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Dear Editor: Authoritarian or authoritative? Are calypsoes more poetry than reliable history?

“Sparrow literally put words in Dr Williams’ mouth to great effect.

“Since Dr Bird—thankfully!—is still alive, I am sure that he would be eager to tell journalists/researchers what statements in his calypso ‘Get to hell outta here’ and, for that matter, his other calypsoes were historically accurate and where he simply used poetic licence.”

The following Letter to the Editor, which raises questions about the historical accuracy of calypsoes, was submitted to Wired868 by Louis Winston Williams:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago calypso legend Slinger “The Mighty Sparrow” Francisco, whose 1960s calypso, “Get to hell outta here,” many agree, captures an indisputable Trinidad and Tobago political reality.
(Courtesy Jayblessed)

I refer to the following passage from the editorial of the Sunday Express of 1 October, 2017: “Trinidad and Tobago is a very long way from the day when its first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, could dare to say ‘When I talk, let no damn dog bark.’ Even then it was considered dictatorial and disrespectful, except by his supporters who cheered even louder.”

In this regard, I recall the lyrics: “When I talk, no damn dog bark.” Those lyrics were in Sparrow’s popular 1960s calypso titled ‘Get to hell outta here.’ I also do recall Sparrow saying in an interview some years ago that he had used poetic licence in composing that calypso and, therefore, Dr Williams may never have actually uttered some of the words attributed to him.

The calypsonian went on to cite at least one instance. Sparrow had literally (sic) put words in Dr Williams’ mouth to great effect. Since Dr Bird—thankfully!—is still alive, I am sure that he would be eager to tell journalists/researchers what statements in his calypso ‘Get to hell outta  here’ and, for that matter, his other calypsoes were historically accurate and where he simply used poetic licence.

I am not casting any aspersions on the editor of the Express newspaper. However, I am sure that the vast majority of the current population of Trinidad and Tobago were not yet born or, at best, were teenagers when the calypso: ‘Get to hell outta here’ first became popular. Moreover, I am also confident that the editor would have relied on other sources for the statement contained in the editorial

Photo: Iconic Trinidad labour leader Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler (left) and Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

In his memorable calypso titled ‘Portrait of Trinidad,’ the Mighty Sniper asserted that “By calypsoes our stories are told.” However, since calypsonians are poets, we should not rely solely on their compositions as we want to be certain to get an accurate account of the historical record.

It is to our credit as a nation that just as the 16th and 17th century English monarchs granted William Shakespeare and other bards poetic licence, no calypsonian has—as far as I am aware—been sued for slander/ libel arising out of lyrics in his calypso. It is, however, true that some calypsos have, in times past, been either banned or censored by the authorities.

Dr Williams never responded to any criticisms or inaccuracies contained in calypsoes. In this connection, Chalkdust alleged in one of his calypsoes that certain PNM activists met with Dr Williams and urged him to take action against Chalkdust for his stinging criticism of the PNM Administration. However, in rejecting their pleas, Chalkie reported in song, Dr Williams minted the trenchant comment, “Let the jackass bray.”

Poetic licence? There are those who maintain that Dr Williams never uttered those words. So, it seems to me that someone needs to speak with Chalkdust and find out the truth.

And there is more. Kitchener asserted that Winston ‘Spree’ Simon invented the steelpan. That has been accepted by many commentators and now more or less passes for fact. However, the bard’s assertion has been disputed by many experts/historians.

Photo: Late iconic calypsonian Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts.

 

Additionally, the late Lord Shorty, as he then was, gave us the refrain, “Money ent no problem.” However, many consider him to have misquoted and misrepresented what Dr Williams actually said. Fortunately, the relevant speech by Dr Williams has been archived and the actual words used by him and the context in which he used them are available for perusal.

In light of the foregoing, I am recommending that one of the universities with a campus in Trinidad and Tobago should undertake a comprehensive research project which will identify those statements in calypsos that are not historically accurate. Additionally, information on those calypsoes that are not historically accurate, should include, among other things, the context, the events and the dates relating to whatever statements are in dispute.

As a public service, I recommend further, that information should be made available to the general public online, perhaps with sponsorship from the business community.

When that information is available to us, then editorial and other writers will have no excuse for relying on historically inaccurate statements contained in some calypsoes.

Photo: Students doing research at UWI, St Augustine Campus. Is it possible that they’re being  misled by calypsoes?

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Letters to the Editor
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8 comments

  1. In fact,is it not true that Eric Williams responded to Stalin’s “Caribbean Man”

  2. Can you help me find the author of these amazing lines,Lasana ? “Last week evening,Ah went in the libahree The librarian arsk me what she could do for me Ah tell she ah come to borrow ah dictionary So she tell me, Siddong and rest awhile while Ah tek ah look in the file…” It’s driving me crazy..Was it Lord Fluke ?