When Iwer George announced that a new version of his first song for the 2024 Carnival season, Happy People, would be released without the controversial inclusion of the national anthem, the self-titled “water lord” seemed to have managed something of a public-relations coup.
The original version never had a chance to provide anything other than perceived offence.
When Mr George made his announcement on Wednesday, Happy People had been played at no public parties and created no conflict in the mind of any partygoer about whether they should stand at attention during the national-anthem segment.
Mr George’s insistence that people would stand at attention when the original version of the song was played and the words of the anthem were recited was not merely overoptimistic but ludicrously naive.
His profession that the song was an effort to return the country to a place of pride, respect, love and happiness is admirable.
But a medium that has largely become known for its urgent calls to “get on bad” is not ready to bear the weight of the ideals espoused in the lyrics of the national anthem.
Mr George eventually chose to be guided by the response of the Prime Minister, who declared he wouldn’t be “jumping up and down” over the issue, but preferred the national anthem not to be used that way.
But Mr George’s responses to the furore that arose are also thought-provoking.
In his quest to push Carnival’s dominant music in a more overtly positive and nationalistic direction, he may have stoked a valuable conversation about what soca’s lyrics should be offering its audience to go along with its infectious and urgent music.
It’s a significant challenge, but it’s not one that will be met by press-ganging the nation’s statement of purpose into a power soca song.
Nevertheless, songs in the calypso medium have done exactly that in both the distant and recent past.
From Sniper’s Portrait of Trinidad to Kes the Band’s Savannah Grass, there have been songs that married popular music with inspirational sentiments that moved the public to think more deeply about the value of their homeland.
Sometimes the songs, like King Austin’s Progress (written by the prolific Winsford Devine), were memorably sombre; others, like David Rudder’s Song for a Lonely Soul, explored an almost unbearable melancholy; while Ultimate Rejects offered stinging wit and satire while simultaneously fuelling robust jamming with their hit Full Extreme.
Happy People may not aspire to that high-water mark, despite boldly shoehorning Patrick Castagne’s lyrics into a standard water-lord song, but Mr George shouldn’t stop pursuing these noble ambitions.
We should expect more to come from his wellspring of talent.