… when the Toussaints go
The Dessalines come
We’ve lost the battle
But will win the war
Towards the end of Rally Round the West Indies, just to make sure that his listeners recognize that cricket is a metaphor for much more, Rudder explains:
This is not just cricket
This goes beyond the boundary
It’s up to you and me to make sure that they fail
Soon we’ll have to take a side
Or be lost in the rubble
In a divide world that don’t need islands no more
Are we doomed forever to be at someone’s mercy?
Little keys can open mighty doors.
If Stalin advises Caribbean people and states to seek such neutral spaces as might exist between hotly or coldly warring ideologies, Rudder warns them that they will be forced to choose, “to take a side… in a divided world that don’t need islands no more.” The “side” that he prompts them to take is their own. The West Indies team has provided them with an example of what that side should be, demonstrating what skilled West Indians, imbued with a collective sense of their own revolutionary history and potential, can achieve.
Early in the decade of the 1980’s, Chalkdust, reacting to the cultural and economic penetration of Trinidad and the Caribbean by the United States, concludes that “the Caribbean belong to Uncle Sam.” Many calypsoes of the decade chronicle the steady erasure of anything like a Caribbean consciousness by American values, lifestyles, goods and services that are as mindlessly absorbed by Caribbean people as they are resolutely marketed by American capitalism. Merchant, employing the metaphor of the fete, celebrates the emergence of a unified Caribbean consciousness and aesthetic in Caribbean Connection (1988).Four years after Valentino employed the self-same metaphor inTrini Gone Through, his unremittingly negative portrayal of an “irresponsible and lazy nation,” “running last in their work ethics,” “only conscious of money,” “petty, jealous,” “heading in the wrong direction,” “sinking in corruption,” “on a hopeless trip/Rocking a sinking ship.”
Chalkdust, with slightly more laughter but considerable acerbity fills out the portrait next year with Rum Mania (1985). Local, regional or international crisis means nothing to the devil-may-care carousing Trini. “While Guyanese smuggling gold in their bum/All day all night Trini drinking their rum”… Similarly, “While Yankee soldiers eating Grenadian plum” the Trinidadian remains in a nirvana of blissful intoxication. The fete is again associated with mindlessness, and it is this absence of “mind” that has made it easy for America to fill the vacuum left by the departure of the British imperialist. A sense of the Caribbean is erased in direct proportion to the Americanization of the region.
Reflecting on the “Roaring Seventies” Valentino laments the ease with which the entire era seems to have faded from peoples’ memory.
But Trini have this funny funny way of forgetting
Their history to dem like it don’t mean nothing
The history that went down here in the 1970’s
As though it never was today in the 80’s
But don’t care how much they try to
tarnish these historic memories
I will always remember the Roaring 70’s58
While he resolves to remember, Valentino recognizes his society to be a nation of amnesiacs and wonders whether the rebels of the seventies “gave their lives for a hopeless cause.” While this question is asked mainly about Trinidad, foremost on Valentino’s mind was Grenada; so that the question of memory or amnesia as equal and opposite attitudes towards historical trauma is being implicitly asked of the wider Caribbean region. How can a region that wilfully denies its own heroic effort, that negates and erases even its immediate past, survive? How will it generate dream, idea, or an ideal that’s worth the sacrifices that will have to be made?
Valentino holds out no hope in this regard. He ends, rather with a vision of the regions’ recolonization and the tragic eclipse of himself as the last survivor of the consciousness of a generation that, already dead in spirit, has passed out of the memory of people: out of history.
Looking through that era
Well I see changes develop politically
Who leave this party and join that party
And who stole all the oil money I see conscious black men and women
In the 80’s crumble and bend
And the nation gone right back to Europe
On a Western trend.
