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Commentary: Is Calypso music a unifying or divisive force in the Caribbean?
Published on March 13, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Rebecca Theodore

The most rudimentary objective preserved in the French Revolution of 1789 was Liberty, Equality and Fraternity -- privileged circumstances if you like. The many equalities enshrined in the constitution of many Caribbean nations continue to provide the means to achieve this objective -- a freedom of speech through which we can speak, sing or write with no fear of censorship. However, on the other side of the dubious coin, it seems that this new prospect of freedom is misused, particularly as it is employed to the role of calypso music in the struggle against ruling class domination and its ideology of social development in the Caribbean.

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Rebecca Theodore is an op-ed columnist based in Atlanta, GA. She writes on national security and political issues. Follow her on twitter @rebethd or email at rebethd@aol.com
It is within this framework that fear and fascism become one with the other and can lead to serious and even disparaging circumstances in the Caribbean. It must therefore at once be understood that, in the same way that “calypso music responds to social crisis and attacks the ruling class and government for the oppression of the masses, at the same time, calypso music appeals to that very same society to follow the control of government and the ruling class for the good of all.”

Proponents contend that “calypso music brings a level of reasoning and reflection to Caribbean society” especially during Carnival when the theme of “culture as resistance” is awakened. The derisive, absurd disdain of the ruling class and criticism of government is evidenced in cow-head and devil apparels. Surreal and veiled caricatures of British and Dutch royalty and French imperialism are brought to light.

But if we continue to accept this as truth, we will at once notice that many societies in the Caribbean have moved beyond the obscurity of British, Dutch or French colonialism and imperialism and into the glaring light of independence.

Post- independence is making and continuing to make Caribbean societies cognizant of the value of unity and nationalism as a group. On the other hand, history teaches that nationalism is not only a potent force in self-preservation, valour and nobility, but can also be a force for reprisal, subjugation, enslavement and disgrace as well.

Thus, if fascism is best defined as a revolutionary premise that grew because of extreme nationalism, fear and government control in Nazi Germany or in Mussolini’s Italy, or as a system that emerged out of an economic crisis and reaction to capitalism, then it is my contention that calypso music is capable of promoting an independent culture of fear that appeals to various nationalistic sentiments and can endorse a nationalist ideology in the Caribbean.

This being the case, then it becomes fair-play evidence to assume that “calypso music is critical of the ruling class and government, but is also a victim of the ruling class” and influences political and social thought. Calypso music can greatly disturb the social structure of Caribbean society by calling for an absolute rebellion among the masses through censorship of free speech. Social scientist Ian Boxill writes that “Calypso music encourages nationalism, unity and peace in an atmosphere where it’s very structure breeds division, violence and loss of identity.”

Seeing that calypso music stimulates capitalist values and enforces the capitalist ideology of the dominant class, the questions linger – How is calypso music capable of downplaying the Marxist critique of capitalism and at the same time re-define and uphold the middle class perception of democracy? Wouldn’t this action in time to come confuse logic and create a majority consensus among targeted groups in the Caribbean similar to the racial inequality that Indo-Trinidadians, Syrians and blacks are now experiencing in Trinidad and Tobago? How can calypso music promote social justice and antagonize repression at the social, political and economic levels of Caribbean society to bring about tangible changes to benefit the masses?

Surprisingly enough, Orwell heard fascism applied to homosexuals, astrology, Gandhi, bull-fighting, women, and even dogs but never to calypso music. Maybe he had never heard the descants of the Mighty Sparrow.

Moreover, if most Calypsonians belong to the collective group of the ‘beleaguered’ of Caribbean society and continue to be reviled by the ruling elites and most of their music and the attire in which they present themselves is greatly associated with that of European dress, hairstyles, music, and language, then aren’t they making authentic assertions to the very system that imprisoned them?

On this note, it must always be remembered that propaganda is the apparatus of fascism and empowers the oppressors with elitism -- racially, socially, intellectually and/or spiritually. Calypso music is a dominant political weapon but unless it is adept of making an impression on those who control political and economic thought to the magnitude where changes are evidenced at the political, social and cultural echelons, then it will forever be a dividing force in Caribbean society.

The Caribbean is no longer controlled by a British or Dutch monarchy or by French imperialist order, but by educated blacks who are in custody of the political establishments of society. They control the trade unions, the media, education, and are equipped with the power of their own ‘mouthpieces’ to rouse the God of the ‘plantocracy’ into fiery sermons on religious pulpits. Every political party has their own prevailing dogma. Therefore, if calypso music is to serve as a unifying force in the Caribbean, then their voices must also be heard.

The right to belong and to practice the melodious anthems of the French Revolution without regard to class or credo is still a ‘dearth’ in many Caribbean societies. The power of Calypso music has fashioned an alluring imbalance of social and political forces in which the refrains of freedom and power must be evaluated and re-evaluated in light of their new and remote circumstances. Hence, a profound and cultured study, acuity and comprehension of the veracity of calypso music in the Caribbean must be a sought after goal as well.
 
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