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Acting on impulse

By Terry Joseph
January 11, 2003

This week's soca-brouhaha involving the song "Confirmation" achieved dubious closure Thursday, when Island Vibe band manager John Gill apologised to the Roman Catholic Church for his group's recording.

What was nothing more than a puerile joke swiftly elevated to a matter of urgent national importance, after Vicar General of the local RC flock, Fr Christian Perreira, wrote letters to the press complaining about a perceived attack on his congregation.

Predicated on phonetics, the joke makes absolutely no sense in print and only minimally increases in comedic value when the identical lines are sung.

Indeed, it is as old a gag as Colin Lucas' "Dollar Wine" adaptation-another of those rites-of-passage trophies passed on in whispers from older schoolboys to first-formers.

I first heard the "Confirmation" joke sometime during the late 1950s while at Trinity College. I didn't find it funny then and its worth as humour has-if anything-decreased with time.

Difficulty with the currently contentious version must therefore have more to do with mass communication than the song's core content, which has been fairly common knowledge for more than half a century and could, in the latter years, just as easily have been disseminated via Napster.

Composed by Impulse who, like veteran calypsonian Crazy, selected a moniker that justifies eternal whimsy, the song garnered a ready following among adults who still find the prosaic funny.

However, to declare "Confirmation" an attack on Roman Catholics pushes the envelope almost as far as its composer does with his provoking but inane lyrics. Acting on impulse, Fr Perreira may have inadvertently conferred lasting importance on a hitherto itinerant amusement of transient consequence.

Indeed, one wonders precisely what kind of response would have come from the RC clergy if Impulse had instead composed a morally upright song about the discoveries of long-term sexual abuse of minors by church leaders.

Nor is it only the likes of Impulse that, in recent time, have taken on the once-unassailable church. Clearly, the Vicar General and other local heads of religious bodies missed NBC's Craig Kilborn on Wednesday night's Late, Late Show, when he lampooned a number of deeply spiritual figures; coupling Buddha, Moses and Lord Krishna with today's top fashion models and showing possible genetic outcomes.

Indeed, we have had our fair share of conflict between art and religion, which in the latter day, often became an issue of political correctness, rather than abject sincerity.

Calypso has been subjected to a new morality that didn't seem to apply in the very "good ol' days" to which purists now refer. Vocalist Derek Seales last week released "Dr Seales", a remake of Kitchener's "Dr Kitch" which my parents had banned at our home on grounds of vulgarity.

It is useful to note here that the producer of last December's Kings and Queens Hold Court, the US tour featuring Sparrow and the Witco Desperadoes Steel Orchestra, pleaded with the Calypso King of the World to delete "Congo Man" from his repertoire. Still considered humourous here, the song apparently offends both black and white people in the US.

The matter of identifying abhorrent calypsoes has always been dicey business. When The Mighty Wonder sang "Beh-Eh-Eh" (aka "Ramgoat Baptism") in 1949, alluding to bestiality on the part of a fictional Baptist preacher, instead of a public outcry, the song became that year's Jouvert road march; replete with men dressed in gowns and ringing bells.

Times had certainly changed by 1974, when Lord Shorty's "Om Shanti" invoked the ire of certain Hindu leaders, who accused him of bringing their religion into disrepute. Blueboy had his share of controversy with "Soca Baptist" in 1981 and Grammy Award-winning mas designer Peter Minshall felt moved to withdraw a replica of Lord Krishna from his planned 1998 portrayal, after protest escalated.

But many of these protests fail to fully consider the context in which such songs or Carnival portrayals are ventilated. It also seems to be a matter of who is on the pillory rather than for what crime. Surely if Impulse had composed a song in much the same terms about the Taliban, few would raise objection, although the victims are devout Muslims.

In any event, religion can hardly claim persecution by calypso in the same way women have been targeted for derision over the years. Yet, no influential grouping sustained any objection against calypsonians for singing about Oma Panday or Pamela Nicholson, even where such songs delved deep into personal matters that had little to do with the victims' roles in the political arena.

That radio station 96.1WEFM should decide to pull "Confirmation" from its playlist in light of the church's objection is commendable, but triggers a larger issue regarding some of the other dancehall music it has been known to air, presumably stuff the Vicar General or his followers are yet to hear.

As one of morality's most vocal custodians, the church must be careful to pursue this line across the board and not only when its name is mentioned in unflattering terms.

It must not act on impulse alone, lest so noble a posture triggers another kind of societal difficulty and rekindles memories of its silence in other examples like Sonny Mann's "Lotay La", that have scandalised non-Roman Catholic sectors.

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