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May he rest in peace

by Terry Joseph
April 12, 2003

Folklore insists that spirits of the deceased may experience turbulence in the grave, diffusion of ashes or other forms of torment whenever the living ill-speak them or involve their names in uncomplimentary scenarios.

If it be so, let us concede that the idea of turning in one's grave must be as uncomfortable for the late as it is revolting to the bereaved. Let us also think today of Andre Tanker and the feelings of his widow Christine, only-child Zo-Marie and what was-up to not so long ago-a small group of genuine family friends.

Tanker, a professional musician, died on February 28. For all his life, he was the quintessential quiet guy, a big teddy-bear, dedicated craftsman, peacemaker, respectful and genteel in defending even his strongest convictions, humble and spiritual at every sequence; a brother we sorely miss.

Amazingly, in the six-week interim, his name is turning up in every music-related bacchannal, as if he were a cantankerous, conniving imp, some dark spirit exclusively assigned to manufacturing mischief; or his passing a relief to decent people everywhere.

To properly measure the man, consider this: Even in the face of these scandalous developments, were he still with us, Andre would have done no more than raise his eyebrows, break into a disarming smile and submit that we "doh worry".

So it really is a little bit much when nearly every posthumous episode bearing his apparently recently-discovered name reeks of conflict and confusion, with "stakeholders" threatening lawsuits, granting and revoking licences for reproduction of his music and in more than a few examples, pinning the Tanker tag to the flimsiest of flams; all purporting to be doing these noble and wonderful things in memory of the dearly departed.

Andre's real friends remain astonished at what is mostly vulgar hitch-hiking on an already burdened bandwagon. Even the normally careful Hilton Trinidad, where he pioneered local entertainment at La Boucan, after "forgetting" to invite him to its 40th Anniversary celebration, contemplated a memorial event in his honour.

We who lovingly invested more than mere words and time in pursuit of bringing the man and his work to the width of attention it so richly warranted are duly mortified.

Begin by understanding that Andre's personal philosophy derived from avoidance of commess and confrontation, striking back at inequity with studied critique couched in palatable poetry, using only art itself to cushion challenges from any quadrant.

Now, see his passing as a source of grief to family, a major loss to indigenous music and removal of a sterling example, then reflect upon the degree of difficulty it must occasion upon those most touched by his passing; having to keep hearing references that so completely violate the image they know and love.

Never before was one of his most moving songs, "Sayamanda", considered a calypso until Andre died. Last week, a minor controversy sprang up over the song, after the Tokyo Steel Orchestra performed it Sunday night at the preliminary round of the Pan in the 21st Century contest.

Guided by a rule that demands uptempo performance of a non-calypso work, competition was proceeding swimmingly until a peevish few suggested Tokyo be disqualified, identifying imaginary infringement in the band's playing of "Sayamanda" which is, if you ask me, no less religious a piece than the Neal and Massy Trinidad All Stars' selection, "How Great Thou Art".

Then a wise guy called Solomon, intent on producing a swift compilation of Andre's works, goes to the Copyright Organisation (COTT), announces his intention and-for a mere US$40-is given a licence to proceed, permission later revoked upon "discovery" that necessary clearances had not been secured.

And it got worse.

Diluting the original concept, Solomon on Wednesday attempted to hold a "40-nights" commemoration, replete with candles, paraphernalia and the playing of Andre's songs, only to face police and -from a distinctly different quarter-the threat of violence, were he to air so much as a single line of Tanker's work on his "Sidewalk Radio".

Ironically, Andre's name was just days earlier the rallying bugle for a pitifully uneventful protest march by "concerned individuals" demanding increased airplay for indigenous music. Of course, unauthorised duplication of intellectual property is a crime but when Andre's defenders seek to prohibit the mere playing of his music, the plot sickens.

And never mind the details or careful quotes supplied in justification, Thursday's newspaper headline "Not me and Andre Tanker" somehow seemed more reckless than clever, reducing to the level of pariah, the very name it sought to exult and eulogise not so long ago.

Oh that he could have been here to witness this sudden gush of appreciation, this outpouring of understanding and embrace of his work; these over-zealous guardians of contraband willing to take up arms for "The Tank".

And they have done it all: dedicated to his name endless moments of silence (in the middle of raucous Carnival jams), held piffling performance tributes aplenty, marched in the sun, called in police, threatened to beat at least one person for playing Andre's music and generally, turned the memory of one of my dearest friends into something of a pappyshow.

Now, may he rest in peace?

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