My Two Cents on ‘fire in Babylon’: And a Slightly Different Take on ‘Calypso Cricket’

By Corey Gilkes
October 01, 2011

Calypso CricketOn Wednesday I went to MovieTowne in Port of Spain for the first time ever (no, seriously). Now before the last seven friends I have left in this world get vex with me, rest assured I haven’t had a change of heart and decided to be like everyone else. It was only because that was where the documentary “Fire in Babylon” was being shown and allyuh know how strongly I feel about cricket and social consciousness. So yuh boy gone and took in the thing (and again on Sunday to see the documentary on the Black Power Movement “70s the Movie”).

All in all “Fire in Babylon” was a very nice documentary that I do hope gave the young teenagers I noticed in the audience a better understanding of how sports in general and cricket in particular can instill pride and confidence at the social and political level. I think that in an era where we are constantly inundated with messages that the only important thing is the “bottom line” — making money and plenty of it — the idea that there are other things, intangible things that are equally if not more important than making money and achieving status cannot be repeated too often. Plus the sentimental side of me is always triggered when I see the old legends like Viv, Holding, “Big Bird” Garner and Lloyd. Their accounts of what inspired them and what they went through are invaluable if we want to inculcate similar values and commitment among this generation of young sportsmen and budding professionals
.

That said (yuh know it always have a “but” with me), I still found the documentary somewhat wanting. Don’t get me wrong eh, I’m not pounding the director — in fact parts of it were quite moving — but I must state that this documentary showed just how important it is that WE need to start telling our own stories from our perspective. First off, I found that even though the film focussed on the glory years of the 1970s and 80s, it barely glimpsed at the preceding years. In my opinion to best understand how that period of the heady 70s and 80s came to be there could have been a little more detailed examination of West Indies cricket and social consciousness in the Caribbean from the late 19th century to the decolonisation period and the rise of Sir Frank Worrell to the captaincy. Note the use of the word detailed; I appreciate the constraints of time and the period the filmmakers were focussing on but in my opinion (and me eh no kinda expert really) I don’t think that sufficient mention was given to this especially if one compares ‘Fire in Babylon” to, say, “Empires of Cricket: The West Indies.”

But what really prompted me to write this was something this neophyte first came across some time ago. In the 1950s the title “calypso cricket” was appended to the West Indies style of playing which brought flair and showmanship to what was a very plaid, dull form of the game when it was ruled by the British. Even with the more brutal Australians cricket was by and large a game in which the principal teams played among each other like “family” members who observed gentleman’s agreements of reserved behaviour. This was not by chance; it must be remembered that since the late 19th century cricket was one of the vehicles by which the British, who truly believed in the superiority of their culture and the Anglo-Saxon, sought to project that idea and instill their values of “civilised” behaviour, fair play, deference to authority and especially restraint and self-control. Influenced by the ideas of Ancient Greece and the writings of Plato, Socrates and the other famous Greek thinkers, all facets of British middle-class life and mannerisms revolved around facades characterised by controlled, restrained behaviour; the famous stiff-upper-lip — facades that tended to be put aside whenever they had to go into and “civilise” natives in the lands they colonised but that’s a different matter I suppose.

Anyway, spontaneity and gaiety were viewed by the Greeks as irrational, uncultured behaviour, traits which were found in persons still shackled to irrational, uncontrollable nature and were thus unmanly (read “effeminate”). It therefore followed that the game of cricket represented the highest form of “man” — the restrained, often expressionless masculine stoic. Black players (and spectators) coming from the Caribbean and societies that still had strong cultural retentions of Africa and India, brought flair and colour that were manifested in all facets of daily living and in so doing jolted the serene, near lifeless game. The problem was that for a certain period of time this showmanship and flamboyancy was not accompanied by sustained success in Test series and from what I gather the term “calypso cricket” came to be viewed in a decidedly negative light; a term that evoked images of a happy-go-lucky, laissez-faire approach to the game and life in general with little sense of discipline, commitment and focus.

