Now that Stedson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire has announced his retirement from competition, I consider it a good time to pay tribute to the man who revolutionized calypso in Barbados.
Bag’s entry on the national calypso stage in 1982 saw a mammoth crowd attending the Pic O’ De Crop finals. His victory over the previously undisputed king, the Mighty Gabby, started what was to become a yearly highly anticipated battle royale between the favoured son of the city and the darling of St Philip. The National Stadium was transformed into a sea of red as adoring fans cheered every word emanating from the mouth of the lyrical master.
The truth is that Gabby always made good music, but RPB produced lyrics which captured the imagination and challenged listeners to take a fresh look at the issues of the day. He used language effectively, and as a teacher of English at St George Secondary, Harrison College and Community College, I used his songs to teach puns, metaphors and imagery. His subtlety, interesting turn of phrase and biting satire without smut should be emulated by other calypsonians.
Most Barbadians praise Bag’s humility, but one thing I do not think many people know about him is his generosity. On several occasions, I called on him to perform for the St Mark’s Church luncheon and he did so willingly and without charge. When, as the Anglican Church’s Social Justice Commission chairman, I sought his assistance for a jingle to be used in our proposed campaign entitled “At Risk Youth”, he eagerly agreed, again without asking for a penny. He promised then that he was prepared to do anything for the church. And I am not the only person or the church the only organization that was at the receiving end of his generous service.
As the lyrical genius hands over the mike to up and coming calypsonians, I wish to let him know that he will be greatly missed. We are grateful for the contribution which he has made to our enjoyment of the Pic O’ De Crop, Sweet Soca and Party Monarch competitions.
In my case, he is the only artiste who got me to go on a calypso tent stage and dance. That was in response to his infectious song, “Spontaneous”. RPB is loved by Barbadians living across the diaspora as well as non-nationals, some of whom cannot even speak English. Notwithstanding his fame, Bag has remained a gentleman whose life reflects the decent upbringing received at the hands of his beloved mum, the late Ruby Wiltshire.
Stedson, please do not allow your creative juices to stop flowing. Thousands of old and not so old Barbadians are relying on you to continue to bring us joy. With you, Gabby and John King absent from competition, the epic battles of the past will now be part of our memory bank. Happy, but productive retirement RPB!