The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Cephas Wil­lie

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!

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