KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The state-owned National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) has explained its decision not to air a calypso that a Carnival Development Corporation Development (CDC) official says will have to be vetted by a lawyer now that it has been selected for the National Calypso Monarch Semi-finals.
A discussion about Alvin “Zion I” Dennie’s “Brave” developed after NBC announcers spoke over the lyrics of the song during the station’s live coverage of the Preliminary Judging of On Tour Calypso Tent last Thursday.
Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) activist and musician Bryan Alexander, in a Facebook post, criticised the NBC and described commentators Maxian Harry, Bernard Joseph, and Aubrey Burgin as “little puppets of MASSA”.
“… the simpletons refused to mention who the MC was, just because it was E.G. Lynch of NDP fame, they went on stage and took in all the Calypsonians except for Zion I, who they did not even mention was coming on stage,” Alexander said in his post on the social networking website.
Prime Minister Gonsalves has successfully sued Lynch for defamation in relation to comments he made on the NDP’s weekday “New Times” radio programme, which he hosted for 11 years before developing eye problems last year.
“How … backward can you guys at 705 get? Ah mean this is SVG, the Station supposed to belong to all of us, what you all hope to get out of being a foot stool of MASSA?” Alexander further wrote.
“Stop dividing the … Country, we all are one, stop the … ‘stupidness’, stop being used, stand up for what is right, you all look and sound like jacka…s, you all are stiffing the … culture, SVG is last in everything because of you all … backward behaviour, you all would cause strife in this Country…” the post further said.
But NBC General Manager Corletha Ollivierre told I-Witness News by email on Monday that the song “was placed on hold until we obtain a legal opinion so it can be cleared for airplay.
“This is standard procedure at the station with any calypsos with which we need to be scrupulously certain as we cannot expose the Corporation to litigation — we must be responsible,” Ollivierre wrote in response to and I-Witness News request for comment.
“Because it is on hold, the announcers spoke over the lyrics while the song was being aired during the preliminaries. The CDC vets calypsos only at the semi-final stage, therefore the Corporation has sole responsibility to ensure legal clearance of all materials aired prior to the semi-final stage,” the executive further said.
“This is a responsibility of all media houses and not just for calypsos but with respect to any material submitted for publication on air. I suppose that the spotlight will be on NBC as the national station which has traditionally given a platform for and voice to the nation’s calypsonians,” wrote Ollivierre, an experienced media practitioner.
Anthony Dennie, the CDC’s coordinator of shows and co-host of “Morning Scoop” on the ruling Unity Labour Party’s Star FM, spoke to the issue during the programme Monday morning.
“… the calypso in question, I heard it. I was there at the park. … And boy some hard-hitting lyrics; name-calling and certainly, it was a hair-raiser so to speak indeed. A no-holds-barred kind of calypso and it’s like is this guy serious? And I agree with NBC Radio. You can’t put yourself in a position where you open yourself to legal battles and lawsuits and anything of that nature,” Dennie said.
In the 4 minutes, 40 seconds calypso, the “Bad Man Calypsonian” singer who was first runner-up three years ago, sang about the murder of “Jackson”, thieving down of “NCB”, Cubans eating out “food city”, thieves from the government seemingly banking money in St. Lucia, and, among other things, the use of drug money to run “campaign”.
And while the calypsonian did mention some names in his rendition, in many instances he referred to the subjects of his commentaries as “them”, “who”, and “Yo” (you).
“Man, if this song mean me grave, I brave. Ah say brave. Is so I brave. Man I brave. E (the) Rasta man brave,” he sang in the chorus.
Dennie, in his comments on Monday, further said media houses to ensure that what they are “replicating is factual, it is not defamatory.
“CDC takes the same stance when it comes to vetting calypso. There is a contract — calypsonians and soca artistes should not take a position where they, quite naturally, bring in lyrics that defames anyone,” the CDC official further said.
“And if NBC Radio 705 felt it fit that this particular song is not fit for airwaves, it may be defamatory and it may be bringing certain things in a manner that we don’t think are the right messages, then, in all fairness, they have a right not to air it.
“And to call people — seasoned media people — puppets and simpletons, you know, please, I don’t think we have to go down the road in situations like this. It is not the first time that something like this has happened. It has happened in the past, it has happened under past administrations.”
But Dennie said that his comments were not intended to target Zion I.
“This is in no way to target the particular calypsonian about that. Because I mean Zion I has sent tunes here that we have played on Star [FM] and certainly, of course, we will continue to do so if it doesn’t in anyway is defamatory or puts the station in any position where it is opened up to law suits. We will play it if that is not the case,” Dennie said.
“The 22 semi-finalists are to be announced and the question is, if this particular calypsonian makes the cut, the final 22, what happens from a CDC standpoint?” he said hours before the CDC release the names of the 22 semi-finalists, which includes Zion I.
“Well, I can say to listeners, and I think it is important that I mention it. CDC, whenever there are any questionable lyrics, do seek legal advice. There have been cases in the past where we would have asked calypsonians and artiste to change … particular lyrics in their songs so that it doesn’t in any way defame or bring any sort of disrepute to us the Carnival Development Corporation. And, in this particular situation, I can see us seeking legal advice if this particular calypsonian makes the final 22,” he said.
Zion I, who was second with his rendition “Sing Leh We Hear”, which swiped at Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his ULP administration.
It mentioned the rape accusation against Gonsalves earlier that year, police brutality, an unelected government officials “who have the biggest [position]”, and a one-man funeral.
The song ended with a mock arrest, during which two actors, dressed as police officers from the Rapid Response Unit — commonly called the “Black Squad” — accosted the calypsonian, slapped him and told him to sing about that, before taking him offstage.
The dramatization was of a situation in 2008 in which calypsonians Grantley “I-Pa” Constance said a member of the Black Squad had slapped him and told him to write a calypso about that.
In his second song, “Bad John Calypso”, Zion I, dressed like a prisoner with a handcuff dangling from one wrist, sang a witty calypso in which he said if he did not win the competition people would have to go to the emergency room for treatment. He said we was also going to close down the post office and turn it into a brothel and bring his “friend from Iran” to rig the next general elections.
The artiste, who claimed that he was fired from his job because of the songs, spoke on an NDP platform in Green Hill during the campaign for the 2010 elections.
“Ralph Gonsalves gi me a little wuk. Me sing ah song. Me ah calypsonian. Me sing ah song and de song bring money for me. Ralph Gonsalves dem going gi me $11,000? So if me sing a song and say ‘Dey say de PM had a narrow escape/He was almost charge for rape.’ Oh God ah money me a look fah; and dat dey mash up the place… ” he said in dialect at the NDP campaign event, quoting his song “Sing Leh We Hear”.