I am still in a state of surprise and shock weeks later. Yes, I remain in a state of astonishment, weeks after attending the January 22nd, 2012 Independence Calypso Monarch, presented by The Richard “OP” Holder House of Calypso Tent and held at the Mahalia Jackson School auditorium in Brooklyn, New York. I know you are wondering what was responsible for my having such a surprise. So I’ll tell you.
The Independence Calypso Monarch show has always been promoted as an arena to showcase Grenada’s calypso artists’ talents and, although, as I’ve noticed, some artists needed much more practice, there were brilliant talents displayed, indeed. Despite this, I enjoyed what each one of the participants had to offer. On the other hand, the judges’ final result was one aspect of the evening that troubled me to some extent. However, I will return to this later. Allow me to start from the beginning.
It was my first time attending the Independence Calypso Monarch show in New York, and although entering a virtually empty auditorium, the evening started out well. I was thrilled to meet some Grenadians I had not seen in years. Some of whom I barely even remembered. Nonetheless, as we reminisced about the past, it was time for the evening’s proceedings to begin, and as the band’s vocalist asked the auditorium to stand for the national anthem, a sense of pride overtook me. I looked around, and almost every individual in the room was dressed in something designed with the national colors. People had neckties designed in the colors of the national flag. Beautiful, I murmured to myself. It was as if the national colors were omnipresent. The atmosphere reminded me of my high school days taking part in the independence celebrations. The music began, all in attendance stood, and I shut my eyes. Instantly, I was mentally transported to this beautiful, beach laden, sun lit, little island of mine. “Hail Grenada, Land of Ours, We pledge ourselves to thee.” As these words filled the room, for a moment, the New York cold vanished. I was home.
My nostalgic feelings, however, did not last very long. The show began and the surprise did not take long to come. A statement delivered by one principality (name I will not mention) had me staggered although I was firmly planted in my sit. According to the speaker, to be a good Grenadian, one must not engage in openly critiquing dreadful things that are happening in Grenada. Stop writing things in newspapers and on the internet, he commanded. Grenadians must stop exposing the wrongs that are happening in their country. Instead, Grenadians must sweep their bad stuff under the rug. In other words, we must censor ourselves. Don’t rock the boat. For a moment I thought I was beamed back in time, listening to a speech delivered by some principality of the Kremlin Russia political machine. Of course, this might be quite a stretch for an analogy. Nonetheless, I hope you get the point. In fact, the 1979-1983 revolutionary government of Grenada and its late leader Maurice Bishop was constantly ostracized for infringing on the freedom of the citizens’ right to criticize his regime and the wrongs that was being done. However, here we are, it is 2012 and the idea of censorship is still being flirted with. The speaker’s reason, Grenada is a tourist relying country, and, as a result, its dirty laundry must not be heard nor seen, if Grenada must attract people looking for a vacation spot.
I disagree with the speaker’s suggestion and the reason he gave for concluding such. Is this the message we deserved to hear at our 38 years of independence? Certainly not! Have we not grown, matured? Indeed, we would all love to live in a country that has no crimes, political or otherwise. However, this is an unreal expectation, and since this is the reality, it is us, the Grenadian citizenry right to keep the politicians (principalities), the police apparatus, etc. in check. How else can we accomplish this but by criticizing their wrongs via any media available? Certainly, we all are aware of what recently had been done to the Grenadian born, Canadian citizen, by police officers. This atrocious crime and others like it must be openly condemned. Doing this means just the opposite to what the speaker suggested. To criticize the wrongs happening in one’s country is to love and help it grow. One’s dirty laundry remains under the mattress not for long. It will eventually come to light, and most often is more damaging than if it had been taken care of earlier. I was, indeed, appalled at the speaker’s suggestion.
The singing completion is now ended and we await the judges’ results. Of course, the MC, Calypso artist Hercules, had to go through his routine antics of joke-telling. But as he cracked his sometimes very offensive jokes, he reminded the attendees to respect the judges’ decisions. Certainly, the use of this line is not unusual. This preemptive line seems to be present in all calypso competition held back home. What was different here though is the number of times and for how long the statement was repeated. It invoked a very different feeling. My wife, who is not a Grenadian nor from any Caribbean country, turned to me and curiously asked, is there a point in repeating this statement. I offered no answer because I had no idea. I too was curious. Nevertheless, after about one hour reminding us to respect the judges’ decisions as final, the results came and an atmosphere of fun and frolic abruptly transformed into a room of disappointment and calm anger. Gossip filled the auditorium, and as I, many attendees could not believe that Burgess McPhie (Quako) took the crown. Of course, neither they nor I are calypso experts, but I am quite sure, based on what I had seen and heard, Quako should not have won this competition with first place honors, and it seemed that the cynically repeated “respect the judges’ decisions” by Hercules, spoke to that fact. To me and my wife, the best performance of the night went to Clifford Matthew (Humorous Matt). Mind you, I have no idea who this guy is. However, it was not only his presentation, but his words were clear and very well-articulated. He, I will argue, was the only competitor that commanded the attention of the entire audience. Second, third, fourth and fifth place should have been Harriet Jeremiah (Pet), Elwin Mark (Elo), Burgess McPhie (Quako) and David George (D Iceman) respectively. This is my list. In fact, a good number of attendees I spoke to after the show agreed. Indeed, the feeling amongst many was that the judges thief. I certainly felt cheated out of my money, and my wife promised never to attend another show. She was very disappointed, and so too were many others.
So, in conclusion, as I reflect on attending my first Independence Calypso Monarch show, I asked myself, is this kind of seemingly audacious robbery a staple of this competition. Could this have been the reason for the virtually empty auditorium? The hall remained almost as empty as I had entered it, and, as it now stands, my wife and I are two less attendees for next year’s. I request that the Independence Committee please take heed. Nevertheless, with things like this, it is certainly hard not to critique what appears to be a wrong.