Interviews of Clive Lloyd showed that he was particularly uncomfortable with the terms and sought to transform the style of WI playing — which he did with devastating effect. Perhaps this is also one of the reasons why Steven Riley, the director of the film, chose to almost completely ignore the many calypsos that had a longer history of recording the victories and prowess of WI cricketers than the more directly confrontational reggae songs. I have absolutely no problem with reggae and rockers as those who know me personally can testify, but where was reggae when Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner led hundreds of Caribbean migrants onto the field at Lords in 1950 when the West Indies won the second test (“with those little pals of mine/Ramadhin and Valentine”)? Where was Prince Far I and I Roy when Learie Constantine, Sobers and the 3 W’s were doing us proud? Didn’t Kitchener and Maestro produce calypsoes when the West Indies mash up England and Australia and won the World Cup? Sorry, but in “Fire in Babylon,” kaiso got short changed (as usual).

But more than that is this negative idealising of “calypso.” For hundreds of years people writing on life in the Caribbean painted images of laid back living, which in some respects it was — depending on what level of society you were of course. However, Europeans settlers, many of whom were themselves little more than commoners and even criminals back in England, coupled with racist justifications for enslavement and colonialism, projected the idea of the shiftless, lazy, un-industrious person onto the enslaved and colonised Africans and later Indians. To this day we often hear it said that we Trinis have a Carnival mentality (which by and large we in turn accept and internalise) because “Carnival” and “calypso” is almost unquestioningly accepted as being synonymous with any behavior not in keeping with being industrious. THAT I have a real problem with; I know too much about the work that goes into carnival, too much about the sacrifices that are made to produce Carnival, too much about the pre-colonial societies of Africa to accept that ours is an ethic of laziness.

We’d do well if we came to see “calypso cricket” and “carnival mentality” as forms of industriousness and resistance expressed differently. Yes, you read correctly, seeing the flair and showmanship, even the laid back approach as assaults on Eurocentric definitions of what it means to be productive. Now before you think that this is a long-winded excuse for laziness, un-productivity and the attitudes of many public servants, rest assured it is not. But it is a call for us as Caribbean people who still have links to African and Indian worldviews to start learning how to note the differences in cultural outlooks and to define things on our terms. Serious students of African culture know very well that Africans were always entrepreneurial, were always industrious. It didn’t start in Greece and end in England. However, that industriousness was not accompanied by a worldview that saw nature as a constant and ever present threat that could annihilate us, unlike Western thought. Because we are not taught the history of the ideas that fed the work ethics of Western Europe we don’t understand that behind the great inventions and improvements that have made our lives easier are deeply entrenched beliefs built on irrational fears of encroaching nature and death if “control” is allowed to slip and fluidity and spontaneity take hold. Cricket in many respects embodied the best display of the mask of control (cloaked in the mantle of “civilisation”)

Until them damn black immigrants arrived

The idea that “calypso cricket” could be interpreted as a repudiation of Western industrial asceticism did not occur to me until I read Carol Boyce-Davies’ examination of Trini-born activist Claudia Jones. In “The Left of Karl Marx” she argued that Jones’ contribution to the Notting Hill Carnival sought to use the Mas as another vehicle to on the one hand instill consciousness and confidence among Caribbean migrants and on the other to defy the pretensions of the “reserved” British. By using the revelry, spontaneity and abandon of the Mas it challenged and stripped the veneer of “control” that even many British resented. Likewise, the showmanship of Constantine, Ramadhin, Sobers, Kallicharan, the swagger of Richards and Lara, the blast of the bugle and the conch shell that jolted the English out of his reverie as he sat in the stands, all in often barely perceptible ways helped us to “colonise in reverse” and make a mockery of English imperial ideas of being “civilised.”

This is how I’d like calypso cricket to be understood. This is how I’d like us to apply the Carnival mentality. Not to lie around in indolent, un-productive stupor eh caring if Sunday fall on a Wednesday, but to transform whatever space or society we find ourselves in using our culture of creativity and inventiveness and matching it with our love for living, sensual pleasures and colour. And in so doing attacking and scaling back that frantic, unifocal approach to “progress” as defined by the self-hating West which, if left unchallenged will destroy us all.

