By Terry Joseph
January 23, 2004
After hearing Brother Valentino's latest work - "Where Calypso Went?" - quite possibly the best-researched calypso ever, using this space to comment on Cro Cro's contentious offering in the same season seems a kind of dereliction but, as the latter's song insists, one must "Face Reality".
More than most, I have sound reasons for avoiding any mention of Cro Cro and not on the basis of mere perception either but, even after being publicly threatened and abused by him on several occasions, reality does not allow me the luxury of cavalierly dismissing his work. Indeed, in the extant case, it imposes a clear responsibility, one undisturbed by his attitude towards me.
Actually, there was a time when Cro Cro and I were on very good terms. He would drive cross-country to test each next composition before a jury of two - Winston Maynard and yours truly - empanelled, as it were, at Hereford's Lounge on Maraval Road. We would analyse and advise. He would listen, argue perhaps but, in the sum, constructively debate the accuracy of his lyrics.
That was until publication of my critique of a calypso called "Allyuh Look For That", in which he castigated African Trinis for helping vote the predominantly Indo-Trini United National Congress (UNC) into office. My position was simply this: "In a democracy, people have the right to exercise freedom of choice in political affairs and ought not to be pilloried for their preferences."
It was an appreciation independently arrived at by several journalists, including Judy Raymond, Clevon Raphael and Keith Smith. As you may have already guessed, we were all individually subjected to public derision by him for, quite ironically, exercising the same enshrined freedom of expression that cradled calypso some 220 years ago and still allows it to flourish.
Because I substantively work the entertainment beat, frequent contact was inevitable. In one episode at the Mas Camp Pub, Cro Cro charged across the back verandah, shouting at Alvin Daniell (to whom I was speaking at the time): "Hold me back, Mr Daniell, before I damage this man."
Another night at the same venue, he addressed the entire audience, using the public address system: "That man there is Terry Joseph," he said. "He does come here and beg calypsonians for rum and when he get drunk does go and write a setta sh*t in the Express," a tirade cut short by a female patron who reminded him of both his primary purpose on stage and the ticket price.
Still, whenever I caught the three-time national calypso monarch in magnificent stride, professional integrity demanded glowing mention. Shortly after being victim of one of his more vituperative attacks, I wrote in the Express of November 5, 2001, under the headline "Cro Cro Crackles at Police Kaiso Show", superlative commendation on his "charming a full Grand Stand at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, into zealous participation; then enjoying a solid encore."
Controversial at every opportunity for sure, but Cro Cro had given us some good work over the years. My compliments were freely dispensed when he won his first of three national titles (1988) with the songs "Three Bo Rat" and "Corruption in Common Entrance", the latter an irritant to certain sections of the community.
Not only did I publicly defend the song throughout the resulting debate but years later, sought him out and published (also in the Express) a follow-up interview, when research undertaken by a reputable agency seemed to vindicate his original stance.
Although there was evidence of cynicism in his chronicling of "Where Pan Reach?" I rallied with that song too, considering its overwhelming value as a wake-up call to custodians of the national musical instrument, who had clearly lapsed in pursuing research and development of the steelpan.
But "Face Reality" is none of those songs. It is, in fact, a more violent (and indeed, less studied) extension of recent Cro Cro calypsoes, notably "Jail Them" in which he (inter alia) recommends homosexual rape for UNC politicians and the more robustly executed "Come In Town (Yuh Go See)", delivered always with demonstrations of the body blows party leader Basdeo Panday would suffer if ever he visits Port of Spain.
Now, Cro Cro is a bright fellow. By his own admission he was en route to studying for a degree in chemical engineering when calypso intervened offering a career choice, so his lyrics are not the work of an idiot. They are deliberately designed to create the separatist conflicts that inevitably follow. It is with that approach to art I take issue.
"Face Reality" has already alienated Indo-Trinidadians (who comprise nearly half this country's population), the president of the Inter-Religious Organisation Pastor Clive Dottin, The Catholic Commission for Social Justice and the San Juan and San Fernando business associations.
"Face Reality" has meanwhile attracted negative editorials in two leading daily newspapers, agitated radio talk-shows and upset just about everyone except, apparently, the management of The Calypso Revue where Cro Cro is billed as a headliner.
Precisely what Cro Cro hopes to achieve by this illogical approach to solving the problem of kidnapping for ransom is unclear. His defence of the song (branding those who object to it as "corrupt") is equally perplexing.
Businessmen are calling for an advertising boycott of radio stations that play it and persons unknown have mounted a vigorous e-mail campaign that, quite unfortunately, debunks calypso at large.
So if we're talking about facing reality, all that Cro Cro has done for calypso season-and quite effectively-is help supply the answer to Brother Valentino's most profound question.
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