Chalkdust’s Sea Water and Sand (1986) counterpoints Valentino’s Trini Gone Through of the same year. It acknowledges that the region has redesigned its mechanisms for measuring human and national worth. Caribbean countries are now literally measuring each other according to what their dollar is worth in United States currency. The devaluation of the once proud Jamaican dollar to the North and the struggling Guyanese dollar to the South, is received by those who imagine themselves to be more wealthy, with loud laughter and ribald mockery instead of dread and sadness. Sea Water and Sand questions the wisdom of such laughter, unmasks the same old insularity in each leader, and warns the region that
… unless there is cooperation
All o’ dem on the same road to destruction
In typical Chalkdust style, the persona cites numerous examples of insular and arrogant behaviour, beginning with the false confidence that Barbados and Dominica have invested in their status as the favourite mendicant client states of Washington and London; continuing with Trinidad’s tariff barriers against CARICOM products and immigration restrictions against Grenadian refugees;
Antigua’s blockage of BWIA’s bid to become the regional carrier and regional leaders’ failure to implement treaties that they’ve signed. Ingratiating themselves with America, and prostituting themselves to earn whatever handouts they can acquire from the U.S., the islands neglect their most crucial necessity: that of maintaining meaningful contact, discourse and exchange with each other. Foreign exchange replaces local human interface.
A stream of curious and bitter ironies flows from this anomaly as stanzas II and IV of the calypso illustrate:
All of them Caribbean leader
Instead of pulling together
They prefer to friend with Regan and Thatcher
Dominicans suffering bad
Their goods can’t get to Trinidad
‘Cause Chambers aint giving licences; which is sad.
Chambers say he ain’t in this big racket
They want to flood Trinidad market
With all their cheap inferior goods, and he won’t permit it
But he want BWEE register
As the national (sic) carrier
No way sah! Antigua turn down his offer.
Some of them Caribbean leader
To get Mr. Reagan’s dollar
Will denounce their CARICOM friends and neighbour
Eugenia cussing Guyana
Refusing to even go there
And lambasting Chambers for his behaviour
Chambers vetting Grenadians hey
Man as though they cocokey
Cause to travel to Port of Spain Grenadians need visa
LDC’s want Trini money
To build up their economy
Still you can’t spend a TT dollar in their country.
So Caribbean unity remains an elusive dream, an idea in the heads of poets and singers that is at every point confounded by the evidence of reality. Each example of a regional institution – the West Indies Cricket Team, BWIA, UWI, CXC, CARICOM – becomes on close examination a forum for the fiercely competing self-centredness of its constituent members, a democracy of opposing views whose effect is to cancel each other out. The West Indian Federation itself, beginning as a huge dream in the heads of Marryshow and Cipriani, and a slogan that “The West Indies must be West Indian,” foundered with the first serious attempt to translate dream into reality. Fragments of the dream remained lodged in the brain of the region’s artists, academics and technocrats, and it is with these fragments that the region’s singers still work. The ‘crossover’ between Jamaican and Trinidadian musics which began when Kitchener and Beginner in 1947 and 1948 passed through Jamaica on their way to London, is alive today in Jamaican Soca and Trinidadian Rapso, and Carnivals of one sort or another have blossomed throughout the Archipelago and in every major American city where there is a concentration of Caribbean migrants.
Calypsoes such as Stalin’s Kaiso Music (1996), Shirlaine Hendrickson’s Caribbean Woman (1997), Rudder’s Caribbean Party (1993), Chalkdust’s Caribbean Parkway (1993), and Bush Yard (1991), MBA’s Beyond a Boundary (1993), Merchant’s Caribbean Connection(1988), and Stalin’s Cry of the Caribbean (1992), recognize in their various ways the widening and deepening dimensions of the Caribbean cultural interface through movement, exile, music, sport and a realization of common need at home and abroad. The calypsonian continues to perform the roles of warner, adviser and celebrant of the elusive but real dream.
Thus, St. Lucia’s Ashanti in his Together in Caribbean Unity (1992), repeats Chalkdust’s critique of Caribbean leadership in Sea Water and Sand and calls for leaders to practice cooperation within their individual islands first and thus gain practice for the harder task of uniting on a regional plane. The impression created by all the calypsoes on CARICOM is that the premier regional institution is a futile talk-shop. Hear Stalin: “CARl COM is wasting time. The whole Caribbean gone blind”59 and Chalkdust:
And they meeting regularly
Drawing up all kind 0′ treaty
And after they drink their whisky
The treaty dead already
At their Heads of Government Conference
Is much shop talk and ignorance
Lots of talk, but no action ever commence.
