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Calypsonians Gone Too Far

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There is much debate centred around the lyrics to some of this year's calypso songs with persons saying that the lyrics are too vulgar. Lil Rick this year has a number where he says the men like eating too much "conch", there is another where the guy says that "she push he", and others. However in my mind, the calypsonians of today are not doing anything any different from the calypsonians of yester-year, the likes of which the same people who are complaining now adore. I speak of no less a calysonian than Gabby, Sparrow, Red Plastic Bag, Gryner, Lord Kitchener, the list is by no means exhaustive. Here is Peter Wickham's say.

People & Things - Same old, same old

Published on: 6/13/07.

by Peter Wickham

Tell your sister to come down quick; I have something here for she . . . . Tell she it's Mr Benwood Dick, the man from Sangre Grande. She know me well, I give she already

. . . . Oy, she must remember me, oy . . . . Go on go on, tell she

Mr Benwood come.

THE FOREGOING EXCERPT is taken from The Mighty Sparrow's Mr Benwood Dick, which represents the World Calypso King at his best (or worst depending on the perspective one adopts).

Sparrow penned this saucy tune in 1960 around the same time that he released May May. A year later, while clearly on a roll, he gave us Jean And Dinah; and then went on to pen the infamous Lizard a few years later. Having been born in 1968, I grew up on a diet of these saucy calypsos and was taken by surprise when the lyrics to Jean And Dinah turned up on one of my CXC history papers.

Against this background, it is ironic that in 2007, more than 50 years after this art form that we celebrate during Crop-Over has matured, "spicy" or "saucy" calypsos are still controversial in Barbados and can still prompt

a headline like the one that recently appeared in the SATURDAY SUN of June 9. Presumably there are those among us who believe that this year the calypsonians have gone too far and the time has come for restrictions to be placed on these entertainers who have come dangerously close to outraging public decency.

However, I would beg to differ.

There needs to be an acceptance that the art form is to some extent "spicy". It always has been and perhaps always will be, and while the Experience calypso tent has introduced an interesting and spiritually uplifting vagrant to the Barbadian tradition, it is clear that we prefer the traditional spice and look forward anxiously to each year's instalment. Reference was made to the Trinidad tradition; however, our own boys and girls aren't lazy either when

it comes to "spice".

My personal favourite was the one-hit wonder Foreigner Frank's Lawn 'Em Down which innocently spoke of a lady who needed to have her lawn mowed because her man went away and she had an intolerable amount of bush that needed to be cut. Hence this new gardener was encouraged to cut the grass all "down by the soak-away" while avoiding the "water pipe".

I, like all of my peers, enjoyed this music and was able to repeat the verses from the age of five; and while some may differ, I don't think that we emerged as a generation of perverts, or that our morals were any lower than those of our parents. We sang these tunes and fully understood their meaning, although our parents assumed that we did not "get the joke".

We also, however, understood the manner in which these things should be treated and one assumes that this generation also understands the "time and place" and realises that Crop-Over is the time and place for such double entendre.

Notwithstanding, it is difficult to deny that our entertainers are becoming more risqué and it is perhaps not irrational to consider methods of stopping those

who have gone too far. To this extent, reference is drawn to the approach by The Devil, who left nothing to the imagination, and two other calypsonians from recent times. One of them encouraged us to sing a chorus, the end of which we already knew. Hence he started "I feel so good" and we ended "I feel so . . . good". The other chap challenged us to find a word that rhymes with "truck", and to this day I am still challenged.

The interesting thing about these guys is that they never became as popular as any of the more creative "smut specialists", and to my mind this reflects our desire not to go so far just yet. It is therefore clear that we do have the ability to police what these entertainers sing and how far they can push the envelope, by our support and interest in what they sing.

The self-policing ability is a reflection of the fact that our calypsonians use their music to hold a mirror up to society and where that image seems truthful, we accept, and where they present fictitious and crass renditions, we reject such notions.

The case in point would be the sudden interest our womenfolk have taken in "wicker" as opposed to the traditional "wood", or even the non-traditional bamboo

(that Sparrow also spoke about). We regret their decision to adopt this as their preferred material for furniture, but the truth is the truth.

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