When Hollis Chalkdust Liverpool produced his classic calypso Too Much Quacks more than three decades ago, his target was principally fellow artistes who he believed were doing the art form more harm than good. Back then his song did not address private or public sector media moguls or managers. Perhaps 2019 is as good an occasion as any for Too Much Quacks – The Sequel.
Calypsonian Ronnie De Announcer Clarke annually brings a waning feature of our Crop Over music back to the public – humour. Over the past three decades or so with the exception of the works of Red Plastic Bag, and the likes of Classic, Eric Lewis, Colin Spencer, Adonijah and a few others, too many of our calypsos have tended to be long-winded verse or unimaginative prose without any semblance of wit.
We have had worthy offerings that touch on myriad issues of the day. But often the absence of wit or adroit turn-of-phrase renders many of our songs rather bland. Our calypsonians have from time to time had their songs banned by overzealous, uninformed media house moguls and managers. Of course, the raison d’être for this is usually that the song is vulgar, offensive to public sensibilities or libellous.
Frequently, though, lurking in the shadows is a powerbroker who engineers the pulling of the guillotine on a song because of personal discomfort. This has been happening throughout the region wherever the art form is practised. One is often left to wonder at what stage does the interpretation or intent of the creator of a musical work becomes irrelevant and the interpretation and sensibilities of media moguls, managers, politicians, powerbrokers and even John Public override all else? And what makes the scenario even more confusing is when history churns up questionable material that passed whatever litmus test that engenders public acceptance.
This year De Announcer finds himself on the wrong side of the powers-that-be for his quite witty and popular Reading For Pleasure. The selection has been banned from the airwaves of two broadcast agencies – public and private sector. And it all has to do with his pun on the last name of an author that actually exists – Eric Jerome Dickey. The artiste sings about the pleasures of reading, his preference of material, and also his suggestion of Dickey’s work to other prospective readers. Some of these, he relates in his song, had no time for the author because of work commitments.
Now, interpretation is a personal quality and one is entitled to it whether right or wrong. But to ensure that a false sense of bruised sensibilities or discomfiture does not lead one to make decisions that negatively impact on the creator of a work, some dispassionate questions ought to be asked. Does the artiste’s treatment of his intellectual property work? Are the lyrics of the song in themselves offensive? Is there compatibility among lyrics, interpretation and intent? It is fairer to judge and accept a song on what is actually presented than to dismiss it on what one assumes has been presented.
De Announcer has correctly pointed to some selections that continue to be aired on local broadcast stations, some of which pale in terms of creativity to his 2019 selection. He pointed to the likes of Popsicle’s Don’t Sell Cornwall, Mac Fingall’s Tonight You Eating Bacon, John King’s Singing Fuh Cree and Malik’s World Cup Cricket. In Edwin Yearwood’s Sugar Cane the artiste boldly and repeatedly exhorts his followers to “let’s go fuh cane”. These songs passed the test even though some of them might have offended the puritans in our midst. But, fortunately for these mentioned performers, their songs scarcely contained lyrics that might have caused discomfiture to the powerbrokers at the time. Therefore, persons manning the guillotine had no quarrel or received no instructions.
It is ironic that we live in a society where our broadcast media over previous decades accepted on their airwaves that Mighty Sparrow envied the Conga Man and regretted that he never “eat white meat yet”; or that he was penniless and had pawned everything in the house other than a fat, lazy feline and thus encouraged his girlfriend to Sell The Pussy [title of the song] and bring the cash for him. We have had our radio stations regale us with the legendary Chuck Berry swimming across Turtle Creek – not with a copy of a Dickey novel in his hands – but his “ding-a-ling”, a toy which he pointedly sang he wanted someone to play with it. This was all art accepted because compatibility was found among lyrics, interpretation and intent. No such luck for De Announcer.
When conservatism clashes with art in Barbados the former invariably wins. When political discomfort clashes with art in Barbados, the former always wins. De Announcer’s melodic and quite witty take on the pleasures of reading might be buried as the 2019 season progresses. And that would be a great shame.
Should De Announcer consider paying homage in calypso to that brilliant late British organist and composer William Crotch next year? After this year’s experience, perhaps that is one Crotch he should not touch. Better to write a ditty that extends the understanding of too much quacks and invalids.