February 22, 2004
By Raffique Shah
I MUST confess that I am running scared this Carnival. In fact, I am so frightened, I fear I might just mess my pants! I can assure readers I am not bothered by warring "Soca Divas" or the myriad male "jammers" to whom "melody" is the name of a deceased calypsonian, and lyrics the "bad buoy" chat you exchange before shooting at each other. No, I have long resigned myself to living in calypso's glorious past, to thinking mas-a-la-George Bailey and Harold Saldenah and resplendent Wild Indians and seeing "Buccoo Reef" live on the streets of the city.
Up until last year, when my zeal for the national festival bottomed out (or so I thought), I blamed it on the onset of age. Hell, with the big six-zero looming large on the horizon, I thought I was becoming an "old fogey", hence my inability to appreciate the cacophony that passes for Soca music. I feel even older when I see tens of thousands of people having a ball to untreated "tatah" that I find jarring, inane, senseless. But then I reasoned that when one is intoxicated, even Crazy's "Dustbin Cover" band would make one gyrate and "get on bad" (that kaiso, by the way, was better than anything served up by today's "stars").
What can I say about this year's fare? There are a few good calypsoes, and I am judging this not merely by their lyrics, but by some haunting melodies as well. Christophe Grant is again having a good year (I assume he penned the tunes sung by Denyse Plummer and Singing Sandra), and when I listen to the likes of young Brian London, I know all is not lost. Indeed, I think there is even more hope among many teenaged bards whom I have listened to, once they do not fall into the "fast bucks" trap that produces one-year wonders whose songs are forgotten by Ash Wednesday.
Artistes who want to chart careers in the calypso world would do well monitor David Rudder. I use him as an example-and exemplar-only because for many of the young noise-makers, Sparrow or Rose or the late Kitchener are but distant memories best forgotten. Rudder has only to open his mouth and croon: "Pim-pi-lim-pim-pay-lib-e-lam-bam," and the audience, any audience, goes wild. Birdie comes on stage and hums: "Making love one day"... not another note, and he, too, sends crowds into hysteria. Or Rose sings, Fire, fire. That's what the art form is all about. It's why any of the above artistes, and many more who have class songs (Stalin, Duke, Valentino, Terror, Gypsy, to name just a few) can perform before audiences that have never before heard calypsoes, but lap up numbers that remain classics.
It's not the decline of the art form that has me running scared, though. It's not even the crime that's all-pervasive, that has you clutching your few dollars and car keys to keep Carnival predators at bay.
I started shaking in my shoes after I read where big, bad Bajan Attorney General Mia Mottley told fishermen from that country to go fish in waters off Tobago. I clutched at my heart when I read: "(Mottley) warned that if the T&T Coast Guard arrests any Barbadians for fishing in the disputed waters Barbados will respond in the strongest possible terms!" Shades of Destra and Denise?
Now, isn't that chilling warning similar to George Bush telling Saddam to "ride out of Baghdad before sunset, or else?" What's the meaning of "strongest possible terms"? Are these not belligerent words from a nation that's preparing for war? The war drums being drummed up in Bimshire are enough to make peace-loving, mas-playing Trinis all mess their pants! Really!
Because these days one never knows. Barbados could possess weapons of mass distraction (Arthur and Mia) and its neighbours may be none the wiser. On the other hand, and this must be closer to the truth, Mia is probably living out an historical fantasy in which, harking back to when Britain was about to enter some war way back and the Bajan Governor sent London a telegram: "Go ahead, Britain-Barbados stands behind you!"
That, of course, has remained a joke for decades. And I suspect Mia's war-talk to be what we Trinis deem "sh*t talk", the kind of threats one might hear in hawk-and-spit rum shops. "Boy, look, doh leh mih buss up yuh mudder...!"
Really, what has taken possession of the Barbados Government, and of Owen Arthur and Mottley in particular? I am trying hard to understand these two and the many Bajans they are working up to a frenzy. What's their mission? Do they really believe they have the right to fish in our waters without our agreement? That they can just land off Charlotteville, plant a rig, and start drilling for oil and gas? Really, I have to question their sobriety.
If they have any sense, and I presume they do (I may poke fun at them, but I respect their offices), they must know that they are standing on shifting sand, not solid ground. There is no way the UN will re-define our maritime boundaries unless we have robbed another country of its rightful space. If that were so, the UN would have acted way back, shortly after the Venezuela-Trinidad accord. But it has not. Also, Barbados (and we can now add Guyana to the cauldron) never protested, formally or otherwise, at that time. So why the huffing and puffing now?
Mia must know her threats are hollow. If any Bajan fisherman is stupid enough to follow her "war cry" and venture into our waters, he'll be locked up. He'll face the courts, and now that we have plugged a hole in the prosecution, he'll face a fine, or jail, or both. The fisherfolk there know that, which is why they did not mount an armada and head for Tobago after Mia's dotish talk.
They know it's their backsides that will end up in jail, not Mia's. And there's nothing she'll be able to do to help them. So wisely, they are playing it safe.
Moreover, any trade war declared by Arthur and Mia will not hurt a nation whose exports run into billions of US or Euro dollars, not some piddling millions. So this jokey duo should think again before they open their mouths.
In a vain bid to come across like a George Bush, they sound like two drunken people lost in the bushes. If only they knew what Trinis use the bush for during the Carnival season!