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Sunday 24 June 2018
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Commentary

The counting game

Sharda Patasar writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Over the past week, there has been an explosion of opinions on counting. Well, that seems to be the running theme of this age.

See counting is at the heart of finance and relationships couched in such phrases like “this not adding up” or “I can’t count on you for anything” implying trust in both cases and the extra dash of suspicion in the first. Those two reactions too seem to be the order of the day. (Interestingly we are doing these last two weeks’ counting in South by the way, anybody noticed? But we’ll leave that for another time for that will just turn the whole issue over on its head).

Anyway, a few people asked me over the week, what I thought about this latest contribution to local music. Well, I tend to agree with BC Pires’ humourous and brilliant column titled, Rowley mother don’t count (Newsday, December 28, 2017), we have more important things to think about, one point among other key points he made about the office in question. But there’s the other me that says, “but the song does matter. It does count,” not so much for its lyrics but the responses it provoked. Music after all, is a process that does not end with the song. It takes on a life after it gets out of the hands of the artiste and into the public. So rather than take the elitist route of denouncing the song as banal, mediocre, garbage and whatever other value judgements we’d like to heap on it, I’m more interested in reading what those responses say about our society.

Firstly, anyone condemning the song for its insult on women and mothers obviously has never been privy to calypsoes and chutney songs through the different ages of the nation.

Women have been the subject of sexual objectification and ridicule in songs of the past so calypso, chutney and chutney-soca, all float in the same boat when it comes to disrespect for women. The issue isn’t a new one, as any level-headed person can tell. Perhaps what people are talking about when they speak about disrespect in the case of the song in question, is the skill with which the double entendre had been employed to mask in past songs. This is true of course but masking does not hide the fact that we all know what singers are referencing when a singer talks about never eating white meat yet or Oma account or Dularie nani and Annie pone. The core issue here therefore is not so much about Rowley’s mother or women. This is about race and politics.

As offensive as Rowlee Mudda Count may be, it has encouraged a very vibrant conversation on social media. The print media itself felt it important enough to highlight, so much so, that last weekend the Newsday ran approximately a one-and-a-half-page article entitled, The great calypso debate…again (Newsday December 31, 2017), in which The Mighty Chalkdust commented on the song as did Aloes. But one can’t forget Chalkie’s Lessons from Arithmetic for while it was clever, it was still offensive in some quarters and the main arguments today seem to be more about writing skill and what counts as “good composition.” The other comments in the article, however, do reference the core problem.

The song, secondly, reveals a coming of age of a people. While calypso has been the voice of the people for years, it has also felt it fit to assume itself entitled to be the only form eligible to voice whatever it feels necessary. Yet today, a member of the non-calypso crew comes in — (Pichakaaree met with a similar fate in the 1990s with Letter to Chalkie at Carifesta) — to voice an opinion, agreed, not a very clever song, but an opinion anyway and the cries of disrespect towards women and racism come to the fore. These PNM and UNC talks tell an important story of our race relations in TT. The fact that the radio stations made the move to censor it is also a telling sign of how cultural production is monitored. Massive Gosine has certainly opened up a conversation that trickles under our Carnival and multi-cultural façade of rainbows and whatever other fairytale worlds we have created. The reality is that this issue is not only about a song but it is a civic issue as social/cultural activist Raviji, intimated.

This is about race relations, culture and who defines culture and cultural production (as attempts to define “good composition” tells us). The song will definitely find a place in our musical history for, as obnoxious as it may seem, it has triggered useful responses that reveal just how far we have or haven’t developed as a democratic society.

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