When Karen Asche sang "They try all kind of trick and jadoo / But he is now the world first black Hindu"-"he" being the battling Minister of Works-on Dimanche Gras night, I changed the channel. Of course this, and her Be Careful What You Wish For, eventually won the $2 million prize.This dollar amount, and the State's endorsement, make the song and singer directly relevant to the issue of education. And at 24, Ms Asche allows a unique opportunity for an assessment of what education in the last decade has produced. (She is also a post-UNC "child of Umbala", but more on this later.) Even without this justification, I'm curious to see what a $2 million calypso looks like.
"Wish's" opening verses are a rhetorical staging of the main theme, "be careful what you wish for," and its vehicle: marriage-literal and figurative. The primary theme of the song then begins: "This tiny little Indian girl leave she child father who she swear was wotless / Move in with a younger man also from Guyana / Hit she more bat than Sarwan when she feed him channa." Then follows "the man...mash in she baby skull." The moral: "So why you upset / you ask for it / you take what you get."
But infanticide is a prelude to the heart of the song, and a lead-in to the main theme: "We went and vote the other day / And for the winds of change we stain we finger / But how quickly things decay / Now an odour strange begins to linger." Then a catalogue of the government's ills-labour troubles, Fazeer Mohammed's uh, thing, punctuated by the refrain "Be careful what you ask for / Be careful what you wish for / Better the devil that you had than the one you did not know", and so on.
First, as poetry, the inversion of "an odour strange begins to linger" to rhyme with "stain we finger" jumps out, as does the string of clichés ("winds of change," "you ask for it," "better the devil you know" etc). The attempts at original phrasing are clumsy, ie, "Indian girl leave she child father who she swear was wotless." Neither does she orchestrate the clichés into any kind of poignancy or linguistic or verbal cleverness (ie, she can't "make it new").
As performance (it's on You Tube), Asche's gestural accompaniment communicated a sense of corrosive resentment posing as folk wisdom, an unintentional parody of moral indignation-the broad sweeping arm and body movements, the parodic flourishes and the arch finger-pointing. Then there's the perfor- mance's wraparound/wallpaper-the man and woman doing the little "skit" in the background -she in a wedding dress, him wearing a cape and beating her. (OK, I admit, I'm stumped by the cape.)
The argument, or narrative content, is simple: a young "Indian" "Guyanese" woman left her husband for a younger man, also "Guyanese," and her baby was murdered. Then we elected the present government, which hasn't gone as we thought. Lead-fisted allegory is one thing, but juxtaposing domestic violence resulting in infanticide and election of the fumbling Partnership is old-school propaganda. It's like Nazi movies showing images of Jews, then cutting to rats. Very popular also with the Hutus-who called the Tutsis "cockroaches."
So (if you're still not with me) this song can be paraphrased as follows: the election of the PP Government and the dismissal of the PNM is best understood via image and analogy of violence among Indian people, especially of Guyanaese origin. When the known and legitimate husband (PNM) is left, the young, promising (PP) one turns out to be a child murderer.
But even more revealing than the text are the lacunae. We hear about the Fazeer Mohammed issue, the labour movement's disillusionment with the PP and so on. But we hear nothing of the thousands of murders, a significant percentage of the victims and perpetrators of which were non-Guyanese; the PNM's open "truces" and "summits" with criminal gangs; thievery on an epic scale; the deterioration of hospitals, schools, roads, and communities -and so on, and so on. (This is what we should have kept, because is the devil we know.)
Clearly, given its social realism agenda (as opposed to irony, or parody, or any other genre which accommodates this kind of distortion, and "sarcasm" is not a genre, it's a pose) the lacunae, or willful blindness, is disturbing. Clearly Ms Asche is not a big believer in, practitioner of, or seems to have any awareness of, the critical thinking so assiduously promoted by the now Minister of Planning, and the UWI, during the last decade. As an artist, singer or writer (whether or not she composed it, she owns the song) the composition is clichéd, unoriginal, and even its gestural-performative accompaniment offers no insight into the situation it examines. Its main purpose seems to be to equate the PP Government with an Indo wife-beating child-killer.
I have to wonder, did the judges hear this song? Did they understand it? Did the louts and touts who swallow taxpayers' money to study this stuff (UWI and UTT academics) even notice, far less study, these lyrics and their implications? OK, we all know the answer here.But there's more: what about the lines "Better keep your bird in hand / Than pursue your heart's desire / Before you jump from the frying pan into the fire." What does this say about her attitudes to gender? Women's issues? Romantic love?
To be continued