TO: Kees Dieffenthaller, soca singer
Dear Kees: On the Thursday after Carnival, the first story I saw posted on a Facebook page was one of you celebrating Famalay as the Road March winner, and my first thought was how grateful I am for you. Today, I celebrate you and your Savannah Grass. You made my Carnival, and for at least one week, you have given me a reprieve from having to eat crow for Mr Killa.
I had been following my usual Carnival ritual for the past five years, which means barricading myself in my house while I wait for the bad vibes and the bad memories of one horrific Carnival of six years ago to pass. Carnival has brought me no joy for the last six years.
With a snoring dog at my side, I settled into revising a book I had been writing. Writing is my armour. It protects me from feeling pain. I can lose myself totally in the act of writing; I can even shut out the endless din of Carnival music that wafts through the air and into my house. But a strange thing happened this year. I kept surfacing from the depths of despair, buoyed by one song: Savannah Grass.
I saw my children playing mas in the Savannah during happier times, and I heard Shadow telling me “there’s a jumbie in that Savannah.” I saw David Rudder singing Bahia Gyul and Shadow singing Stranger. I saw kings of calypso being crowned, and you were among them.
You know there are uncrowned kings, who live in our hearts because they capture our imagination, evoke a sense of nostalgia or renew a sense of soul in a festival that sometimes seems as though it is tottering on the inane rather than the profane.
Once upon a time, I covered Carnival and calypso and I saw the tough and rough side that it takes to survive. Petty competitiveness among singers often drove me to tears, and when I felt the vultures descending, I would flee from calypso tents and take refuge in my home.
This is why I appreciate your gentle spirit, constant kindness and magnanimity. Your penchant for praising and thanking people – even your competition – is truly admirable. You clearly celebrate Carnival on your own terms, and that requires unimaginable strength.
It is easy to don that tough facade so many singers wear like a Carnival mask. It is much more difficult to play yourself and celebrate only what is positive and uplifting.
I know this has been a bittersweet Carnival for you because you have experienced love and support from fans and success from your calypso at the same time you had to deal with your father’s death. I know how this feels. I lost my father 26 years ago during Carnival. I chose to honour my father by walking through the streets with SuperBlue on that Carnival.
That year, he sang Bacchanal Time and as I listened to that soca tribute to Carnival wrapped around the Barbadian slave Bussa, who appears in the middle of the song, I felt a tremendous sense of hope and history that Carnival. I felt my father’s presence in the music because he had instilled a love for all music in me.
To this day, Carnival is a roller-coaster ride for me. There is great joy, powerful memories and tremendous sadness that ebb and flow. It will always be that way. You too now have that dimension to deal with in your Carnival. You will remember your father with an additional layer of love and respect because it will seem on some level that Carnival is your personal commemoration. This will be a place within the celebration that only you will experience, and it will seem strange and wonderful that this can happen in such a public place.
So, in closing, I thank you for that invisible string that pulled me ever so gently back into happier Carnival memories. You reminded me how important it is to honour our culture and praise those who are a part of it – even if they are metaphorical enemies because of the nature of Carnival.
Most of all you reminded me that kind and gentle spirits can survive among jab jabs, blue devils, cut-throat competitors and mean-spirited people. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reminding me of the most valuable lesson in life: stay true yourself. I send you my respect. Move forward with joy in your heart.