Jensen La Vende
Soca artiste Neil “Iwer” George has sparked controversy with his inclusion of the National Anthem in his Carnival 2024 release, “Happy People”.
The song, which he co-wrote with Ken Marlon Charles (KMC), is three minutes and 16 seconds long and begins with a rendition of the National Anthem. It includes a call from the artiste to “send dem Trinis hands in the air” as he introduces the hook.
Since its release the song has received 43 likes and 3,581 views, in addition to attracting outrage on social media.
Yesterday George and Charles did not respond to calls for comments on the angry social media reactions to the song. However, retired Brigadier General and former national security minister Carl Alfonso said the use of the lyrics of the National Anthem, which was written by the late Patrick Castagne, was disrespectful.
“I can’t say it is illegal, but I can say it is being disrespectful. I don’t know if he is going to be arrested for singing the Anthem like that, but it certainly can be deemed disrespectful. I haven’t read up on it to see if it is illegal. I know the flag has a flag etiquette that goes with it,” he said.
Alfonso said he suspected the lyrics of the National Anthem were included in the song to generate a buzz amd to promote it.
“This is going to cause some waves. I don’t know if that is the intention, but it is going to cause some excitement among the population,” he said.
“Some youngsters will jump and wave and whatever and us older guys, once you’re over 50, I suppose, you’d want to respect it in a certain way.”
Some commemtators on social media wondered whether they would be expected to wine or stand still while George’s version of the Anthem played, while also challenged the listing of KMC and George as writers of the song when the Anthem takes up 46 seconds on he track.
President of the Copyright Music Organisation of T&T (COTT) Curtis Jordan said the National Anthem is a work commissioned and owned by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and only the state can raise an issue of possible copyright infringements.
“Since the copyright belongs to the state and is not under COTT’s purview, I would not be able to comment on that specific matter. There are laws pertaining to the use of national symbols and emblems and if there are any infringements then the state will deal with it accordingly,” he said.
Culture Minister Randall Mitchell said he was not aware of any law that specifies the protocol required for the playing and reciting the Anthem but pointed out that it must, by convention, be accorded the utmost respect at all times.
“The anthem’s “forged from the love of liberty” is a source of patriotic pride for citizens and the long-established protocol should be treated as sacrosanct. In this instance, the placement of the words to the National Anthem in the song “Happy People” breaks with the well-established protocol, is in poor taste for which creative licence could be no excuse,” Mitchell said.
This is not the first time there has been criticism over a rendition of the National Anthem.
In 2019, then President Paula Mae Weekes criticised the way it was sung sung at the closing of Carifesta. In a social media post, she said an “unacceptable rendition of the anthem was performed and that the anthem must be sung with the original music.”
Weekes also said then: “No introduction or coda can be added, or other artistic licence taken in its rendition. The offence is compounded when it occurs at an official function. Our national anthem, like our flag and coat of arms, identifies us as a nation and must at all times be accorded the utmost respect.”
The official page of the Office of the President (OTP) states:
“The National Anthem should be accorded the respect due to it when played, and on no occasion should it be treated with scant courtesy. While it must be played in the original music, the pitch, speed and tone can be changed. When the anthem is being played, all persons should pay respect to it by standing to attention.”
“Men in civilian dress should remove their headdress. Commissioned Officers of the Armed Forces, Gazetted Officers of the Police Service, Cadet Force Officers and Officers of the Fire Services, Prisons Service, St John Ambulance Brigade, Red Cross Society, Boy Scouts Association and Girl Guides Association, in uniform are to salute. All other ranks and all other persons are to stand to attention.”