Soca artiste Kerwin Du Bois surprised many Trinis with the release of the song My Faults, not because the lyrics were particularly rude or vulgar, but because it contains obscenities. There is no word play or double entendre, just Du Bois asking, “I want to know what the f--k you want?”
It may not be the first soca song with cursing but it is definitely the first with a mainstream song with good rotation on the nation’s radio stations, though censored for the airwaves.
Members of the public have expressed concern that it will be the “downfall” of soca, some find it unnecessary, while others believe it is simply another way to express oneself.
One listener, Duane Joel from Moruga said, “I don’t like it. Yes I listen to cursing in other music but this is soca. The children already bombarded with it everywhere. You could at least leave this one thing that they actually like and sing relatively clean.”
In an e-mail interview with Sunday Newsday, Du Bois, the 2014 Groovy Soca Monarch, said he created music to represent himself and his experiences, and this is a way to allow people to know the real him as well as to express himself.
“Because, I am not always easily accessible sometimes people wonder and ponder about my personality, what I am like, what I think about, and what type of person I am. The truth is, I am raw and unfiltered. That’s who I am. Now, I cannot force anyone to agree with me but I do know that there are tons of people out there who just wish that they were able to express themselves without fear. I have never been one to conform, I've always done things differently and this is just an example of that.”
He said he understands that some people will not appreciate the obscene language so he also produced a clean version. He hopes people understand that music is about self-expression and that everyone expresses themselves differently.
However, he said it is hypocritical for the same people who listen and sing along to “raw” dancehall and hip hop to have a problem with it. “Seems like some things are acceptable for 'foreigners' to do but the same is unacceptable for us to do.”
To local artistes who wish to express themselves similarly he said, “Expression is art and art is expression in my book. Once people are being true to themselves and are comfortable with their decisions, then by all means. Respectfully though, in Trinidad and the Caribbean you cannot go on stage and use ‘curse words’ but most of the places I travel and perform in the US, Europe, etc you can. So please do not get up on stage in the wrong place and catch a case,” he laughed.
Singer and songwriter Orlando Octave agrees, saying people listen to obscene language in other genres of music and it makes no sense to pretend soca is “some heavenly music” that cannot have curse words.
“So what? We going and pretend Trinidad people don’t cuss? A lot of people would be against cussing in soca but they cussing every day so what they trying to do? ... We done telling them to wine and shake this and shake that, they done half naked on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, what’s wrong with a little F?”
He said he does not believe the song will open the doors and encourage other artists to release songs with obscene language, but if they want to he sees no problem with it.
Omari Ashby, songwriter and adjunct lecturer at the Department of Creative Festival Arts at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, said he will not advise trying to stop cursing in soca because it will be “a slippery slope to censorship.”
“One of the things, particularly for calypso, we always have to be vigilant against is censorship. As a matter of fact there have been laws passed, the Theatres and Dance Halls Act, to govern what calypsonians say. That came down on what could be said in a song and sung in public. This after some calypsonians said some unkind things about some people who were high in society,” he explained.
“So although I may not be in favour of obscenities in the music, I also would err on the side of self-censorship. I think how the public reacts to it is the best barometer for the artists to know what they can say.”
He said when artistes push the envelope too far the audience usually shrink back from them and, especially in this age of social media, express their distaste. He believes any prudent artist will then censor themselves. On the other hand, he said, Trinis judge their artistes much more harshly than external artists from whom they accept cursing in a song with no problem.
Ashby said he is not personally offended by the lyrics but he understands why people will be. He said as an artist he wrote songs with obscenities because it is what he needed to express himself but never recorded them. “Art is a funny thing. If a cuss was deserved at that point then I would back it up fully. I don’t know if it was necessary in this song but I can’t say what was on his mind.”
He also said he is not shocked by the song because young calypsonians have always been “brash” and edgy. He gave the example of stories of Sparrow pulling down his pants for the audience and telling them to kiss his ass.
In addition, he believes Du Bois wrote the song for shock value in order to garner more attention. He spoke about the time “Sparrow and Kitchener used to run things” and very few people could “break through.” In response, calypsonian Edwin “Crazy” Ayoung rode through Port of Spain on a horse, was arrested, and also sold 9,000 copies of his album in that hour.
“It was like it had this block on the radio that he couldn’t get through, so he decided, ‘You know what, I have to do something that is going to create a noise for me so that people would pay attention.’ I think maybe that’s the position Kerwin is in because even though he is one of the best writers, artists, in the past couple years he hasn’t been getting the attention he deserves.”
Dr Hollis Liverpool, professor of Calypso Arts at the University of TT, does not appreciate the language. “All I can say is that the history of calypso and its development over the years show that singers do not use foul language of any kind to convey their thoughts.”