De claws of the IMF have Jamaica in misery
De value of de US in Guyana is $120
But CARlCOM in a meeting
Drink drinking and food eating
Look de dollar in Barbados too
Now struggling to keep value, and it’s true
Is either we swim together in Caribbean unity
Or drown alone in de deep blue Caribbean sea. The concreteness of distress does not yield to the abstraction of talk. De curses of de IMF have Jamaica in social pain Guyanese in sore distress travel one way by boat or plane
But CARICOM dem they fussin
Always in some hotel discussing
In another chorus:
De chores of the IMF have Jamaica in agony Guyanese in hopelessness sell their gold for peanuts money But CARlCOM in a conference Paying room and catering expense60
Ashanti, a calypsonian from one of what used to be the Little Eight, the cluster of islands which in Young Killer’s Cry of the West Indies(1968), were depicted as imploring Jamaica to take them back, now looks in pity at Jamaica and Guyana, two of the original ‘Big Four’, now in the direst economic distress.
In spite of this sorry scenario, the dream of Caribbean unity is still strong. Ashanti indeed, views the Caribbean as having no choice but to unite. Valentino, even after the crushing disillusionment of Grenada (1983), sings with hope about the prospects of cultural unity in the region. His Carifesta Regional Unity (1992), begins with a dismissal of both CARIFTA and CARICOM, but sees hope in the coming together of the regions artists
We celebrating in song and dance
This family reunion
The exponents of the Arts
Will highlight this grand occasion
Displaying their talents in a way to bring unity
Where some other people tried and failed very miserably
So we have to bridge the gap on a cultural foundation
If we really want to unite the Caribbean
No CARICOM, No CARIFTA
It is only sports and our own culture
No same passport, no same dollar
It’s a waste with political propaganda
Them fellas on too much tricks So no kind of politics Could bring the Caribbean people together And unite the region like Carifesta61
Even as the prospect of a grand reunion of “the Caribbean family” is being celebrated by Valentino, Pep, his St. Lucian counterpart, is warning his countrymen:
An economic Fire is threatening me and you
It’s roasting our neighbours, in a fiscal barbecue
It burnt right through Guyana, Jamaica followed next The same West Indian islands who thought they were so big Now like vagrants in our market they’re begging bread and fig There’s a. moral in this story that Lucians have to learn When your neighbour bed’s on fire, take water and wet your own.
More clearly than in Ashanti’s calypso one hears in Pep’s Bab Kamawad (1992), that tone of gloating triumph that economic refugees from the big territories have been seeking refuge and jobs in the once scorned small islands. This triumph however, harshly qualified by the apprehension that the IMF “fire” burning through the “more developed” countries of the Caribbean will soon scorch St. Lucia as well.
The flames are getting nearer, wake up, get out of bed
Just look on the horizon, there’s a dangerous glow of red
Two OECS islands have started smouldering
Antigua and Grenada have their fiscal woes within
Pep’s sense of the Caribbean is strong but negative. The Caribbean territories are invoked as examples of a fate that must be circumvented at all costs, as each island tries via prayer and thrift, to avoid the Debt Trap.
Dreamers of the dream of Caribbean unity are not deterred from their dreaming, merely because of the grimness of social and economic reality that surrounds them. There is no greater realist than David Rudder whose chants in Another Day in Paradise (1995), or theMadman’s Rant (1996), are the ‘most harrowing chronicles of social disintegration. Yet there is also no deeper dreamer as his One Caribbean (1994), proves.
We got so little on our own but as a region we can face tomorrow
Athletes and artists have shown the way And from our roots of resistance and old suffering we can rise through this sorrow We’re much too bright in spirit not to find a better day But in this New World all the time we have this common crisis For debts won’t die away and social tension’s on the rise From Havana to Georgetown oh the danger, the danger is spreading It’s time for a common front, it’s time that we realise I’m saying:
One Caribbean, One Caribbean
One heart together in a changing world
One Caribbean, One Caribbean
One love, one heart, one soul Reaching for a common goal.
Again the dream, the call. It won’t take time. The region had had time. It will require as Rudder senses when he assumes the role of shaman, chanter and exhorter, magic. Hence the invocation of the “one love/one heart” spirit of Bob Marley. Hence the long wild chant, at times in fragmented French and Spanish as well as English, with which the Caribbean people are invited to join hands across the water, hence, too, the final attestation of faith: “We’re coming together,” though this is nowhere visible, as the hard-nosed realists illustrate in their grim songs.