To many persons of my age and orientation the best that we can hope for is a safe and incident free celebration --- this year’s festival was certainly that. Everyone will have different views as to whether the Summer Festival was a success --- it is merely a matter of opinion. The events in the Village that I actually attended were the Calypso Monarch Show and the Leeward Islands Calypso Competition. It is my opinion that they were both exceptional.
Boat Race fans had to be particularly disappointed with the wind conditions, which fluctuated from too much to too little over the week. Obviously, neither of these conditions is suitable for boat racing, a testimony to that fact was the race on Sunday which finished long after sunset. But despite the absence of a boat race on August Monday and the inclement weather which challenged the revelers, the Caribbean’s Most Popular Beach Party received rave reviews. Obviously, Hurricane or no Hurricane --- they all were determined that nothing would stop the Carnival. Not Emily! Not even a fully blown recession!
As I said in my last article, what makes the Summer Festival is the participation of people. I am referring to people as audiences; people as performers; people as producers; people as sponsors; people as vendors; people as service providers; and people who maintain safety and security. I questioned whether the global recession would in any way impact the quality of the celebrations. And one of my follow up questions was whether the usual revelers would put aside their worries to participate in the J’ouvert jam and the other amusements. I would suggest that despite the challenges there was little evidence that residents and visitors appeared to be the least bit “put off” by these harsh realities. Everyone seemed to relish the distractions, which the Summer Festival provided.
For helping to create an environment for release and regeneration, I must commend all the people who I referred to earlier, without exception. For me in particular, there were two aspects of that week which made a difference. The first difference for me was that our troupe, the Valley Community Troupe, decided that we would take a break this year because of the financial fatigue of sponsors and of our members. We also felt that, having had a long and distinguished record as champions, (not intending to sound immodest) it would be good for the morale of other troupes to have a chance to aspire to the winner’s circle. We are pleased that there is a new “first time” champion this year. But on a personal note, as a result of that decision, I had the opportunity to rest an aging body and empathize from afar off with other such senior citizens who were not so fortunate to escape the rigors of an animated parade on the hot and humid streets of Valley Central. While colleagues and contemporaries stand on the sidelines amused by our laborious breathing and sluggish moves to the deafening sounds of over-amplified music --- we are wondering whether we will make it to the next judging point. Or better yet: “Perhaps I should just go sit on the Float!” I must admit that I felt considerably better last Saturday and Sunday than I have in the last twelve years. Let me thank all those “well-wishers” who inquired, albeit with a smirk, of the reasons for our absence from the parade. Jeff Carty and I hope and pray to be back next year!
The second difference for me was the Calypso Monarch Competition. Every year I take up my position, amidst a group of friends, at the back fence, under the commentary booths, to witness the performance. We listen to every single Calypsonian, only taking a break for refreshment between rounds. When I was a Member of the ECCB Monetary Council, the organizers had to arrange a Charter to get me back to Anguilla in time for the show, having been told, in no uncertain terms, that such would be the only condition under which I would be prepared to attend. My presence was not mandatory, but was required for purposes of a quorum, since other members were also unable to attend for other reasons. The point I am making is that the Calypso Monarch Competition is my favourite traditional Carnival event and whether they sing about me, sing around me or sing on me --- I will be “in the house” and attentive. I have been asked how am I able to be un-moved by the sometimes unkind things that are said. My answer is quite simple: “That’s Calypso!”
Don’t get me wrong! It is not fair for any Calypsonian to use the art form to slander citizens. But as politicians and public figures --- we expect them to express their opinions in an entertaining manner on issues they strongly believe in. At the end of the day it is their opinion and not necessarily true or accurate. In many cases the lyrics are presented in a comedic form and should be accepted for what they are --- entertainment. Calypsonians often repeat things that they would have heard on political platforms and other forums, and are usually careful to place them in that context, namely, something they heard. Traditionally, calypsonians have been informally granted what is considered “poetic licence” thereby allowing them to use certain language and terminology as an aspect of the art form rather than having to conform to the burden of proof or evidence in the lyrics they compose. In fact, the culture expects exaggeration, extrapolation and a play on words and ideas as an aspect of the presentation. To put it simply, a person of our Caribbean culture should know when a Calypsonian is to be taken seriously --- and those who are inclined to file cases against them for libel or slander must also appreciate the fact that our judicial system is also fully aware of the boundaries, which circumscribe the art form.
