But, it could all have been very different. As a matter of fact, it may not have happened at all, had one disaffected calypsonian taken his matter to the courts.
The calypsonian in question is Duncan “Big Lice” Wattley. Coming out of the Semi Finals, he was named the Alternate. This means that if any of those named in the final seven to go up against King Socrates was unable to perform, he would have stepped in.
In short order, Big Lice brought to the attention of the Calypso Sub Committee and the National Carnival Committee, the fact that one of the finalists, George “Kinta” Gilbert had sung one of his songs in a competition some two years previous. The importance of this point is that, as was discussed in the local media, the rules of the competition require that a song must not have been performed in public anytime before February 1st of the year in which a competition is taking place.
Wattley made his case and presented whatever evidence he was required to but, in the end, his challenge was denied on grounds that the clause forbidding the use an old song, had been “…inadvertently…” omitted from the contracts that the calypsonians had signed. Justifiably, he felt hard done and considered a court injunction to stop the show from happening. However, he chose not go that route.
Big Lice would have been way within his legal and moral right to have taken that principled step but, because he did not, I heartily laud him for his magnanimity.
This is not the first time that the calypso fraternity has been dealt unfair blows by the people who control it. Over the years, things have happened that speak of either gross incompetence or just plain, old, politics.
Let me give you some examples:
- Close to 10 years ago, multi-time crowned Nevisian calypsonian Dis n Dat decided to enter the competition in St. Kitts and proceeded to put out a tune called “Bradshaw Wants To Know!”. The song was a cleverly written satire that threw some pointing questions at the Prime Minister. Word on the street was that, on the night of his elimination, Dis n Dat was either first on the list or pretty close to that. However, for some strange reason, he was not among the 16 semi finalists. To use the word of my friend Noah Mills, an “…invisible hand…” made sure that he did not make it.
- As a founding member of The Legends band I had the opportunity and good pleasure of playing for King Bakka, a former Saddlefest Calypso King. I found him a very likeable person so I developed a friendship with him.
One year, he sang “All me money done” and “No badda wid dem”. The former was an up-tempo tune but the latter was slow and he took his time critiquing the politicians in government. He made it only as far as the Semi Finals but was asked to be a guest performer on the Final show.
We were one of the two bands that played that night, so I was back stage. Bakka came to me and complained bitterly that he had just been told by someone with authority in the Calypso Sub Committee that he could not sing “No badda wid dem”. When he asked why, he was told that they were paying him to sing so they decided what he should sing.
Contemporaneously, however, my friend Michael Martin, under the calypso name, “De Musician”, also made it as far as the Semi Finals with two political songs in which he lashed out at the opposition. He made a guest appearance on the show and did one of those songs.
Another calypsonian who lashed out at the opposition and was also asked to appear as a guest, was Gazer. He admonished those whom he addressed in his song to: “Tek you mout’ off ah Layba”.
- You probably do not need to be reminded that the bands that played for the calypsonians in the 2009-2010 carnival did not receive their remunerations until way into 2010; so much so that the matter hit the air waves. Of course, when they finally received their just due, they did not make any fanfare but I heard the minister with responsibility for carnival make mention of it in a discourse, on the radio.
In that discourse, the minister chided the recipients for not saying that they had received their monies, as loudly as they had proclaimed that the monies were not forthcoming. The minister should have understood that the distribution of cheques and other prizes has long been a media spectacle organized by the authorities. Therefore, the absence of the bells and whistles was not the fault of the band leaders’.
The point here is that the failure of the government to have paid its bills arising out of the 2009-2010 carnival, in timely fashion, could have affected carnival as a whole, and calypso in particular, in 2010-2011.
It gets worse, though.
As I said earlier, Big Lice was the Alternate for the Final Show. The Committee’s responsibility to him was to have asked him to collect his ticket(s) so that he could have been at the show, just in case. It was as crucial for him to be there, as it was for any of the other finalists. The Calypso Sub Committee obviously did not see things that way so, no one called him.
I have heard practically all of his public pronouncements on the matter and at no stage did I hear him say that was not going to attend the show. His decision not to seek an injunction came days before the show and gave the Sub Committee enough time to breath sighs of relief and gratitude for the fact that he was not going to follow through with what was clearly his right to do. The sense of gratitude alone should have become their impetus to even grovel at his feet for the mere fact that he could have single-handedly put the proverbial “…spoke in their wheel…”.
Big Lice and I are mere acquaintances; we were never close but, by the same token, we were never enemies. However, have been on great terms with his brothers Bernel and Douglas, both of whom I know as decent and honourable men, and can only conclude from Big Lice’s behavior throughout this whole ordeal, that he is no different. In the words of the old Bette Midler song, I admired him “…from a distance…”. This episode, however, has engendered an even greater admiration. I think we should all take our hats off to him.
In conclusion, therefore, I sincerely hope that the authorities have learnt a lesson this time around and that they will not continue to appear as if they are a band of bungling idiots.