For many in Barbados the silly season is mostly associated with our general election. But the annual Crop Over Festival has over the years provided us with moments of such unparalleled hilarity that it has perhaps become the silliest of all our seasons.
Captain Sawyer’s tame ditty Sugar Daddy has drawn the ire of outgoing president of the National Organization of Women, Marilyn Rice-Bowen. Of course, the calypsonian should be mightily grateful to Mrs Rice-Bowen, as her public denouncement of the song has drawn national attention to it in a manner and to a degree that it might not have otherwise enjoyed. Negative publicity, after all, is still publicity.
The NOW president is entitled to an outlandish opinion, but that entitlement should not stretch to advocating that any calypsonian be deprived of employment opportunities because her personal sensibilities have somehow been offended. But how has Sugar Daddy offended?
The lyrics, with the hookline “something for something”, are suggestive of relationships between males and females where some form of monetary or tangible reciprocity is involved. The lyrics are as basic as anything that has been delivered before and less offensive than several Caribbean classics.
If one accepts that our calypsos reflect what occurs in society, and that our calypsonians simply provide commentary on social realities, one is startled that anyone could recommend an artiste be summarily deprived of the opportunity to buy bread.
We appreciate the need for good taste, even in the midst of a secular festival. But when a correlation can be found between Sugar Daddy and the spread of HIV/AIDS, and a detail that 44.2 per cent of households are headed by single women, as well as the suggestion the song casts women in an unfavourable light, such comments appear nothing more than the utterings of a well-meaning but over-exuberant activist.
It would seem no thought has been given to the history of West Indian calypsos, regional carnivals of any name, the role of the calypsonian, societal realities, or the input of women in the lyrics of our calypsos.
More than three decades ago, Mighty Terror sang: “Come by muh and feel muh skin; it was soft before but now I prepare for war.” Long before, the Mighty Sparrow had pontificated on the sweetness of all salt meat, and having never eaten white meat yet. He introduced fans to the Village Ram and Mr Rake And Scrape –– all to do with sexual shenanigans.
In his classic Lion And Donkey, Sparrow sings about a fight where the donkey grabs the lion from behind and holds him in that position. To the exhortations of the referee to “break, break, break”, it is made clear that was indeed the donkey’s intention. A memorable piece of writing that might bring a knowing smile to any gay lobbyist.
And what about our own legendary and illustrious Merrymen? Is Mrs Rice-Bowen mimicking Rip Van Winkle? Their Big Bamboo is a Bajan classic, irrespective of
I ask my lady what I should do,
To make her happy and make love true.
She said, “The only thing that I want from you
“Is a little little piece of a big bamboo . . . .”
I gave my lady a sugar cane;
Sweet up the sweets I did explain.
She gave it back, to my surprise,
She liked the flavour but not the size.
To our knowledge, Big Bamboo has never drawn Mrs Rice-Bowen’s ire.
We should accept that inasmuch as our calysonians highlight male prowess, they often showcase male shortcomings. And our female calypsonians, too, have also been at the forefront of singing about and highlighting many of these social interrelationships. In some instances, their lyrics are as provocative as any produced by the Captain Sawyers of the art form.
Long before our own Alison Hinds took the region by storm as its undeniable Soca Queen, unashamedly promoting her acute sensuality, Calypso Rose threw her presence into our consciousness with unbridled sauciness. In songs like Sweet Nest she was not afraid to mock men’s masculinity by flaunting her own femininity.
The admirable Alison has been a trailblazer in putting her warrior-like presence –– and lyrics –– out there. Unfortunately, NOW is not the time to accept their existence. But in songs like The More You Get It the Soca Queen sings: “The more you get it, the more you want it . . . . Don’t move too fast cause you gotta make it last.”
And the theme is basically the same in her Boom Boom Tonic. She sings:
Ladies, I think they need some tonic . . .
So fill them with the boom boom tonic . . . .
Woman in front and man behind it . . .
Hold your lover and then you time it . . . .
Wine back and give them tonic . . . .
Wine to the back and lock it on to me . . . .
Gimme the juk juk . . . . I want to ride it,
I want to ride it . . . . I want to feel it, I want to feel it.
One might question individual treatment of themes, but Captain Sawyer’s Sugar Daddy fits smugly into the tradition of many of his predecessors. And whether it be Rose’s Banana or Fire Fire, Reclaimer’s In De Sauce, Sach Moore’s Wuh Yah Gotta Gimme Fuh Christmas or the Tradewinds’ You Can’t Get, the calypsonian is entitled to paint what he or she sees happening around him or her in palatable words –– and, most importantly, to eat too.