Last weekend, at the conclusion of the Soca Monarch competition at Georgetown, a patron or patrons, unhappy with the judges’ decision pelted a bottle at the winner. Deeply affected by the public attack on his person, Small Circle – the winner of the competition – declared that he would share his winnings with the crowd favourite, who incidentally, did not place in the top three.
Many Vincentians have voiced deep distress at these circumstances. Some of us are old enough to remember there was a time in the 1960’s and 1970’s when to sing in our calypso tents was also a test of one’s physical courage. In fact, our great Alston ‘Becket’ Cyrus was stoned in the calypso finals of 1976. This was a terrible moment in our history that should never recur. Instead, we believe, in the words of Gamal ‘Skinny Fabulous’ Doyle’, which he posted on his Facebook page, competitions in St Vincent and the Grenadines “should evoke one of three main sentiments – pride, happiness, or disappointment, maybe even all three – but that there should be no room for hate, violence, or hostility.”
SEARCHLIGHT is strongly opposed to all forms of criminal violence and this is precisely what took place at Georgetown last weekend. We believe in the sanctity of the person and hence the assailant(s) ought to face the full wrath of the law. But we are also equally aware that this was more than an attack against a person. It was an attack against our culture.
At the heart of our carnival culture rests a simple proposition: that Vincentian artistes in pan, song, and mas would spend an entire year using their imagination and intellect to produce things of beauty to put before our public. And Vincentians at home and abroad would join them in a 10-day celebration, the greatest June-July celebration anywhere in the Caribbean. Any violence directed against any artiste whose only offence is to produce and perform art is therefore intolerable. It is a system wide assault on our shared understanding that our artistes produce art – and we celebrate with them in the fruits of their imagination.
Criminal misbehaviour is not the only threat directed against our artistes and our carnival culture. For in what can only be described as an appalling failure to understand our carnival history and the necessity to preserve our culture, some people, including radio personalities, have attacked veteran soca artistes for simply growing older.
The stupidity here is two fold. First, we all live in time. No one escapes time. Everyone, unless he or she dies, gets older. Second, to quote Rondy Luta McIntosh from a post on his Facebook page, “music is timeless and has no retirement age.”
Indeed, in St Vincent and the Grenadines as well as within the broader Caribbean, our calypsonians / soca artistes have served as historians, social commentators, political visionaries, revolutionaries, unparalleled barometers of our social universe. In fact, the great Bob Marley has himself observed, “in this great future, we cannot forget the past.” Our older calypsonians (and this includes our soca artistes) then represent the connective tissue that links our present to our past.
This type of assault against our culture is more insidious than the public stoning of an artiste. And we cannot call upon the police or the law or even common human decency to protect us here. In this instance we must be the custodians of our culture and stand against those who would do it harm.
SEARCHLIGHT has never wavered in its commitment to the celebration and preservation of our cultural productions. We believe that all Vincentians must protect and nourish all that is wonderful and good in our carnival celebrations. We must refuse to surrender to the more destructive instincts expressed through violence and ageism. For to do so is to become cultural cannibals who destroy and consume our own. We have walked that road before. We should never walk it again.