“Plenty gul have man an’ acting like dey single …”
Arguably, music moves our Carnival. And, to a large extent, soca is accepted as being integral to the enjoyment and experience of the festival. However, analysis of the viability of soca as an art form continues. To commemorate Calypso History Month in October, the impact of soca on gender relations was explored at a forum hosted by TUCO, the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts and the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Dr Sue-Ann Barratt, UWI Institute of Gender Studies, analysed 100 songs from Carnival 2017. She found that most of the songs contained instructions from men to women, that is “women had to do something, and the men almost always benefited.”
In earlier research, Dr Gordon Rohlehr noted that soca communicates with women “through a series of slogan-commands in which she is instructed to wine, grind, jump-up, jump-down … women are herded into a collective space where under the illusion of empowerment they move to the shouted commands of the soca men. And just as soca invites women to unmask their sexuality, it also represents the male as predator and voyeur.”
There is validity to their observations. Years ago, we implemented the Eintou Springer play Baby Doll meets Midnight Robber for vulnerable youth, exploring sexuality, right choices and gender relations. The Devil character enticed Baby Doll and other young women present by singing popular refrains like, “Gyul, I want you wine and bend over.”
There are several issues here, the most obvious one being “power.” As the exposés over Harvey Weinstein in the USA, Defence Minister Michael Fallon in the UK or some men here at home demonstrate, globally, there are still serious power imbalances in the relations between men and women. Much of this is caused by the fact that women are afraid to speak out for fear of being rebuked by society, or worse, by other women.
In the music, Denyse Plummer and her assertion that Woman is Boss represents an early rallying cry for women to reclaim their power. Denise Belfon deepened the notion when she declared herself “the wining queen of the soca … Nobody can’t call me no joker, I is ah boss …” Gail-Ann instructed Rocky to “look meh in meh eye when I wining, not because I wine with you, you can do whatever you want”; Calypso Rose said Leave me Alone.
But this year, Patrice Roberts took perhaps the most extreme position so far, when in Big Girl Now she proclaimed the right to behave as “rude” as she chooses: “I not gonna cut no style if any man wanna wine up on meh … can’t you see how I grew up? So, don’t judge me now.”
But I think that we cannot help but judge. Apart from the reality that women are held to more elevated standards, we need to interrogate our music and what we want it to achieve. We must reconcile the conflict between creativity for all, and developing a product to secure the profits of a few.
For me, the last words go to Alison Hinds, who successfully fused Girl Power and the ability of the woman to captivate (or is it control?) with her bottom: “Go to school, gal, and get ya degree/ Nurture and tek care of ya pickney/ Gal, ya work hard to mek ya money/ Roll it gal, roll it, gal/ If ya know ya smart and ya sexy/ Neva let dem abuse ya body/ Show it off gal and let di world see/ Roll it, gal, roll it gal …”
Dara Healy is a performance artist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN