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Calypso music to bring healing

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Carnival and calypso —can they be combined to counter crime and corruption? As I settled into my writing/study room on Ash Wednesday morning at 4.30 to flesh-out this column around a subject that had been playing around in my mind over the last weekend, the rains began cascading. Through my window the thought came easily to mind: are these showers meant “to wash away the ungodly” we have inserted into the Carnival?

Not so easy came the response of my mind, alerted to the trap of easy solutions to what are societal dispositions which have been building over time. The original core intent of the column was to explore the issue of whether the intervention of two young artists, Aaron “Voice” St Louis, Voice and Helon Francis, reaching out in lyrics and melody to their contemporaries, “de bad man and dem,” and so too respectable citizens; could their messages have resonance and achieve a measure of connectivity within targeted groups?

Can a connection be made by the artistes with young men and women whose lives of violence are threatening their own existence and that of the wider society? Can the message of Helon reach and touch those covered in respectability and say to them, that they form a central element of the problem?

In a parallel happening on Carnival Monday night on television, Prof Hilary Beckles, at the launch of his new book Cricket Without a Cause, said if something is not done to retrieve West Indies cricket from its free fall, then West Indian society will also reach there.

If the youth of our societies across the Caribbean Sea are not rescued, we, all of us who remain here, will cease to experience life in sufficient quality to make it worth living. I often think of what is to happen to Haiti; but we in the rest of the Caribbean, the sacred and the profane, we are heading in the same direction only trailing behind?

In their different ways Helon and Voice reached out to the “bad man.” Voice defining for them what constitutes being a real bad man; and what is not: “Ah real bad man is a man who does defend woman and protect the young; sweet man look for a wuk you too damn evil.”

Helon sought to tell a few hard truths to respectable society: “The youths are trying their best but they born in dis place of lies and commess … they could eventually turn out just like we.”

Nothing is completely novel about the outreach by the calypsonian to “bad men.” In the 1950s into the 1960s, Caruso, Kitchener, Sparrow, Blakie and others sought to engage the generation of Marabuntas, Apple Jackers and Law Breakers.

Strategically applied throughout the year, Voice, Helon and their compositions can reach young men and women to keep them from going to the gangs, and to have them retreat from potential criminal associations; I toss trumpeter “with a cause,” Etienne Charles, to assist with the transformation.

However, getting the respectable elements of society to adopt a similarly cleansing process away from political corruption and double-dealing will be far more challenging as such groups have much to lose.

Reaching out to the youth through the young artistes is not as difficult and original as it may seem at first contemplation. Williams ignited the efforts of sections of the business community to sponsor steelbands as a means of countering “badjohnism” and steelband riots.

After 1970, Roman Catholic priest Fr Gerry Pantin, along with West Indies fast bowler Wes Hall, employed by Witco, headed into the hills of Laventille; Servol and the Wes Hall League were outputs.

The efforts through conventional means have not worked; young boys and girls continue to be attracted to the gangs in large numbers. Give Voice, Helon and Etienne a chance to begin to rehabilitate the young through their music and messages.


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