Trinidad and Tobago

Terry's beach banner


By Terry Joseph
January 09, 2004

Among the few new calypsoes deservedly enjoying high radio rotation is "Good News", an incisive commentary by rapso group 3-Canal, lyrics that target first origins of unsettling media reports, rather than attempting to martyr the messenger.

"I want some good news today" it choruses, steering clear of blaming media, although most listeners whose comments reached me still construed the piece as dangling an argument about whether an actual wrongdoing- or its harbinger-comprises the more repulsive element of published unpleasantness.

Given these times, "Good News" is astutely authored, avoiding contentious censorship issues even as it panders to popular perception: that media should favour palatability as its commanding criterion in deciding on "all the news that's fit to print" and perhaps dedicate more space to obsequious images than disturbing graphics.

The lobby to replace news of crime and highway carnage on the front-page

with scenes of tranquility (oops!) remains robust but nowhere near as menacing as demand for media pampering by aficionados of indigenous arts, who see love for"we-ting" and critique of it as mutually exclusive concepts.

In fact, they brand as traitors those who dare to analyse cultural performances, then further taint those already flimsy findings with jingoistic spin, turning every flaw into flattery; eager to vilify anyone with enough temerity to develop a different view.

"All you ever do is put down local art and write the bad news," they tell me, as if journalism imbues its professionals with some dark magic, a power to make even the prettiest sunset appear abhorrent. Even when conceding that a reviewed performance was irretrievably bad, still they argue: "You didn't have to say it that way."

It is not entirely their fault, having been earlier guided by powder-puff commentary on indigenous arts in the very media that, up to the time of rapid industry expansion in 1991, had been largely deferential, seeing only the bubbles in every performance, consequently reporting a lot of mauby as champagne.

With neither of only two radio stations at the time wishing to appear unpatriotic, presenters took refuge in the far right position, coining catchphrases like "If its local its bound to be good" and "Don't sit on the soca", a brand of flag-bearing that betimes celebrated mediocrity, avoided introspection and relegated audience perspectives to the level of afterthought.

Inured to sitting for calypso concerts that not infrequently started late, then lasted over five hours, and attending equally unpunctual steelband competitions that went for more than half a day, issues involving sub-standard performances and time-wasting shenanigans were routinely overlooked.

These events were euphemistically described as "marathons." Instead of convincing producers to present crisply packaged concerts, the onus was shifted to the audience, who were often intimidated into "lasting the distance."

To qualify as a supporter of the art, calypso tent patrons therefore had to sit through hours of garbage to hear just a few good songs. "You have to give them encouragement because they are trying," sycophants would say, perhaps not recognizing that many of the singers are really very trying indeed.

And don't even attempt to tell pannists how amateurish it looks when a band takes forever to set up each year on a stage it uses annually, although neither the dimensions of instrument-racks nor performance space has been altered. Nor could you safely suggest the Panorama piece was often transparently padded with boring repetition of lame variations; all oblivious to consumer response.

As the big night approaches, emotion takes over and pannists become increasingly impervious to logic. Among the more astonishing examples of this cerebral shift was the year a $100,000 prize was offered for the steel orchestra with the best repertoire on Carnival days.

Interestingly, most bands still opted to spend five to six weeks of nightly rehearsal perfecting a single musical arrangement, hoping to cop the cherished national panorama title that paid a mere $37,000. They then devoted the only remaining day to learning rudimentary versions of another four songs in order to compete for the significantly larger purse.

Even in the face of published scientific evidence to the contrary, you still can't convince pannists that metal canopies covering instruments played at Panorama do nothing to enhance sound and worse, deny photographers and paying spectators a proper view of the full orchestra in what is, after all, a contest of performance art.

There are those who must by now be fuming, seeing these observations as evidence of earlier claims: "There he goes again, publishing only the downside," they may be saying, although much the same constituency couldn't wait to pillory (the late) Pan Trinbago president Arnim Smith, even as I tried to pay him tribute.

As for the response to good news, ask the editor of the Express how many complaints were received as I tried to keep readers up to date on last year's historic tour of Japan by the Exodus Steel Orchestra, most arguing "favouritism," as though a number of bands had similarly achieved and I unfairly selected Exodus for special consideration.

Like 3-Canal, I too (and we may surmise, the majority of clear thinkers) would like more good news but, not being in the business of manufacturing stories, we must wait on the originators of such information for something pleasant to report.

Previous Page / Terry's Homepage