January 30, 2001 By Keith Smith

Chalkie without mercy

NOW I know what calypsonians mean when they sing “sans humanite”, loosely translated as “without pity”.

Pardner, I was lying on my bed reading, radio on, when I heard Chalkdust not only commenting but commenting corrosively on his good friend, Jack Warner and his better, perhaps best friend, Roy Augustus.

Now I have always understood the link between Roy and Jack, the two being friends from when they started teaching way back, if you know what I mean. Chalkdust I have always known to be part of that enterprising clan so when I heard that Roy through Jack had gone across to Panday, I was less surprised than most, links of a lifetime being what they are. But, brother, you could have knocked me down with a pigeon feather when I heard friend Chalkdust’s fusillade against his erstwhile friends.

I say “erstwhile” because I don’t see how the friendship could survive the onslaught in what is Chalkie’s best album in years, the conclusion drawn not because I share the singer’s anger, but because it is the kind of vintage political commentary that, for some time now, the cognoscenti feared had been lost in calypso. The offerings from Sugar Aloes, Cro Cro, Pink Panther and the rest not being of the same order. Hear Chalkie singing “Short Cut Society” and “De Tent Is It”, two of the season’s major calypsoes in the most melodious of minors:

When I was a little fellow
And mih mother send me to the shop
For me to hurry back with the you know
She would tell me take the short cut
But when I grew up I felt real sad
I found myself in a funny spot
Cause ah notice in my Trinidad
All man and woman taking short cut
To get up as sport
Everybody taking this short cut
They don’t want to line up
They refuse to stand up
Fourteen days to wait is too long they telling you plainly
Do you know somebody?
I’ve got plenty money

And to get a diplomatic passport
There’s a short cut
Just hug up Mr Panday
And kiss his you-know-what
And you don’t need no real election to rule these people
Save yourself trouble, just lie down and sleep with the devil
We living in short cut country
Trinidad is a short cut society

When I was a little fellow
Taking short cuts was the golden rule
We had a special short cut to follow
To take us pickney from home to school
To get a job later on was sorrow
If Daddy didn’t know Mister Ned
I woulda be a vagrant all now so
If wasn’t for short cut, boy, I dead
Women use to dolls up their hair to go out on a jig
Now is short cut hairdressing
They just dash on a wig
Children ent learning tables again like those of yesteryear
They have a short-cut teacher
He name Calculator

And the shortest way to be a UNC senator
Leave Panday and sit in little Jack Horner’s corner
Roy Augustus pardner
And if Jack Warner promise you piece of his Christmas pie
Satan wink his eye
That’s a short cut for mamaguy
We living in short cut country
Trinidad is a short cut society

When I was a little fellow
And ah walking pass through the short cut
Mih grandmother used to warn me you know
Not all short cut does full up yuh pot
Sometimes a short cut does bring you trouble
And you could end up in jail she say
You must know what to use when you travel
Sometimes is best to take the long way
And if yuh want to get kick out of NAR and UNC
The short cut is easy
Tell the police they duncey
And if you want to throw way money like if it doh exist
Call a man a pseudo-racist

And the shortest method of building an airport runway
Is to get Dhanraj to get on a plane and flew away
And if yuh cyar get Duprey to give your 2.5 million dollars
Do like dem fellers
And burn down Police Headquarters

But you have to hear Chalkdust sing it since I am singing it as I write. I write about it, more than anything else, as an act of reassurance. Traditional calypso, as we will explore over the season and, perhaps, beyond is alive and biting. The hope is that youngsters with an eye on careering the art will listen and learn by watching the rhyming scheme Chalkie employs here. How he coats with the sugar of humour the aloes of his bitterness, how even as he chastises what he perceives to be the short-cut methods of his colleagues, he takes the country to task for its predilection to the short cut that is graft, how, rightly and wrongly, he makes a case against Roy and Jack that has nothing, contrary to the propaganda, to do with race.

More than that, he extends the argument to include Gypsy in “De Tent Is It”. But I see I have run out of space, so it is to this that we return tomorrow if only to prove Stalin right in that the art, in the long run, always rights itself. ’Til tomorrow, then?

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