If soca star Neil “Iwer” George’s use of the National Anthem in his Carnival 2024 song, Happy People, was intended to inspire patriotism, it is instead having a polarising effect.
Since its release on YouTube last Friday, the song has sparked contentious debate, with strong opinions for and against. Reactions have ranged from confusion to outrage, particularly on social media, where some commentators admitted they didn’t know whether to stand at attention or gyrate when they heard the opening lines.
Mr George sings the entire National Anthem at the start of the song, speeded up and interspersed with “well, well, well”, stripping it of the respect and solemnity with which it should be rendered as the nation’s premier patriotic musical composition.
In fact, the words of the National Anthem make up a significant portion of the song, which, according to the credits, George co-wrote with Ken Marlon Charles (KMC). Thereafter, the artiste launches into full fete mode, with "send dem Trinis hands in de air ..."
Those words erase any doubt about the audience and occasion for which Happy People is intended. It is a party song, a potential Road March contender with which George has made a controversial entry into the 2024 Carnival season.
The intent is for it to dominate playlists throughout the fete season on occasions of drinking, dancing and types of behaviour not appropriate for a song that should instead be evoking more sober reflection on the history and traditions of this nation.
In the event that Happy People makes it to the streets for the Carnival Monday and Tuesday's Parade of the Bands, will all protocols that should be applied to the National Anthem be completely discarded?
That would be a far cry from the setting in which it was first played, on August 31, 1962 at the Red House, right after the official opening of T&T’s First Parliament.
Mr George’s appropriation of the National Anthem for a soca song is a bad idea on many levels and in extremely poor taste.
It is also not a fitting representation of the work of the late Patrick Castagne, who could not possibly have envisaged his words and music being put to such use.
There are protocols to be followed for playing the National Anthem. In addition, there are certain etiquettes to be observed, all of which are likely to be flouted every time Happy People is played.
Like all of T&T’s other national symbols, this work should be treated with the greatest respect. Deviations like Mr George’s new soca release should not be condoned, no matter how well meaning.
This incident is a reminder of a discordant note sounded at the closing ceremony for Carifesta XIV, which was hosted here in T&T in 2019.
On that occasion, then President Paula Mae Weekes was critical of the “unacceptable rendition” of the National Anthem, which she said “must be sung in its original music; no introduction or coda can be added or other artistic licence taken in its rendition.”
Once again, there is intense discussion about the artistic licence taken in the performance of the song.
However, this time around, a line has been crossed and Mr George, a veteran entertainer with decades of experience in the music business, should take immediate steps to correct this offence.