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The danger of forgetting

Thursday, February 1, 2018

I’ve been wanting to contemplate our particular Nativity-season art form. Not parang. The Christmas smut.

How, as Hindus locally celebrate Christmas, while Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not, ringing through the air are refrains of Adesh Samaroo “feeling to eat a piece of meat, whether it sour, it salty or it sweet”; Kenny J calling “I Want a Brush” to neighbour Joan to return a painting tool or “I Feeling to Put Something in Your Mouth,” chiding a gossiping wife, “you know what I talking bout, like a piece of ham…a drink of sorrel” (Kenny J); Panday cabling Conqueror, visiting for Christmas, “Don’t forget to pass by Drupatee so I could drink some dhal from she nanny”; and reflections on Santa’s desires, marital affairs and eating habits, like Clyde Pierre’s on Claus’s wish for salftish.

Some rhythms are soca parang, some chutney soca parang. Some songs’ sole purpose is its small story: Brother Marvin overhearing neighbour John telling Jenny, “I know it have a natural taste…Is Christmas morning…Girl why you asking?…My neck it in pain.” The woman going Caroni in a maxi begging the Canarios singer “Come meet my nanny.” Naki’s request to Santa, “Just bring me a man.” Women pleading, “Mr Scrunter, lemme play with your toy.”

“We Eating Yuh Pork Tonight,” an entire CD, includes Bernel C’s tale of a season behind bars, “You must carry out your pail each morning, or you cell go be stink of pee whole day.” There are myriad rum tunes.

And though not smut, remember the season all we heard was Damian Joseph’s depiction of the sounds of LingLong, LingSing, Mr PingChang, Achong and Lee, the parang side from Chinatown, China: “Wang-sing, poong-pong Chang-sing, woong-wong Poong, wang, chong Chinling-ping, chinling-pang Poong-sing, poong-wing Wang, woong, wing…Gimme char siu kai fan.

So I had to wonder what plantlike substance from Rowlee Mudda garden our three dailies’ editorial boards were sharing when each decided Massive Gosein’s 2018 chutney offensive worth an editorial.

One likened its “political commentary” to “the most biting examples of the craft” that “rattled T&T at its core.” Another suggested there are people “defending it as a skilful use of double entendre. What version of the tune did these people have? Newsday got it closest: “crass, stupid, vapid and…inane.” No Gypsy extempo telling Lady Africa “get your continent off the stage,” Gosein’s anthem nakedly intends to fuel racial and partisan animus. One verse, with no art whatsoever, calls a sitting prime minister an ole tief. Gosein himself says he relishes the attention and controversy. Sat Maharaj and Israel Khan have jumped in.

More hard times, pointlessness and racialism lie ahead in 2018. With their lure to turn to simple solutions. Which is how fundamentalism takes hold, with its bans and small moralities. Its Brexits and Trumps.

We cannot forget valuable solutions we have already learned here. And media institutions need to remind us what we already know. That we wring hands and declaim, remonstrate and rue, pelt toilet paper and boycott. But Contemporary Trinidad & Tobago doesn’t ban vulgarity or stupidity. Brutish, artless commentary is as much our culture as masterpieces of craft and vulgarity. And even if Eric Williams did not, we are to let jackasses bray. Place the tune last in Chutney Soca Monarch.

What might deserve commentary is another state-dependent Carnival organisation fallen on hard times threatening to ban a song to curry favour (if Gosein can, so can I) with a PNM government; or Gosein’s ignorance equating the overendowed blackface mammy in his music video to a jab molassie.

Yes, we must build a society where we pay attention to how we hurt each other. And yes LGBTQI voices have asked that artists who imagine violence against others not be given a stage to. But violence is not tastelessness. And states cannot decide who is vulgar.


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