Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph
By Terry Joseph
November 16, 2002
Unlike the angry responses it widely provoked among calypso aficionados, the latest contentious statement by UWI Head of Psychiatry Dr Hari Maharajh should not, in the frenzy, be denied its rank as one of this year's most intriguing stories.
You see, Dr Hari, among whose major credits is his 1995 talking down of the eccentric Master Baker from atop an electricity pole; just never fails to astonish us with his findings.
There are those who believe he simply loves the spotlight and his long absence from national attention may have induced that state of despair brought about by alienation from the object of one's desire, known colloquially as "tabanca".
He was back in love again last weekend, pampered by his twin sweethearts, cameras and microphones. Seizing the opportunity, Dr Hari said calypsoes sow seeds of divisiveness, as African-Trinidadian schoolchildren respond to racist sentiments in lyrics sung by their icons.
Citing a survey involving 536 mysterious respondents, he concluded "many" calypsoes are anti-Indian and the entrenched Carnival mentality a largely negative national trait.
This is the same Dr Hari who, last year, grabbed the front pages with an assertion that sexual abuse of mental patients at St Ann's hospital was rampant, tendering no more convincing a body of evidence than proffered in his wafer-thin anti-calypso argument.
In March 1999, he was big news too, targeting local churches for "supporting mental darkness and superstition", quoting a 1997 survey that examined 288 persons, of which 71 per cent believed in demons and 65 per cent thought evil spirits could possess people; an information-gathering process we could have spared him. It cannot be news either that in any human grouping a lunatic fringe is almost guaranteed. Artistic disciplines are not immune to this configuration and indeed, an obsessive search is bound to turn up calypsoes dedicated exclusively to the persecution of Indian-Trinidadians.
But to declare the art itself "racist" is a scandalous scientific conclusion. If we are to be guided by generalisations, calypso has certainly reached out to embrace Indian culture and African-Trinidadian audiences have been historically hospitable to good performers from any tribe.
The very emergence of soca is a tribute to Indian percussion instruments, particularly tabla, dholak, dhantal and jhanj. Lord Shorty's "Om Shanti", The Mighty Sparrow's "Marajhin", Black Stalin's "Sundar" and "Gavaskar" by Relator are among calypso's best-remembered tributes to Hinduism, Indian beauty and talent and that nation's sporting heroes.
Where capricious behaviour consistent with tabanca is most evident is in Dr Hari's unsupported opinion of what African-Trinidadian children do at school. Again, he supplies not a shred of evidence but manages to make calypsonians culpable.
Given his drift, we may surmise his catalogue of calypsoes unsuitable for minors deliberately omits any assessment of songs by the likes of Nirmal "Massive" Gosine, Kanchan and Babla, Rikki Jai, Stephen Seepersad, Hindu Prince and Drupatee Ramgoonai.
We can, however, hope the tender ears of those children are never exposed to the sexual overtones of "many" chutney songs and, in particular, English translation of the massive crossover Sonny Mann hit "Lotay La" which, as Dr Hari must by now know, contained a strong endorsement of adultery.
Nor would his Carnival-specific example include works of mas by Ivan and Wendy Kalicharan, Henry Ramdin & Associates, Raoul Garib in his day or even Peter Minshall's benchmark presentation of the Phagwa-inspired River; although in the dance (in keeping with current trends) Shiv Shakti might come in for a bashing.
On the purely scientific level, Dr Hari needs to detail the demographics of any survey sample and in delivering his findings, rely far less on words of variable value like "many" to describe known quotients.
In this area, UWI shares the irresponsibility for having failed to implement or insist upon peer-critique, as insurance against senior lecturers going public under its aegis with flawed or half-baked statistics.
His definition of the Carnival mentality as excessive substance abuse, promiscuity and lawlessness which he not much later describes as "enthusiasm and energy" not carried over into the workplace, presumes the festival is all play. What he should note are commitment to the task at hand, adherence to deadlines and, most importantly, the export of Trini-Carnival to more than 100 countries.
It may be that Dr Hari and his respondents have simply not enjoyed access to calypso and Carnival in a way that could help educate them on the arts involved. It is evident they never heard songs of the ilk of "Portrait of Trinidad", "Progress", "Education", "Miss Tourist", "Soca Baptist", "The Hammer", "Five Rules of Calypso", Pay as You Earn" and, of course, "Jahaaji Bhai".
As Bro Resistance said earlier this week: "If you look hard enough, you can find racism in any statement but to brand freedom of speech as racist is to risk other people thinking that the real bigotry may be coming from quite another quarter."
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