All artists — from mas man Peter Minshall to the neighbourhood soca parang side — enjoy the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in our Constitution for the benefit of all. But that right is not absolute, legally or morally, and it comes with an obligation not to harm the welfare of society. In practice, the line between free expression and offensive speech is hard to demarcate, but in the case of Massive Gosine’s song the line has clearly been crossed.
Ribaldry is a common feature of our musical forms, but Rowley Mother Count is crass, stupid, vapid and amounts to nothing more than a personal attack on the private life of a public official.
It is not the first time something like this has happened. Earlier this year, we were equally disconcerted by Chalkdust’s Learn from Arithmetic which was a personal attack on Sat Maharaj under the veneer of the need to abolish child marriage. But Learn from Arithmetic is a sophisticated masterpiece when compared with Gosine’s inane creation.
Just as artists have a right to express themselves, so too do members of the public have a right to criticise and debate. It is a sign of a healthy democracy that many people have their own two cents to offer on this issue.
While criticism is not the same as censorship, in some instances, people are entitled to exercise their right not to support — tacitly or otherwise — material which they deem harmful.
The decision of the organisers of the annual Chutney Soca Monarch competition to bar Gosine’s song might have something to do with the fact that the State provides funding to their event, but that does not negate the fact that they have chosen to take a very public stance on something they oppose.
It is notable the song is not receiving high levels of airplay, a sign that it is not well-supported by right-thinking citizens.
Sometimes public opinion is a more sophisticated barometer of these complex issues than literary analysis.
In response to the latest controversy, Maharaj has called for all “offensive” material to be pulled. Some might say this will lead us down a slippery slope.
However, once it is clear any song violates the public interest it is important that the rules apply to similar songs. Otherwise, we end up with something equally offensive: discrimination.
And that is what’s at the heart of this controversy.
The chutney soca is simply a mirror of the lamentable fact that our society remains divided along the margins of race.
That kind of racism is what has opened the doors to so much that is offensive in not only our songs, but also in our everyday picong.