So go get copies of “Fire in Babylon;” it should be shown in all schools along with “Empires of Cricket: The West Indies” (see it on YouTube). But more than that, let us start telling our own stories.

8 Responses to “My Two Cents on ‘fire in Babylon’: And a Slightly Different Take on ‘Calypso Cricket’”


  • Lester A. Parkinson

    Quite an honest, provocative and insightful commentary!

  • I too, looked to ‘Fire in Babylon’ with great anticipation. Now, having seen it and gotten over the initial excitement of reliving the glory days, I am left to ponder West Idies cricket.There was no mention of non-African players; it was all about “African slaves whipping the assess off the white masters”. This is from the mouths of the “greats”. If this is so, West Indies Cricket is going no where. I now have to disagree with Corey Gilkes- do not show this to our young children! It is not the way forward.
    I now believe that Trinidad should leave the fold of West Indies cricket and go it alone. Our “Greats” see themselves as Africans, not West Indians!

  • “There was no mention of non-African players; it was all about “African slaves whipping the assess off the white masters”. This is from the mouths of the “greats”.

    “I now have to disagree with Corey Gilkes- do not show this to our young children!

    Our “Greats” see themselves as Africans, not West Indians!”

    Here we go again; what is wrong with the last part? Why do we always get our knickers in a twist when a person asserts their Africanness? That in and of itself does not make one any less Caribbean or Trini or Jamaican or whatever. That does not necessarily mean some kind of “reverse racism”; in fact, I’ve always argued that it is BECAUSE we have been forced to look towards Europe, particularly England and Euro-America, for models of culture, civility, sophistication, mannerisms, etc is why we have this deep self-hate.

    And like it or not, in the context of British racism and their pretensions of the loftiest models (of which cricket WAS a standard bearer), WI cricket DID become a means by which the colonised struck back and attempted to exact some means of revenge against years of humiliation. It did serve as a source of inspiration and stoked fires of inner hope to thousands of Caribbean nationals living in England at a time of very blatant racism in the West and south Africa.

    I agree that there was a little too much emphasis on making it appear as if it was ONLY about black/white issues as if Ramadhin, Kallicharan, Murray et al, didn’t exist and that WI cricket and nationalism didn’t transcend narrow racial issues. Holding, Garner, Lloyd and Roberts themselves in separate interviews argued that it had more to do with just playing well and being the best professionals they could be.

    Long and short: the issue of racial identity was a factor in WI cricket along with nationalist issues and we don’t necessarily need to be upset about that. If we are upset about the exclusion of Indian and Chinese WI players or that the whole tone was one-sided (which it was), then ultimately the fault lies with us in that we should have long been telling our own stories and stop relying on others to do it for us.

  • Quoting Piparovolcano:

    I now believe that Trinidad should leave the fold of West Indies cricket and go it alone. Our “Greats” see themselves as Africans, not West Indians!

    First Darren Ganga launches the trial balloon of T&T going it alone and seceding from West Indies cricket. Now this. Darren has problems with the present-day WICB. Piparo. has problems with the erstwhile greats — Viv Richards &c. — identifying too overtly with Africa.

    This balloon is made of lead. It is a hope of racist Indos that have a problem with Afro-Creole leadership or accomplishment.

    This was a problem from the beginning, and was part of the British design that brought East Indians under indentiture to the West Indies in the first place. I emphasize West Indies, i.e. Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada, British Guiana, and perhaps other territories of the then British West Indies. The East Indian element in Trinidad and then British Guiana was instrumental in the break-up of the West Indies Federation.

    The calculation was as obvious as it was base: a divided Federation gave them a chance at takeover respectively in British Guiana and Trinidad.

    Here again, there is a calculation that the Indo element could dominate Trinidad cricket the way they could not hope to dominate West Indies cricket. They would ascribe their inability to dominate West Indies cricket to unjust racial discrimination, as opposed to more of less fair-minded selection based on considerations of talent and team balance. I say “more or less” because reasonable and fair-minded people may always honestly disagree on selection matters.

    The charge of anti-Indo racial discrimination in West Indies cricket I dismiss as baseless slander, on par with the Indo-Trini would-be Canadian refugees claiming racial oppression by the Afro-dominated T&T government of the time.

