By Raffique Shah
August 16, 2021
I was dreaming of the din that has developed over vaccination—to vaccinate or not?—which of the vaccines is acceptable, which is not?—an unholy row that is international in its reach, with the Internet offering a global platform to everyone who must have his say—when an apparition of Cecil Hume, stage name The Maestro, blotted out everything else, crooning in his high-pitched voice the near-comical lyrics of his masterful calypso, ‘Mr Trinidad’.
I came awake instantly, recalling that the talented bard was killed when a car crashed into him on the shoulder of the Hochoy highway where he was reportedly rendering assistance to a fellow—motorist. It was the night of August 30, 1977, which was a most successful year for him: he had scored big with ‘Rampage’, ‘Bionic Man’ and ‘Gold’ (a tribute to Hasely Crawford). Earlier, he had given us Fiery, Tempo, Rampage, Savage and Black Identity, to name the more popular of his songs.
This could not be all coincidence, I thought, as I threw caution to the wind and rubbed my eyes with my fingers to ensure I had been awakened from slumber by real events that kept this country in a state of constant turmoil, somewhat like a cauldron of Caribbean soup boiling in a back-a-yard fire. There was a right royal row over Covid-19, with a supposedly deadlier strain of the virus about to pounce on the population just as we were being inundated with vaccines that we could only dream of getting a few months ago.
Now, we had so many sent to us from friends and foes from nearby and afar, some costly, others free, that we were confused. Mere months ago, Trinis and ‘Gonians were cussing the Prime Minister for not caring about his people, not sourcing vaccines while our Caribbean neighbours were vaccinating their populations with ease. Now that we were awash with ‘jabs’ with huge stocks from China, the masses were cussing, chanting ‘Chin-med-no-good.’
Can you believe these people? Maestro, or at least his apparition, said to me with an air of authority only the dead can possess: Man, Sah, why you think ah checking on you? Like yuh forget I sing about Mr Trinidad—and about you—heh , heh, heh, long time now. Strumming on a harp that had the tonal quality of a Bertie Marshall tenor pan, he sang, ‘Mr Trinidad, tell me what scene you on? Do you just like political confusion?/You criticizing the way you live/Yet you can’t produce an alternative…’ Well, ah wide awake now, eh, and Lord Carlti join Maestro, drumming on the headboard: ‘Afro-Trinidadians talking Black Power/It’s not wrong for a man to love his culture/Yes you walk around with yuh Afro plaits/And yuh dragging alpagat and fat sapat/But although yuh rapping ’bout Africa/yuh eating roti like if yuh born in India…’
Loud laughter, ghost and man. We probably waking up the neighbours. With a sly glance at me, Maestro sang on: ‘..you say de country ace crime fighter/is a regular ganja smoker/You call Raffique Shah a seditious traitor/now de same traitor is a union leader/ It won’t surprise me if you move (Abdul) Malik from Death Row and make him Minister of Home Affairs tomorrow….’ Uncontrolled laughter, I laughing louder than he. ‘Theodore Guerra prosecute de soldiers/for dat he get one set ah horrors/…You say Mahabir too quiet and soft/And Victor Campbell is a big show-off/You ent want Eric, Kamal, Karl, neither Pat/If is a badjohn yuh want, well call Dr Rat’
I not only remembered the song, but I recalled the encores he enjoyed…the audiences in the tent, night after night, just kept calling for more…and The Maestro delivered. Thing is, they were laughing at themselves, all their foibles and frailties, their contradictions.
‘That is Trinis for you…which is which is why I decided to pay you a visit and give you a message to spread. Tell all ah dem who looking for ‘brands’ in Covid vaccines, it doh wuk so. Upstairs there, he continued, his index finger motioning above his head, De Boss doh ask whether yuh take Pfizer or Astro Geneca or Chin’s Sinopharm. Everybody going into the same pen…that’s what we call the cells we sleep in…’
‘Allyuh does sleep?’ I asked, curious and somewhat shocked. ‘I thought death signalled eternal rest?’
You stay there and believe that nonsense, he answered, only the good enjoy rest as required. The bad and the ugly, dey counting money day and night. Dey eating million-dollar notes laced with Moruga Scorpion pepper….
And with a haunting, raucous laugh that faded with his apparition, I was left wondering what that encounter with The Maestro meant. I suppose it was his way of warning people that ‘brands’ do not matter when your time has come. The important thing is to stay safe, be very careful.
Recognising Calypso History month.