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Sunday 16 June 2019
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Ole talk gone wild

After San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello considered the energetic and impassioned feedback to his statement that if he'd had his way, the auditorium of the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) should have been named in honour of calypsonian Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste) instead of chutney singer Sundar Popo, he should have retreated from the controversy with an apology and a bit of dignity.

Instead, he doubled down on his statement, arguing on the basis of geography that the San Fernando born Calliste, was more deserving of the honour than Debe's Popo. In a remarkable statement, Regrello said, "We as a people need to be mature in our decision-making process and move away from balancing whatever is before us based on ethnicity and give credit where it is due."

That Regrello did so on an occasion honouring the contributions of Calliste at SAPA is even more regrettable. Honours should not become a competition. Respect paid for the life's work of a talented artist should always be executed gracefully and in the full knowledge that one man's honour does not detract from another's achievements.

The response to Regrello's statements have been unfortunately coloured by accusations of racism, of which there is no evidence. The San Fernando mayor's statements might have been tone-deaf in the extreme and coloured to an alarming degree by his personal sentiments, but what was offered was an opinion, albeit one shared in the wrong forum where it proved to be an unwelcome distraction.

There is nothing in the works of Calliste, whose songs championed the downtrodden and forgotten and celebrated love and mutual appreciation, to suggest that he would wish to be a part of even a suggestion of stripping Popo of his remembrance. Calliste includes in his catalogue of music at least two songs of respect and frank admiration for men he considered his peers in creativity and hard work, Jit Samaroo and, yes, Sundarial Popo Bahor.

This discussion should not be about relative merits when artists work at the level of Popo and Stalin, it should be about how the State, which the mayor represents at the community level, responds to the reality of creative work in TT. There is more to be done to encourage talent, to meaningfully engage with working creative citizens and to support our elders in the field of professional artistry.

So no, Your Worship, let's end that unfortunate talk about the auditorium and seek a space for Black Stalin that stakes out his own, appropriate honour. Perhaps one, that like the SAPA auditorium, is a tangible, real world investment in the considerable creative potential of this country.

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