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Usher Husher

By Terry Joseph
August 25, 2002

As we prepare to celebrate our 40th Anniversary of Independence, if you need clear indication that freedom of choice is still alive and well, consider this: more than 12,000 tickets for next Saturday’s Usher concert have already been sold.

Through sheer volume, advance ticket sales should have hushed critics of the concert, whose common sentiment reflected so zealous a brand of patriotism it resisted – in almost fundamentalist fashion – any notion of a foreigner performing here on Independence night.

For openers, Usher Raymond is not "any foreigner". At 23, he is considered phenomenal even by fellow superstars, his combination of writing, singing and dancing skills increasingly mystifying to the global entertainment industry since first discovery at age 13, when he won a nationwide talent show in the US.

Given today’s demand for his concerts, it cannot be easy to pin down an Usher tour, a slice of reality that dismantles any argument about the date on which he will perform here. You don’t get an Usher booking and say: "Sorry, its Independence Day in Trinidad and Tobago, so we’ll wait until you have another space." It is not a question of the promoter’s patriotism, but one of Usher’s availability.

Among the Usher concert principals are owners of the sophisticated Trotters Lounge whose cultural preferences came under scrutiny, notwithstanding their dedication of entire walls of the establishment and its tabletop décor to images and newspaper stories of this country’s political, sporting and cultural icons of the past 40 years.

But the critics mustered regardless, soldiering on, making no apology for trampling democratic principles as they march toward the flag, insisting we all wear national colours and sing rousing songs of the land, as if enshrined liberties like free enterprise and freedom of association are suspended at Independence time.

Apparently, in our model of democracy, the opinion of any constituency that has the temerity to express a different view is rendered irrelevant or – at the minimum – besieged by a barrage of emotionally-charged arguments about "respect for we t’ing."

Last year, a Jamaican dancehall posse performed at the Queen’s Park Oval on Independence night, fuelling a furore among the more theatrical protectors of "we t’ing", who remonstrated against the show-promoter, accusing him of disrespecting one of their sacred moments.

The dancehall concert hired local group Imij & Co, making it the only Trini band at work that night. For all the protest, no alternative income-generators had been made available to indigenous music providers.

Indeed, had the complainers checked, they would discover that most of our top entertainers are routinely away from home at Independence time, raking in big bucks in Usher country; having been there since July 4.

Meanwhile, consider this: In "The Land of Calypso", we are yet to hear a single song composed specifically in celebration of the benchmark 40th anniversary of Independence. Pan, the national musical instrument, is effectively banned from its traditional Independence night role in celebratory street dancing. This, mark you, in "The Land of Pan."

And don’t get me started on the frowzy little strips of bunting that many business houses feel so fully demonstrates good corporate citizenship, or the contrived costuming of employees in the same pursuit.

Happily, for this year’s celebration, a free nine-hour concert featuring top-drawer indigenous acts and honouring cultural icons is being staged on Independence Day at the Queen’s Park Savannah. The show opens shortly after the military parade is dismissed and continues until nightfall, when a spectacular fireworks display takes place.

Defenders of our culture and heritage couldn’t hope for more. A free potpourri of local entertainment with storytelling, chutney, calypso, pan, comedians, Indian and African drumming and dancing and traditional carnival characters, all designed for family consumption.

But this year, with a programme of homegrown arts as an option, we begin hearing that you cannot look a gift of indigenous culture in the mouth. Already, theories have surfaced suggesting the event is a political "rum-and-roti" soiree, with consequential murmur about sponsorship by the National Lotteries Control Board, whose chairman is these days taking a licking on another front.

Anxieties resulting from the national airline’s industrial relations problems scared show producer Randy Glasgow out of attempting to bring home Calypso King of the World The Mighty Sparrow for a one-night stand on August 31.

Consequently, five-time national calypso monarch Black Stalin, calypso queen Denyse Plummer and the legendary Witco Desperadoes were also robbed of an additional payday.

In short, one major exposition of indigenous arts has been scuttled because of problems at a State Enterprise and the other is being accused of masquerading behind sinister political motives. We have not a single calypso or chutney song to rally around and no hope of pan on the road.

So what then is the problem if, given our options, some patriots still prefer to go to the beach, participate in an all-fours tournament, hold a ragamuffin dance, play windball cricket or small-goal football, dedicate the day to prayer or, for that matter, attend an Usher concert?

Isn’t this a demonstration of the very freedom and diversity we so loudly set out to celebrate in the first place?

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