Defending our noble art form

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 13, 2023

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeBusinessman Inshan Ishmael plans to take Cro Cro (Weston Rawlins) to court over what he says are Cro Cro’s “highly defamatory lyrics about him” in his (Rawlins’) 2023 calypso, “Another Sat is Outside Again”. He says that he never listens to Cro Cro’s calypsoes because they always denigrate the East Indian community. This time, he is really offended.

He says that after listening to “Another Sat is Outside Again”, he forwarded the calypso to his attorneys, Richard Jagessar and Anand Ramlogan. “They have found reason for defamation, so they are proceeding, and by the end of this week or early next week, he [Rawlins] should get a pre-action protocol letter from us.” (Express, February 9).

I have great respect for Ramlogan’s legal acumen. If he says, “There is no grey matter there; [that] there is straightforward defamation,” there must be some validity to Inshan’s claims. However, we should be careful how we travel down that road.

The calypso represents the literary dimension of traditional Yoruba culture from whence came much of Trinidad’s culture. Carnival reflects aspects of the Gelede, one of the most important multidimensional art forms of the Yoruba-speaking people of Dahomey and Western Yoruba, while the calypso itself is derived from Yoruba oral literature and culture.

The calypso is analogous to the Gelede song-poems. It falls within the verbal arts and includes aspects of poetry, satire and musical composition. The song-poems are satirical in content, critique the actions of those in authority, and ridicule undesirable social behaviour among members of the community.

Like the calypsonian, the song-poets “behave as spokesmen for the general public, vis-à-vis policies pursued by persons in authority. Equally, they hold themselves as custodians of society’s cultural values and accordingly pose as critics of factors and forces threatening existing standards.” (AI Aswaju, Efe Poetry as a Source of Western Yoruba History.)

I have seldom heard of Afro-Trinbagonians taking calypsonians to court for exercising their cultural and social responsibility. When Dr Eric Williams disliked the contents of a calypso, particularly those that were sung against him, he said, “Let the jackasses bray.”

Recently, Lady Gypsy (Lynette Steele) sang about her desire to build a political cemetery in which to place PNM politicians. She called them “trash” and said unkind things about the highest officials of the land: Keith Rowley, Prime Minister; Paula-Mae Weekes, outgoing President; Fitzgerald Hinds, Minister of National Security, and lesser officials such as Faris Al-Rawi, Shamfa Cudjoe, and Camille Robinson-Regis whose barber, she suggested “does trim she with a weed-whacker”.

Lady Gypsy’s unkindest comment was for Colm Imbert. With every bit of double entendre, she declared she would “bury he in the back of my cemetery, turn him upside down, he face ah can’t see / Look for the strongest grave digger to bury he / and put a good fork on he”. No one lost the double entendre contained in these words.

None of the offended officials threatened to sue Lady Gypsy. They understand the playfulness and nuances of the form and saw Lady Gypsy’s calypso as a necessary corrective to their behaviour.

Ironically, Ishan’s defamation charge comes just when Gordon Rohlehr, an important literary scholar who sketched out the importance of the calypso arts, was buried. Rohlehr argued that the calypso contained important aspects of what he called a “Caribbean aesthetic”, a space in which the philosophical, cultural and sociological signposts of our civilisation are embedded.

If the calypso represents one of the highest forms of our literary arts, one must examine its stylistic features, how well the song-poet presents common concerns to his/her audience; and whether he/she does so in an unfamiliar, strange, or unique manner so that the listener gains a new perspective of the subject under discussion.

When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1989, the Muslim community was offended because they believed he slandered Allah, their one and only God. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa condemning Rushdie to death for his alleged blasphemy. Rushdie went into hiding for over 30 years to save his life. In August 2022, he was attacked while giving a lecture in New York. He was stabbed in one of his eyes and one of his hands. Today, he is blind in one eye and cannot even type with his injured hand.

Writers, poets and calypsonians, by the very nature of their work, irritate and provoke members of their society. However, they must be able to do their work with the certainty that they are not subject to physical violence or monetary threats to prevent them from doing so.

