Enjoying the lighter side of being the head of government, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley sang calypso for the reigning monarch, spent a few hours “playing DJ” on a radio station, and savoured performances at a concert this weekend, ahead of the nation’s 55th Independence Day anniversary celebrations on Wednesday.
The good day he had on Friday, seemed to carry over into Saturday for Rowley, after a challenging week addressing the fallout over the sea bridge ferry fiasco, and addressing economic problems with labour unions.
He surprised guests at a function by singing a few lines of the 1969 hit, Reply to the Ministry, penned by guest of honour Dr Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, nine times National Calypso Monarch.
The event was the launch of Liverpool’s book of selected speeches, Thoughts Along the Kaiso Road at NAPA, Port of Spain on Friday night.
Relating to the song’s fighting spirit and paying tribute to the struggles of calypsonians for recognition, Rowley sang, “Aubrey Adams putting on play in Queen’s Hall every day, but your talent you must give away.” Afterwards he urged the fraternity, “Don’t let anybody stop you from being what you want to be.”
Earlier, he began his unscripted address by saying, “I’m having a good day today. It’s not often people in my position can have a good day.” Rowley said his happy spirit was due to him earlier meeting a dozen young entrepreneurs (via Export TT) whose success would be great for the nation’s prospects, with his happiness continuing at Liverpool’s book launch.
He observed that TT culture often seeks to mask reality such as everyone referring to simple rum shops as beer gardens, when in fact if a foreigner were to say this is the best rumshop ever, then locals would also take cultural ownership of such establishments.
Endorsing the book’s theme of asserting local values rather than seeking foreign validation, Rowley said, “Nobody has to validate a calypsonian. They validate other people.”
He was glad Liverpool’s book was published by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), even as he recalled the criticism the former Patrick Manning Cabinet had faced in 2004 to establish UTT. Hailing Professor Ken Julien as the UTT’s guiding light, Rowley said, “If we had not been convinced by Prof Julien, we would not have the UTT now.”
Julien was loudly applauded by other guests present.
“The UTT lets us tap into an otherwise underutilised asset,” he said, wondering without the UTT where would Liverpool have found his space? “Where would his talent have gone, other than to the shelf, or to the dustbin? Today the UTT is playing a seminal role in letting us become the people of the potential of 1962.”
Rowley said he must be the only leader criticised for trying to return cultural items to a nation, as he defended his purchase of the Cazabon collection of paintings. Lamenting that many people in TT have stopped reading, he warned that this shift can promote the evolution of the un-informed pontificator.
“Against that background, we’ll always await external validation, and those who don’t know may prevail.”
Saying that we must tell our own story, he said a textbook on the history of Trinidad and Tobago is now ready. He said it will be printed and will be made available at A’level (CAPE level) and upwards and at primary school level and upwards.
Rowley defend the re-branding of CNMG to the old Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) brand.
“Only yesterday (Thursday) Cabinet took a decision to withdraw from competing in the media.” He reeled off the numbers of different private-sector media houses in TT, saying it made no sense for the government to continue to waste millions of dollars to try to get a tiny percent of the media market. Instead they would re-create TTT “to provide an opportunity for the national culture, arts, information and civilisation to always have a place to go, for what may not be flavour of the day or may not be in the budget lines of the commercial stations.
“Very soon we’ll re-launch Trinidad and Tobago Television. We really can do better and have the wherewithal to do better.”
Continuing the topic of valuing local culture, Rowley said youngsters must be exposed to the likes of Liverpool’s book. “We are spending more and more money on education, but are getting less and less-educated people.” He hoped to stem the reality of many youngsters just drifting through high school but ending up uneducated, or otherwise things will get worse and worse for each successive generation.
“We might bring up a whole generation hankering after certification, while being poorly educated. So we have to be able to observe the difference.”
The Prime Minister hailed Liverpool as an educator all his life, saying, “When an educator is combined with an entertainer it must be a good book to read. So buy the book. Don’t leave the national conversation to the un-informed pontificator. You can join the conversation informed.”
Earlier Liverpool said, “I want to give the Prime Minister a copy of the book to read when he crosses the sea-bridge, to calm him, and to give him power and resilience to face those challenges.”
The Prime Minister’s good mood continued to prevail yesterday, as for two hours he acted as a DJ on i95.5 FM’s The Barbershop programme.
Rowley told the host, John Benoit, which songs to play and took calls from the public. But there were series moments as he spoke about his challenges as Prime Minister, the biggest of which he said was corruption.
“That is the biggest challenge that the government faces because, from the top to the bottom, there are people and instances of corrupt practices which make public service in the country more expensive, and make it less efficient.”
One caller used the opportunity to express anger at the recent gang rape and murder of Leslie-Ann Gonzalez. Rowley said women deserved to be safe, and live their life without fear of being attacked.
To the men who perpetrate sexual crimes, he said they needed to remember they had mothers and sisters and they would not like it if their female relatives met someone like them.
After his time on air, the Prime Minister once again turned to culture to relax, attending last evening’s Independence concert at NAPA with his wife, Sharon, and daughters Dr Sonel Rowley, and Tonya Rowley-Cuffy.
Later this week, on Friday, Rowley is due to go abroad for a medical check-up.