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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)

By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” June 30, 2023)

We are in the carnival season. By next week, carnival fever should be higher than ever. However, Vincentians’ claim that we have the hottest festival in the region is pure marketing hot air. The Vincent weather may be hot, humid and rainy around this time of year, but anyone who experienced carnival in Trinidad knows that our southern neighbour is the regional capital of steelpan, calypso, carnival and bacchanal. We Vincies love we bacchanal too.

For some reason, yet unexplained, this carnival appears low-keyed. The carnival launch last month was a total bust. The ragga and power soca semi-finals were scaled down to a bar event. Zion I, notwithstanding, the calypso tents had none of the rave and verve of old. Look for the topical essays sung by songbirds Shanelle Mc Kensie and Fya Empress to outpace true calypso composition and rendition by I Reality, Sulle, Abijah and Man Sick in the race for the monarch.

The judges say they could sing — as if calypso is only about the ability to sing. It is time the judges recognise that calypso is much more than a song. The ideal calypso is a mirror on society. It is a protest and commentary about the perceived ills among us. We need to return to our roots to save the art and preserve the culture.

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Talking about protests and ills. By now, we ought to know politicians don’t love the cultural art form of calypso. Opposition politicians pretend to love calypso. They lift the protest songs to the high heavens. They and their supporters come to the tent in droves to hear biting commentary about the powers that be. Put them in control, and they sing a different tune. They have no interest in protest. In power, the governing political elite stifles the art form and places obstacles in the way of genuine calypso bards.

In Trinidad, the calypso art form is taken much more seriously. Carnival is taken more seriously. A few years ago, a calypsonian went to court to assert his right to be in the calypso finals. He lost, but he was prepared to fight for his right.

It’s for this reason we celebrate the effort of Chewalee, Magikal, Grabba, Dymez X Da Pixel, et al for more recognition and fees. However, these artistes must understand they cannot be depending on CDC or carnival to make or break their efforts for advancement. They don’t have to look far. Becket, Winston Soso, Scorcher, Skinny Fabulous and Fireman make far more money outside of SVG than they ever did performing in CDC-organised events.

Meanwhile, Trinidad remains a real place. Abijah crows that St Vincent is not. You could do many things in Trinidad and get away with it. But there, as the ancients say, “the moon runs until day catch um”. High state officials are reined in quite often.  Who can forget 2006 when former prime minister Basdeo Pandey and former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma were jailed in the twin-island republic?

Justice Sharma was accused of trying to assist Panday, who was sentenced to two years in jail. When Sharma was arrested, he resisted the charge on the ground that he was a sitting judge. The matter was decided when the Privy Council unanimously ruled that Justice Sharma could be arrested and prosecuted on the obstruction of justice charges.

We have a bacchanal too. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached that level of “high mas”. Leaders and other high government officials are accused of high crimes and misdemeanours. Drugs disappear from police custody, and leaders are accused of drug peddling, money laundering, and amassing property their salaries can ill afford; insider trading and influence peddling are rife, yet apart from the minor public outrage, there is neither investigation, criminal charges or sanction, suspension or dismissals.

The political class remains untouchable. The calypsonians who attempt to spotlight the evil are either way over the top as Zion I was this year or failed to get the judges’ nod. As De Man Age told us more than 40 decades ago, this society needs a spectacle. It will help us to see some of the evils. Because who cares about the hungry children? Who cares? Is we have to care bout we!

When Mighty Shelly sang “Big Jobs”, his target was decision-makers who granted all important jobs to foreigners.  Today our calypsonians could finger party hacks who are square pegs in round holes who clog the police, public service and the teaching profession.

Last Tuesday, a judge in Trinidad ruled that police officers are expected to be politically neutral. Justice Robin Mohammed, in his decision, said, “Citizens are entitled to expect that police officers who accepted the duty and responsibility to protect and serve them will do so in a neutral and apolitical lens. It is for this reason that a police officer, regardless of rank, must maintain an appearance of impartiality, especially in the public domain, to preserve public confidence and avoid public disorder in society.”

Contrast this judicial opinion with what passes for policing in SVG. There was a time when the overwhelming majority of the police’s high command was from the prime minister’s constituency. Police officers flagrantly display their red party colours. Some actively promote partisan political issues on social media. Others have spied that a ticket to promotion is to go hard at the opposition on Facebook.

A solid calypso could berate all those choosing to act rather than perform top-class duties to the state. The DPP, police commissioner, chairpersons of boards and CEOs of statutory corporations can all be accused of acting. Listen to our PM in parliament or on radio, and it’s clear that he, too, is acting. But then again, As Abijah says, St Vincent is not a real place.

Part of the reason for a reversal in the quality of our carnival is that carnival has been reduced to a big fete. We are no longer concerned with mas, music and calypso. We have gone commercial. Our only desire is to exploit the carnival.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

4 replies on “St. Vincent, Trinidad and bacchanal”

  1. Percy Palmer says:

    Excellent dialog Jomo! My only objection was your referral to Zion-I being way over the top.
    He was ‘go right up in day” with his lyrics and redemption. He did addresss my of the evil items you mentioned.

  2. Some of what Jomo said makes intuitive sense , however ,his words are often scrutinize for inconsistency as in the case of his rulings whe he was the speaker of the house which is equivalent to his own nemesis. That poor decision haunts him even today to the extent that rightful thinking people so not take him.seriously.

  3. Take warning says:

    Strongly agree with this comment Jomo but we
    must remember that everything under the sun is only for a time. Let them carry on. It is written, for all flesh is as grass and all the glory of man as the flower of grass , the grass withers and the flowers therefore falleth away. It’s all about time

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