Defamation, which covers slander and libel, deals with any civil wrong that has the effect of bringing another person into disrepute, thereby lowering his esteem in the eyes of the public. Slander has to with cultural productions such as songs, utterances and political speeches. In this sense, calypsonians sometimes traverse a fine line between accepted criticism and slander.

One attorney informed me that such slander has nothing to do with tradition, even calypsonians may enjoy what he calls “a greater margin of appreciation”. Whatever the margin, nothing should be done to prevent them practising their craft and calling out the shortcomings of their contemporaries.

Inshan told the Express that “Cro Cro better save up some of his CEPEP money”, so that he can save himself from the destruction that awaits him. As far as I know, there is nothing dishonourable in working for CEPEP (Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme). Cro Cro, however, was acting in the noblest tradition of the calypso arts when he said: “Tell him [Ishmael] to come with it [his defamation charge]. He’s disrespectful. I have enough court clothes. I am ready.”

Someone must always be prepared to defend the art form.

7 thoughts on “Defending our noble art form”

  1. Haha good for Inshan, if you mention Sat name you are going to the top of the PNM dung hill aka Calypso King. One can understand the pain Inshan feels being a proud Muslim and now being associate with the deceased “Jamraj” (Hindus would understand this). As oil does not mix with water so is the association with the deceased Sat and Inshan.

    Anything that have the illiterate, ignorant PNM supporters whining and grinding gets the applause of the Honorable Prime Minister. He openly admitted that carnival is for procreation. But he and Inshan has been at odds due to the back and forth comments made about each other.

    I am glad a lawsuit is coming Rawlings way just to test the extent of freedom for attacking a honorable citizen such as Inshan is (at least from the Umma point of view). It is a known fact that Cro Cro has gotten millions in CEPEP contract over the years. It would be interesting to know how many CEPEP companies he is currently managing or managed in the past. Inshan should use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what is the true figure of this relationship between Cro Cro and the balisier brigade. It is public money being spent.

    It is clear as “ The calypso represents the literary dimension of traditional Yoruba culture from whence came much of Trinidad’s culture”. Whilst beating their drums, the naked African in Africa invented calypso. It was this genre that sustained them through the hot and merciless weather during the time of slavery. To take that away from them is the ultimate humiliation, come on Inshan, take it on the chin like a real man. You know the balisier brigade is after you….

    1. You may find this interesting… it has so much relevance to TT… Heh.

      Nikki Haley accused of using ‘her Brown skin to launder’ White supremacy on MSNBC
      Story by Jeffrey Clark

      2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley was accused of using “her Brown skin to launder White supremacist talking points” during a racially charged interview on MSNBC Sunday night.

      “I see [Haley] and I feel sad,” Daily Beast contributor Wajahat Ali told MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan, “because she uses her Brown skin as a weapon against poor Black folks and poor Brown-Black folks.”

      “[S]he uses her Brown skin to launder White supremacist talking points,” Ali added.

  2. No one can, or should define politically, what calypso means to cultural make up of not only Trinidad, but the entire post colonial caribbean. Like most UNC’, the bottom line is liking the tree but hating the fruit. The older generation, know the history of crime infested bamboo, the drug trade and vehicle stealing, have today, created malls and manicured playing fields +. Over the yrs, crime money, have become legal entity, and in most cases, the criminals are now the ones crying foul. Trinidad Dravidians are the most backward and mis-educated, not knowing their real history, have remained stickup in the colonialism they have created. Remnants of African culture is the only all inclusive venture in this divided Colony, the reason it can be kicked about any which way. Mr Ishmael is climbing a picker tree and may not like the scratches and bruises that have tendencies to turn into wounds.The backbone of what Trinidad have as culture, have historically been planted by the Africans , carnival and Calypso as we know it, is based on the Africans uprisings on the very cane plantations that Dravidian mr Ishmael and his indentured family now call home. Mr Ishmael must fully comprehend, that he cannot play Mas and fraid powder. Mas is we thing and everybody and “ting” can play, unlike some. To be honest, Mr Ishmael have been planning to make a name for himself, a very unhealthy person, the bamboo floods was his waterlogged field to fame. Colonialism gave us Sat, together with Kali Yuga and all her children, with names of ignorance, Deceit, Avarice, Envy, Cheatery, Malice and De res of the pumpkin vine. ‘Who U are In De Valley, Is who U are”.

