In one of his more popular songs, cultural ambassador Anthony Gabby Carter sang about various things he thought defined his culture. I read almost anything I can get my hands on – a habit I have had since childhood. I remember reading on a picture emblazoned on the walls at the UWI Cavehill, words to the effect of culture being that thing that does not come off when we bathe.
I decided to expand my social dot and try to enhance my cultural repertoire by going to the opening of Crop Over held a few days ago. It truly was an experience. My disclaimer for this particular experience is simply that these musings are my experience, my feelings and my interpretation of the event. It is, by no means, a critical appraisal of the perfectly executed dance moves, or the technical mishaps that may or may not have happened.
I reached the playing field in Speightstown about 40 minutes after the scheduled start and picked a spot which I thought would allow me to take in both the activities on stage and in the crowds.
The actors on stage were splendidly dressed in bright colours and attractively designed costumes. From what I managed to pick up, the delivery of the last canes seemed to be portrayed as a handing over of the reigns of culture to the up-and-coming artistes. Some of the discussions I heard after led me to believe that many persons may not have interpreted the orations in that manner. However, that is what art is all about. It lends itself to multiple interpretations, although the audience is looking at or listening to the same thing.
As a musician, I was enthralled by the renditions of calypsoes old and new, and as I listened, a very sobering thought dawned upon me. The art form of calypso serves as much more than an outlet for creative genius or for entertainment. It carries the awesome responsibility of preserving the history of the nation. Things which may not necessarily be dictated in the formal setting within our schools, are preserved in time within these lyrics.
The concert almost seamlessly segued into the more ‘party style’ music and the atmosphere in St Peter changed. No longer was there the lilting melody from a penny whistle accompanying those dancing the Maypole, or the rhythmic snares backing up the calypsonians. No sir. There was a full-on party.
By this time, I was surrounded by a few familiar faces and I felt a little more at home during this unfamiliar genre of music. I did not recognise some of the more modern artistes simply because I do not spend much time at parties. This is not a reflection of their popularity, their ability to sway a crowd or their musical abilities. I just live within my social dot.
Most of the modern artistes were accompanied on stage by dancers, both males and females who caught my attention. Here is why. In medicine, there are, at the basic level, two things which could possibly go wrong with a heart rhythm. It could go too slowly which are the bradyarrhythmias or too quickly which are the tachyarrhythmias. In the tachyarrhythmias, sometimes the heart rate can be triple the normal upper limit of one-hundred beats per minute. Let me tell you… I stood open-mouthed as I watched some bottoms moving at speeds close to that of light. And I was spellbound as I observed them and the humans to which they were connected moving around the stage whilst maintaining rhythm and superhuman speeds. I remarked to one of my companions that should I have attempted such a feat, certainly they would have to visit me on the orthopaedics unit at our local hospital.
As the evening continued, these dancers seemed to be operating off something other than oxygen because the energy that was coming off the stage certainly was electrifying. Whilst I was writing, I remembered another recurring theme that was happening, this time in the crowd. Persons were moving from place to place and I found myself wondering whether I was a magnet for tall men. It seemed as though no matter where I stood, a tall man would appear and plant himself directly in front of me, disadvantaging me from seeing what was going on ahead of us. This happened to me far too many times for me to consider it a coincidence.
Despite the noise from the crowd and the amplified music from the stage I clearly heard my friends laughing and somehow I knew that they were laughing at me. As the story was told to me, during the frenzied performance of one of the more popular artistes I let out a loud jaw-breaking yawn. With tears rolling down their cheeks they agreed with me that I was beyond any shadow of doubt, outside of my element. If I had any plans of vehemently denying the truth of their words, they were thrown out of the window a few minutes later. This time I burst out laughing as I realised I almost detached my lower jaw from my skull with another yawn.
I enjoyed the time spent. The music was good, the atmosphere was relaxing for the most part, as there were some mischievous boys deploying ‘stink bombs’ near my post. I felt good as a Barbadian to witness the preservation of the old and it merging with the new. Whilst I certainly am more at home with the old, I am not unappreciative of the new genres. Many of the lyrics of the modern songs seemed to be in a language other than English. I was bemused watching several pairs of lips chorus these words in time with the performer with no difficulty. Were I to attempt such, certainly there would be much bloodshed from my tongue and lips.
I do hope that the remainder of the festival lends itself to a similarly wonderful experience, capable of catering to the needs of all facets of society. Crop Over… Correct!
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)