There is also the other factor, that is, reaction. The person who is being sung about must decide how best to react. If a Calypsonian decides to “flatter” you by making you the subject of his composition you must decide whether it is best to complain and whine or just take it in stride. In most cases reacting negatively or going so far as engaging a lawyer brings more positive attention to the calypso and the Calypsonian than would otherwise be the case. In fact, the audience and the culture know when the Calypsonian has gone too far. They will take it in its context. And he or she will have to face up to the public outcry, which can also damage their reputation as artistes. Calypsonians get credit for their sense of balance and the quality of the product they present just like any other artiste. It is a two way street! It is a Monarch who wears the crown --- not a knave!
You must be asking why I have taken such a long and scenic road to explain the second difference for me this year. Why have I waxed so philosophical about libel and slander in the calypso art form? No! It is not about Porkyman’s Legal Licence! It is really about the fact that I have taken “my blows” every year during the Calypso Competition with a sense of both understanding and amusement. But for the most part I was spared this year. The heat was on the Government and its incompetence; the veteran and his departure; the wrong budget; the blame game; a host of other comments relating to the deception of the last election; and so on. What a difference a year makes in the topics that reach the Calypso media! In any case, I was just as happy to hear the renditions this year as last year. Calypso for me is about lyrics, tune, melody and delivery. Not whether the Calypsonian is kind or unkind to me. I believe that this year’s competition was of a high standard and we were all winners both on stage and in the audience. I have heard that members and supporters of the Government have not been so gracious in their comments.
I must congratulate the participants for the tremendous effort and talents they brought to the stage and the airwaves. The opportunity to be showcased in this manner highlights the multi-faceted importance of the Summer Festival for bringing out a variety of talent and enterprise from among our people. It was, not only, the artistes, the pageant contestants and the bands --- it was also the groups responsible for the productions and those responsible for capturing them electronically for audio and video broadcast and posterity. All homegrown! The beginnings of new careers and business opportunities in a shrinking world! That can carry them beyond the sandy white coasts and craggy limestone cliffs, which encircle our island home. I would recommend to those who missed any of the events to tune in to the local television channels to see them in good quality video productions.
But last week the world did not stand still. A number of us lost loved ones in the midst of our anticipation and celebration. While I commiserate with the families of all who are left to mourn it would be “unnatural” for me not to give special mention to the late Mr. Julian Russel Harrigan, not particularly for his role as a public servant at the most senior levels of Government, but moreso, as a consequence of his contribution to culture throughout his several decades of active involvement in the National Youth Council, Anguilla Choral Circle, and the Mayumba Folklore Group. Julian Harrigan dedicated his many talents and acumen to the promotion of music, youth and cultural expression throughout Anguilla and the longevity of Mayumba is a testimony to his efforts. He has left a legacy, which must be emulated if this component of our culture is to be cultivated and preserved for future generations of Anguillians. May his soul rest in peace.
Major occurrences in other parts of the world also impacted us last week while we were in a festive mood. The credit rating of the United States of America the most powerful nation on earth was downgraded from “AAA” to “AA+”. Because we are so susceptible to the vagaries of the international economy, particularly the United States, we can expect some fall out. It can mean that for our Government, the provision of products and services in the industries we participate will become more competitive and it may be equally challenging to attract foreign direct investment to critical sectors of our economy.
But there was also some good news at home which may have been lost amidst our preoccupation with the celebrations. The sale of Viceroy could probably result in as much as a fifty million EC Dollar windfall for the Government of Anguilla. This could be a great opportunity for the Government to turn things around while we wait for the rest of the world. Hopefully, it will also be an occasion for the Chief Minister to understand and appreciate the importance of partnering with local and foreign investors at this time, in an atmosphere or mutual respect. The only downside, which still remains in this situation, is how the several buyers will be treated and how that treatment will affect our future investment climate.
While I sat and pondered over the past week, the entertainment, the reveling, the calypsos, the sadness, the state of the world, the good news at home, and even the future --- Herman Wouk’s famous novel “Don’t Stop The Carnival” came to mind. I decided that it is time to read it again. I recall that it is a novel about experiences on a fictitious West Indian island and the attitude that affords survival even amidst the challenges of island living. It is really not about carnival. But I want to share a small excerpt with you which may suggest why we should never do away with our Summer Festival: “The West Indian is not exactly hostile to change, but he is not much inclined to believe in it. This comes from a piece of wisdom that his climate of eternal summer teaches him. It is that, under all the parade of human effort and noise, today is like yesterday, and tomorrow is like today; that existence is a wheel of recurring patterns from which no one escapes; that all anybody does in life is live for a while and then die for good, without finding out much; and that therefore the idea is to take things easy and enjoy the passing time under the sun. The white people charging hopefully around the islands these days in the noon glare, making deals, bulldozing airstrips, hammering up hotels, laying out marinas, opening banks, night clubs, and gift shops, are to him a passing plague. They have come and gone before.”
Need I say more! Don’t stop the Carnival!
Victor F. Banks
August 10, 2011