    Now, as earlier with the break-up of West Indies Federation, there is an obvious and base calculation to seek Indo dominance by fair means and foul within a narrow T&T fold. That it would cause the break-up of West Indies cricket (one from 10 leaves nought is the arithmetic that applies here, as it did for Federation) is of no concern to them. Fair-minded Indos should repudiate this idea. Afro-Trinis should understand clearly the agenda at work.

    Be all that as it may, I have seen the film “Fire in Babylon”. It is by no means perfect. And Corey Gilkes is right that we really should tell our own story. But it is an excellent and moving telling of a remarkable story that needed to be told.

    The issue of identity is part of the story that the (English) producers sought to tell: slave beating massa at his own game. Hence fire in Babylon. Babylon represents massa and massa system. Fire is the slave putting a torch to massa and burning down Babylon. Those kidnapped from Africa and brought to and enslaved in the British West Indies did not lose whatever identity we had prior to enslavement. For sure we came from Africa. (As Israelites we were also scattered into Africa as I’ve been concerned to develop in other posts to this blog).

    So for Piparo. to suggest that there is something wrong with our great cricket warriors taking strength from African identity is churlish.

    It is also hypocritical, for late-comer East Indians brought to the West Indies have asserted their Indo identity at every turn, indeed to a sickening degree. Apan jhat is their creation. Eric Williams by contrast pursued a policy of “here ev’ry creed and race find an equal place”.

    Be that as it may, truth be told, we the Afro-Creole slave descendants of the B.W.I. are Israelites, moreover of the same tribe of Benjamin. So there is deeper significance to “Fire in Babylon” than even the producers are aware. For it is the prophetic mission of the true Israelites precisely to take down Babylon system. The Indo-Trini have thrown their lot behind Babylon system, and will be taken down with it.

    2 Esdras 15:46-49. And thou, Asia, that art partaker of the hope of Babylon, and art the glory of her person: Woe be unto thee, thou wretch, because thou hast made thyself like unto her… Thou hast followed her that is hated in all her works and inventions; therefore, saith God, I will send my plagues upon thee; widowhood, poverty, famine, sword, and pestilence, to waste thy houses with destruction and death.

    What is Babylon system? It is massa system. It is simply described as a system for the theft of the land and labor of others, however clever or “legal” the perpetration. Scripture says “Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!” (Habakkuk 2:6). Fire is the ultimate end of Babylon system, that complex known as capitalism and slavery and colonialism:

    Isaiah 66:15. For, behold, Yahweh will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.

    We the Israelite slave descendants of the B.W.I. know at some level who we are. This was the point of the various “dread-lock Rastas” that were integral to the documentary. That was the point of the Bob Marley track: “Get up, stand up!”. If that doesn’t resonate with the Indo element in the former B.W.I. it is only because the Israelite and Babylon vibrations are 180 deg out of phase with each other.

    Long before Bob Marley, Yahweh sent down a tune to Desmond Dekker (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5JHGi0awgc) letting us to know who the real Israelites are, and our defining characteristic.

    And through calypsonian Black Stalin Yahweh also sent another messenger of Fire for Babylon (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lsce_CsWME0).

    Even Vivian Isaac Alexander Richards, in his heyday was nothing else but a young Israelite warrior. Yahweh gave him the Israelite swagger of our forefather Jacob:

    Genesis 32:24-32. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man (angel) with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.

    So to this day, the children of Israel “halt upon their thigh”, giving us that peculiar hop and drop swagger so well exemplified by Viv Richards.

    We must remember that the ancient Israelites were known for their prowess on the field of battle, for example:

    2 Samuel 23:20-21. And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada … he slew two lionlike men of Moab: he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow: And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.

    Israelite descendants of today must have within ourselves the same qualities, understanding clearly that such prowess is a gift of Yahweh, that, as it is given, may also be taken away.

    One of the curses under which we have labored as a people is precisely that we would be routed by our enemies in battle, even though, as children of Jacob, we are of the seed of one who wrestled all night with an angel, and prevailed. But as prophesied, we fell under the curses for our disobedience, and our prowess as warriors was taken away:

    Deuteronomy 28:25. Yahweh shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them.

