MAYBE THE REAL ASS IS CHASS!
Iwas dumbfounded at the furore that followed Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s “jackass” statement. Like most things in Saint Lucia these days, definitions and interpretations are not based on knowledge, sound reasoning, understanding and fact. Rather, everything is judged according to the beholder’s favourite colour: red or yellow. The videos, memes and calls to the opposition talk-shows have really defined “artificial intelligence” and “mind bending", about which leader of the opposition Phillip J. Pierre knows a whole lot. Based on the interpretation in some quarters as to whom the prime minister described as “jackasses braying”, it was surmised that Allen Chastanet hates calypsonians, hates calypso, hates culture, hates the arts. Now juxtapose this against the facts.
As minister of tourism in 2007, Allen Chastanet pumped EC$1 million into carnival. This was unprecedented at the time and resulted in more money for calypsonians and soca artistes as well as for other mass players. The result was an improved carnival product which started an upward trajectory to the successes we are reaping now, which include more visitor arrivals for carnival as well as greater participation by Saint Lucians.
Under the last administration, not only was this budget eventually cut, but payments of prize money were consistently late. That’s an undisputed fact. On resuming office in 2016, now as prime minister, Allen Chastanet was again the stubborn mule that some have accused him of being. He defied his naysayers and committed EC$3 million for carnival 2017. This resulted in an increase of more than 40% in prize money and one of the most successful carnivals in recent times. Still, his detractors tried to make political hay out of a few blades of grass trampled on at the Vigie playing field.
Does this really sound like a prime minister who wants to stifle the arts and hates calypso and calypsonians? Further to this, and despite all the hollow accusations of vindictiveness, the current administration retained the services of the Calypso Management Committee, put in place by Kenny and Company to have oversight for the “art-form” in the absence of a calypso association. The CMC is run by well-known SLP operatives who have been instrumental in writing some of the most disgusting anti-government songs in the last two years. Compare that to pre-2016 when the SLP government, through the Creative Industries mechanism, gave grants to calypsonians to record progovernment songs and “nice” well-hunted calypsos. Pun intended.
Why, then, did Allen Chastanet retain the redtainted CMC and pump money into these failed calypso tent structures only to be dealt lyrical low blows? This year, through the CMC, all three tents were given financial support by the government, including the ones that are also sponsored and supported by the red brigade. For the second year in a row, too, you have not heard of calypsonians crying about unscrupulous tent leaders and managers not paying them on time. However, such is their scorpion’s gratitude, they cannot resist stinging the hand that has best fed them. They hurl at him the worst possible insults in corny and badly composed songs, compositions with scant sense of creativity. As Derek Walcott might’ve said, the songs I speak of could only be written by party hacks with minds incapable of metaphor, let alone an ability to produce a funny “double entendre”— which is the very heart of a good calypso.
Last year all players for carnival, including calypsonians, were rewarded with their prizes mere weeks after the event. Again another first in Saint Lucia. Among them was SLP politician and Calypso king the Mighty Pep. This week the red bugs took over Fakebook, disappointed that the braying had not destabilized what is set to be another great carnival season. The focus now was on a female caller to a talk-show, presumably in tears as she denounced Guy Joseph and Allen Chastanet. What was instructive was that the host, who has in the past declared his undying love for Dr. Kenny Anthony, allowed the caller to say this government had taken carnival events, placed them in hotels, and in effect was preventing the “malaway” from making a dollar. Always it’s de malaway! But once again here are the facts. Under the red brigade, there was a move to host all major events at Beausejour in Gros Islet, far from the reach of the malaway masses. Among those championing that move was a red shareholder in one of the bands now attempting to reconnect to poor people in his constituency.
In 2017, under this government, Calypso finals, Panorama, King and Queen of the bands, Groovy and Power Soca competitions, were all brought back to the city and the same will obtain this year. The only event which has taken place at a hotel was last Saturday’s National Carnival Queen Pageant. Interestingly, all of my investigations have revealed that the planning committee of the Carnival Pageant comprised mainly individuals in red spandex. But more on that show, which many say was “fixed”, in another article. The shift of the events to the city has resulted in praise from all stakeholders. Vendors, service providers and patrons have also expressed their support. Additionally, the government has refocused its efforts on improving the community carnivals which saw greater participation in 2017 and the trend is already showing signs of continuing this year. These activities have come more than a STEP closer to delivering real economic benefits to artistes, DJs, designers, vendors, shop owners and other service providers in these communities.
My one disappointment in all of this, though, is that steelpan remains woefully underfunded and underutilized and is another great avenue where the creative energies of our young people can be channeled more effectively. Still, the calypsonians and their backers have declared the current prime minister their number one enemy. Alas, all the braying in the world cannot turn truth into lies. The man knew what he was talking about when he said the truth will always win in the end!