As a casual carnival observer and an avid and self-anointed calypso high priest, I was elated by the deliciousness of the political protest of calypso 2013.
The crowning of Menel as queen, with her well-crafted and majestically delivered ‘Kenny is King’ and ‘So-So-Love’ is a tribute to attentive judges who understand the reason and purpose of a good calypso. Her writer, Naham Jean Baptiste, is a masterful wordsmith whose skills, talents and perspective of the local political environment are insightful. His amazing ability to wrap music around a vexing political issue is worthy of the nation’s highest honor—The Piton Medal. If there is no such award, then there should be one.
‘Kenny is King’ is not simply a catchy play on words weaved onto gyrating and compelling music. It represents an undercurrent of the prevailing and lingering notion of a leader whose popularity has taken a nose-dive. Two years after returning to his political throne, the prime ministerial chair, Menel has presented so beautifully in song what is perhaps Kenny’s major handicap. The indictment is sweepingly reminiscent of his former years. The far-reaching assessment of ‘Kenny is King’ encompassed, not just the underlying problem of a leader who is detached and distant from the people, but one who seems incapable of keeping solemn promises made to the electorate.
The song stretches the boundaries of political picong by embracing what is a unique perception of a leader who in opposition pretends to have learned his lessons but on the assumption of office rapidly back-flips to his former self.
It’s the double-sided politician who emerges. Before he departed from planet earth to his Valhalla retreat, George Odlum warned about the marginalization of the working class. He remarked then that it had taken Kenny just three years to isolate the Labour Party from its grassroots support and from all sectors of the society. But because ‘Kenny is King,’ (she wasn’t referring to Stephenson King was she?) by Menel’s reckoning his minions hardly protest: “Behind his back they grumbling but in his presence they humbling!”
If art and culture mirror societal realities, this is as close to the truth as it can possibly get. A nagging criticism of so-called New Labour under the leadership of Kenny Anthony is how major economic and political decisions are taken with grave consequences to the nation without the involvement of key sectors. According to well-placed sources major decisions are taken without the knowledge of Cabinet. The ‘Kenny is King’ syndrome produced Rochemel and the Grynberg Affair, which is currently tied up in international litigation, as the nation waits with eerie silence to find out if its seabed still belongs to St Lucia.
“He has no opposition. No one can call him to question…Kenny is King…Hail him, hail him!” It’s the singer’s segue into highlighting a much deeper and bigger problem. Menel appears to be taking issue here with, not how effective Kenny has been in dismantling the loyal opposition, but how ineffective and impotent the opposition has been in responding to matters of national interest.
Clearly, if the opposition is asleep at the wheel, Kenny is content to be king of his 238 square mile banana plantation. With the opposition embroiled in its internal leadership uncertainties Kenny has carte blanche reign. He relishes being king of his kingdom for it is uniquely embedded in his DNA.
In a general rebuff of the entire political process Menel laments: “Except for de party colors, there is no difference . . . the same policies and de same old qualities.”
Doubtless her frustration with the party system is shared by a vast majority of St. Lucians. Some may argue that such widespread complaints are not acted on by the people when given an opportunity to show their displeasure at the ballot box. Political third parties and independent candidates face an uphill battle in making any breakthrough. George Odlum’s Progressive Labour Party of the early 1980’s was the only group that threatened to make a dent in the process.
The electorate enjoyed its rhetoric but rejected it as a credible political force. Its demise at the polls rendered it a balloon operation, pinpricked by the harsh realities of daily survival of candidates after an election defeat in small island states. The divisiveness of island party politics condemned defeated opponents, no matter how skilled, talented and educated, to the local wilderness of joblessness. Many sons and daughters of St. Lucia have had to take refuge in foreign lands to utilize their skills. Many are serving with great distinction and honor in regional and international organizations. Given the opportunity they would have liked to be in their native country making their contribution to national development. Alas, the local political environment lacks that level of maturity and independence.
This calypso season has been nothing short of a massive anti-government protest. This simmering summer of discontent that exploded in the tents and on the local airwaves suggests that local calypsonians, sensing a void of a strong and fighting opposition, decided to be the people’s voice.
There was Morgie who turned the ruling party’s popular electoral ‘En-rouge’ chant into a mocking embarrassment. Blaze took the promise of ‘Better Days’ and carefully and sensationally transformed it into ‘Beggar Days Are Coming!’
Even Bingo, who seemed consumed with being a thorn in Stephenson King’s side, could not resist demanding: ‘I Want
My Better Days Too!’ After a short absence Pep returned to the calypso stage. His two songs ‘Monopoly’ and ‘Cockma’ were a telling revelation of high prices at the stores and supermarkets. His critics may interpret his calypso performances as being more effective than his parliamentary perch. He is also, the first sitting parliamentarian to take part and place second in a calypso competition. VAT was also given the thumbs down, its implementation viewed as harsh and unconscionable.
Interestingly, two days of street jump-ups, bumpers bouncing, bellies exposed, breast going this way and that, wining, gyrating and prancing may have helped relieve the pent-up stress, but it did little for the nation’s escalating national debt.
The economic problems, the crime, the mounting unemployment lurking on Carnival Monday and Tuesday but buried beneath the bacchanal, will again be real and exposed after the last lap. The politicians may also have welcomed the carnival days as it kept the masses from their offices. Perhaps, very soon the masses may take to the streets again. But not to jump-up. They may well seize the moment to ask, as did Walleig, “How long does it take to give birth to a corrupt politician?”