    Deuteronomy 28:65. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but Yahweh shall give thee there a trembling heart …

    Therefore, as Israelites in our scattered state, we would display, both, some of the qualities of Jacob who wrestled with an angel and prevailed, and, as a cursed people, we would suffer from a “trembling heart”, and have not the power to stand before our enemies. This precisely describes the calypso cricketers spoken of in the documentary: brilliant, yet fragile, derided as the “calypso collapso” cricketers.

    The cricketers who ruled the roost for 15 years are a sign. They foreshadowed a time to come when we would be Israelite warriors as of old. For if the curses have now been lifted (our 400 years of captivity came to an end this year, May 2011) this means that the script is now flipped. It is those who afflicted us who now will flee seven ways before us, and whom Yahweh shall give a trembling heart.

    That is already starting to happen, except for the prophetic 42 months during which power is given unto the beast to continue (Revelation 13:5). After that time, one may indeed expect fire in Babylon! This film is merely a foretaste, a sign, and only in the limited context of the game of cricket, of what will play out for real. This is the sense of

    Genesis 32:28. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

    As with Jacob and the angel, we shall prevail. One sign of that — for Yahweh confirms his covenants with signs and wonders (e.g. Genesis 9:12, Deuteronomy 28:46) — is that we the children of Israel, “halt upon the thigh”, that is, we walk with swagger, although few equal Viv Richard’s for ease and menace. But far more than that, Yahweh promises to use us to do some of his work of bringing down Babylon:

    Micah 7:15-17. According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things. The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf. They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of Yahweh our God, and shall fear because of thee.

    As on the cricket field, so in the real world; the denizens of Babylon know what is coming. Hence “Fire in Babylon”.

    Jacob/Israel is coming now into his inheritance, halting on his thigh, with hop and drop swagger. From being always the tail and never the head (Deuteronomy 28:44), from being an object of derision, the script is to be flipped (Deuteronomy 30:7). We shall become always the head, never the tail. Yahweh sent us a little sign, in the form of the all-conquering West Indies cricket team of 1976-1991.

    The Indo-Trini such as Piparo. have a chance to join with the Israelite Afro-Trini and share his destiny. Or they may become partakers of the hope of Babylon system — chasers after material gain at others’ expense — and suffer the consequences: fire in Babylon one way or the other.

    Shalom.

    • I really do not know what all the complaining is about. The WI team includes at different times: Chanderpaul, Ramdin, Bharath, Rampaul, Sarwan, Bishoo…

  • Great Read! I love it.. As a Jamaican.. I never think of Calypso as a Trini thing.. In thought of it as a Caribbean thing..! Love my Calypso.. And no one will take that away from me.

    On the other hand, if one is going to do a documentary… Tell the truth and nothing but the truth, don’t skip anything.. Long Live the Glory Days.. Oh well.. Sorry I will not see it again.. before I take a dirt nap!

  • @ Devon

    comrade, don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that calypso is or has ever been an excusively Trini thing; many misguided and often myopic people like to assure themselves that calypso belongs to TnT and nowhere else. Trinidad is undoubtedly its greatest vehicle but kaiso in various forms has been sung in many other Caribbean islands going back even before it was first recorded. Additionally, largely because of the many seamen who moved back and forth, there was a rich cross-fertiisation of musical traditions.

    So I for one not looking to “take” nothing away from you. Doh get no horrors dey

  • Smiling! I am happy you took the time out to respond! It is befitting to know that the way we played cricket, as they called it Calypso is now being embrace in the form of one dayer’s and 20/20. Our ability to grace the out field with stroke playing hath not encapsulate the mind of every one that holds a cricket bat.

    I have not yet watch fire in Babylon.. However I truly looking forward to when it shows up in the USA.. LOL that might be a while.. So I might end up just getting it on DVD.

    Thanks again, I knew what you were saying, But I wanted to make it clear that I never thought of Calypso or Reggae ane one Island Thing.

    Thats why I love the Jamaican Quote of Arm. Out of Many one People. Within my fabric is the personification of that theme.. we are all one..!

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