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Li’l Rick, big trick

By Terry Joseph
August 17, 2002

Ludicrous as it may seem, fallout from a parochial picong dispute involving Barbadian road march champion Li’l Rick and Trinidadian calypsonian Denyse Plummer, has suddenly escalated to the status of "international crisis."

Throughout the week, calls from radio stations and publications across the Caribbean, North America and London requested information on the impasse.

With passion bubbling on both sides, it is now going to take ambassadorial acrobatics or a trick of comparative size to resolve the still deepening conflict, which swiftly intensified to the utterly absurd point of locals hurling invectives at and calling for sanctions against Bajan performers seeking work here.

Consequential hostilities were further fuelled when Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco) president Michael “Protector” Legerton, harping on “insult and disrespect” to members of his flock, endorsed the call for a ban on not only Bajan singers but widened the net to also snare performers from other territories in the region.

“The time has come,” the president said, “for entertainers from Barbados and other Caribbean islands to be locked out of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Hardly the statesmanlike approach to problem-solving, Protector’s suggestion came from the same Tuco routinely accused of “insult and disrespect” by its very membership, particularly when cash prizes for competitions it stages fail to materialise; heaping immeasurable embarrassment on winners during their finest hour.

But for the seriousness of the bigger picture, lyrics from officials who should know better ranked for the national Humourous Calypso Monarch title.

To quote the opening line of “Well Spoken Moppers”, Sparrow’s 1963 laugh-riot: “Half the trouble in the world today comes from people who don’t know what to say.”

The picong episode from which the brouhaha sprung occurred on August 9, during a calypso show dubbed “Battle of the Sexes”, staged in Barbados by Trini promoters (the eighth such lucrative venture this year).

To fully theatricise the combative theme, male calypsonians and MCs agreed to wear black, while female counterparts occupied the blue corner. The concert was therefore constructed on the fundamentals of open warfare.

In a pre-show promotional stunt, Trini singer Sanelle Dempster appeared on Bajan television carrying a chain and dog-collar which, she said, was intended to leash and then corral Li’l Rick’s runaway hit “Hypa Dawg”.

In his turn onstage, the targeted calypsonian responded with chain and collar of his own, repeatedly calling Plummer and Dempster through the public address system so he could reciprocate and do so with predictable flourish. It was this act that infuriated Plummer.

In a letter distributed at a news conference three days later and copied to just about everyone but Kofi Annan, Plummer claimed the Bajan singer “embarrassed, insulted and disrespected” her and Trini colleague Dempster.

“Never in my 28 years of performing,” the letter continued, “has this ever happened.”

Clearly, Ms Plummer momentarily forgot the treatment she suffered at the hands of her own people during her inaugural appearance at the annual Calypso Fiesta.

At the event attended by some 20,000 and televised nationally, Plummer was pelted with toilet paper and solid missiles which, by universal standards, amounts to “embarrassment, insult and disrespect” and on a scale well above gestures attributed to Li’l Rick.

However vulgar or tasteless Li’l Rick’s demonstration may have been, that type of behaviour has unfortunately become the industry standard at shows billed as adversarial events. It therefore cannot warrant from the butt of such jokes threats to disrupt employment prospects for regional calypsonians, or worse, any attempt at intimidation of radio stations that air their songs.

Like it or not, Barbadian soca music has propped up Trini-style carnivals around the globe for at least the past five years. While Trini calypsonians generally sought to communicate hometown events and political developments to countrymen resident abroad, soca singers in other Caribbean countries expanded their vistas to include universal motifs; making their work more easily understood and embraced by new audiences.

Names like Rupee, Allison Hinds, Edwin Yearwood, Red Plastic Bag, Gillo and Gabby are equally well known to long-standing soca supporters in the Caribbean diaspora and rival the popularity of Sparrow, David Rudder, Iwer and Calypso Rose.

Under social pressure to release new songs in time for the pre-Lenten Carnival, Trini calypsonians find themselves with dated work when the slew of Caribbean and North American festivals kick in. Yet they complain that their music is not being played at those events.

In recent times, only Iwer has been astute enough to offer a mid-year release and enjoy commensurate benefits from summer-festival audiences.

The trick, therefore, is not to construct barbs and call for oppressive measures against artistes from other countries, but rather to seek solutions like Iwer did, seizing business opportunities as they present themselves.

Protectionism is not an option, especially when artistes are supposed to be first beneficiaries of Caribbean free movement in a regional single-market environment.

In the absence of initiatives geared to heal the inter-island rift, this situation is guaranteed to grow worse and by enormous leaps, arriving at a condition patently unfavourable to Trini acts wishing to work abroad.

If you want to take responsibility for that, “Put yuh han’ in de air!”

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