President of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) Ainsley King says he has no issue with the court judgment ordering four-time Calypso Monarch Weston “Cro Cro” Rawlins to pay businessman Inshan Ishmael $250,000 in damages for defamation.
Justice Frank Seepersad, in his judgment on Monday, said while some parts of Rawlins’ 2023 calypso Another Sat is Outside Again were “fair comment,” there were defamatory portions which were “salacious and derogative.”
Speaking with Newsday after the ruling, King said the judgment should remind calypsonians of the standards they should meet when performing.
“We have to maintain a level of respect and order in the place. And we cannot just do anything, say anything to people. I think calypsonians need to be careful because we have a beautiful art form, a real nice art form, and we shouldn't use it as a weapon against people.”
He said he believed justice was served and the calypso fraternity should “accept the ruling for what it is.”
King said there was no need to pass legislation to give calypsonians special protection from defamation laws, as they need to “know the difference between right and wrong” and use the art form positively.
“I've heard people talk all kind of thing, that people and calypsonians have to stand up for black man and all them things. But I don't think that is a good way to go, because it's a matter of right and wrong. It’s not about ethnic group and all that.”
King also agreed with Seepersad’s concerns over divisive content and lyrics, which fuel racial tensions, being performed at calypso tents and national competitions.
He said TUCO’s current executive is trying to “rebuild and reignite that special and greatness back into calypso” after years of its being used for politics and “to bash other ethnic groups.”
“Calypso is suffering as a result of that. The industry is not in a good place, because it has so much misconceptions with the music, and we need to fix it, because it's not by mistake that our music is not the top in the Caribbean any more.”
He said Jamaican music has surpassed calypso in popularity, as Jamaicans chose not to make the same mistakes as calypsonians.
“The judge is totally right and it's time that people start pulling themselves together. If this art form have to grow, we have to use it in a progressive way that will attract growth and expansion.
“Let we use this as an example to understand that calypso needs to be used in a positive way to build the nation, to motivate people, to make people smile.”
He added calypsonians need to “think about the country as a whole” when writing their songs and focus on “the right set of practices…that will work holistically for the country.”
“Think about motivating the citizens of this country. Think about educating the citizens of this country. Think about uplifting the spirit of the people of the country.
“We have a responsibility to use (calypso) in the correct way. Don't use it to bash and to hurt other people.”
He compared the power of a calypso to a gun, saying artistes could use the art form either to help or hurt people.
“A man could use a gun to protect himself, and he could also use a gun to hurt others, to kill others. But it's what you choose to use the tool to do.”
Attorney-at-law and public relations officer for TUCO Rondell Donawa said Rawlins has the organisation’s support.
“We stand firm in support of our calypsonians and the ability to express themselves through song without having to be muzzled or muted for whatever circumstances based on one’s feelings.”
He said he felt Ishmael did not earn a “total victory,” as some of Rawlins’ lyrics were deemed to be fair comment, which is a defence for defamation.
He added the sum Rawlins was ordered to pay was far less than what someone would have paid if there was found to be a “total defamation of character.”
However, he added while TUCO continues to support calypsonians in their delivery and their messaging of free speech, there must be a recognition that TT is “becoming a litigious society.”
“(In the past) we would have seen there were calypsoes where, in my mind, it was even worse in terms of perceived defamatory statements, but it was all about culture, and it was all about the calypsoes, where stories are told and it was all about free speech.”
He said calypsonians now have to look at “what crosses the spectrum of defamation versus what crosses the spectrum of free speech.”
Donawa advised calypsonians to have their song vetted by an attorney before recording or performing it.