mere scrutiny of their concepts sometimes causing total collapse.

It is that backdrop against which this column returns to next Monday’s Back in Time Kaiso Dance, without even a hint of compunction, sharing the experience to date with those seeking lasting solutions to problems often presented by so diverse a societal model.

Nothing here should be construed as an elixir, but this one relatively small project has indicated a willingness on the part of most Trinidadians (no matter where they now reside) to become part of the single cause.

Calypso, scoffed at for so much of its more than 200 years of history, became a focal point, temporary perhaps, but producing intense passion over the past few weeks, as persons with no other identifiable commonality came together to make the Back in Time Kaiso Dance work.

Now, this is hardly a lasting elixir, but it has shown that a simple device is capable of producing what so many and more sophisticated systems have failed to do.

And the allure, we discovered, is not confined to any particular set of demographics as was hitherto widely believed. Designed for primary appeal to mature audiences, the concept has also interested some rather young persons, among them Machel Montano (from whose 2001 CD today’s column takes its name), who was careful enough to book his tickets well in advance.

Although described precisely as a fund-raiser for a project to look after medical assistance to retired calypsonians, Pan Trinbago (often at war with the calypso authority) was early in the line to order a block of tickets. With similar enthusiasm, the National Chutney Foundation has matched Pan Trinbago’s purchase and the fledgling TT Copyright Organisation followed suit.

Volunteers sprang up from all areas of society. In fact, we were forced to politely refuse all but rapso group 3-Canal, the St James Tripolians and Laventille Rhythm Section, having earlier contracted Roy Cape and the Kaiso All Stars, DJ Earl Crosby, Black Stalin and the Mighty Sparrow, who BWIA is flying home as a first class passenger.

Calypso historian Sprangalang and veteran presenter Winston Maynard have offered their services in locating hard to find songs and a number of major corporations have bought tickets for their employees.

The selection of Celebrity DJs originally required five media personalities to each pick their top ten calypsoes of the period. That, too, has garnered a far wider response than originally anticipated, with choices being listed by a truly wide cross-section of calypso aficionados from all over the world. The most recent addition to the list being artist Le Roi Clarke, who, on Monday proffered his ranking.

On hearing of the Back in Time Kaiso Dance and the cause it represents, the Dixieland Steel Orchestra Old Boys Club called to announce postponement of a fund-raiser scheduled for Father’s Day, just so they, also on the hunt for contributions, could donate their space and potential patronage.

The same is true everywhere the concept has touched. The media, often pilloried for producing only bad news, has been magnificent in its reports of the glad tidings elicited by the project and at large, conflict of opinion has not resulted in hostility.

I am not saying here that a Back in Time Kaiso Dance every fortnight will, in the sum, repair inherently deep wounds in the society. After all, it is good, clean fun and people everywhere like this kind of adventure. But microcosm though it may be, by eliciting such a degree of commonality without really trying, response to the project should send a simple message to those who insist on more complex solutions.

No one has been pushed into anyone else’s arms. There has been no attempt to balance the ethnic composition of the music and freedom of choice has shown there are fewer differences on this level than formerly thought.

And come Monday night, we shall see them dance, the ultimate demonstration of people coming together to have a good time and by the same opportunity look out for their elders, show respect for indigenous arts and have a good time in the bargain. Sounds like real unity to me, if only for a few hours.

But isn’t life made up of years, each one a collection of months comprising weeks, that sum of days made up of periods that can be broken down into a few hours at a time?

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