    1. Trinidad Dravidians are the most backward and mis-educated, not knowing their real history, have remained stickup in the colonialism they have created.

      But can ‘they’ continue to play dUNCey in this mass media age?

      BTW.. I think AfroBeat will impact us …. anyway..

  3. I manage to catch a bit of the calypso on Inshan. And I must say it is libellous. Cro Cro called Inshan a car thief from the bamboo. That is imputing an improper motive on a businessman. It could affect his business. The subliminal world is real, the subconscious mind puts us in the dream state and is more active at times than the conscious mind.

    The calypso also sought to tie Sat with Inshan. Whatever Cro Cro may have thought about Sat his work in the education system cannot be wiped away. Thousands of children who would have otherwise not receive an education did in the 1950s when Bhadase built 50 schools to educate rural children. The truth is Inshan or Cro Cro could not walk in the shoes of Sat. I attended one of SDMS primary school and there were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, a greater measure of indian children but there was also African children. Without that school in particular thousands of children would have not received an education.

    The SDMS have stayed silent on the defamation of Sat, but they should come out and say something about their former leader and educate the masses on the work he did. Cro Cro is using his name to ridicule and make money. They don’t have to file a lawsuit being a religious body but certainly can speak on behaving of their former leader admonishing Cro Cro to find someone else to pick on seeing their leader is no longer alive to defend himself.

    The law allows for a right to respond regardless if it is considered an art form. To be sure Cro Cro can do much better he is a rare talent and he seeks to bring back some of the Lion styling in his music. The repertoire of the calypsonians is still wide and varied. However I am sure as a businessman and a balisier juice drinker poor soul he cannot help himself. Cro Cro do better you have it in you….

    Here is what you could have sang on… We living in the 21st century.. but the potholes are still here. Ah ask me self why we can’t drive on the nation roads with bump boodoom ah bump boodoom (back singers).
    Well Trinidad asphalt paving all over the world. Everyday the national resource leaving the nation whilst bump boodoom ah bump boodoom everywhere when you driving. Why? Ah ask the question why? We need the roads fixed and function properly productivity suffering, citizens drinking, too much money to repair their car. Oyoyoyo Bump boodoom ah bump boodoom…
    One day whilst ah driving ah hit a pothole hard, me mouth went ahead and ah start swearing, the neighbours heard me and thought ah gone mad Bump boodoom this eh no laughing matter we in a backward mode we need to move into the 21st century fix de dam road… fix it now.
    Well da is me lil Kiaso fuh you all.

  4. “All you shouldn’t be living in Trinbago” Did I hear the lyrics right. What a dangerous comment. Probably the same attitude that inspired Adolph Hitler to murder millions of Jews, Gypsies and other non-Germanic peoples in the 1930s and during the second world war.
    I can’t believe this is happening in sweet T&T.
    Who is going to make the doubles when the ‘coolies’ are gone.

    And the good Doctor Cudjoe is supporting this kind of behaviour by wrapping it up in some kind of mumbo-jumbo about Yoruba culture and double-entendre. Big words to impress the Balisier House jungle juice crowd.

    Many words to evoke sympathy for the little black boy “Cro Cro”, who is happily enjoying himself with his CEPEP funds.

    Fellas, take a grip of yourselves otherwise you are looking at another Rwanda.

    God save T&T

    Doubling down on racism. How to take a statement and exploit it as a PNM calypsonian, deliver it to a PNM audience and revel in division, a common anti -UNC practice at carnival time.
    Is calypso a national cultural art form? Or is it a PNM artform designed to stimulate the supporters?
    True. Kamla’s statement was ridiculous and reactive but is this artistic reaction helpful ?
    The calypsonian ignores the initial ridicule of the Opposition leader’s name by a PNM government Minister.
    Is the calypsonian cognisant of the established fact that Indian names, customs and habits have been objects of mocking and ridicule for decades?

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