Sunday, January 25, 2004

You can't get away from Cro Cro in today's newspapers. He's the chief topic of discussion among the Sunday columnists in the Express & the Guardian, & in the correspondence columns. Raoul Pantin is the most sensible of the bunch, recalling an old Eric Williams anecdote to put Cro Cro properly in his place.

For the sake of those readers blessedly unaware of Trinidad & Tobago's latest cultural controversy: the calypsonian Weston Rawlins, a.k.a. Cro Cro, has lately been performing a new song called "Facing Reality" (Keith Smith reproduces the lyrics in this column), which argues that corrupt politicians & shady businessmen ought to be punished by kidnapping, especially if they happen to be Indian, Syrian, white, homosexual, or members of the UNC. What makes this song so incendiary is the fact that for about a year now T&T has been assailed by a wave of kidnappings-for-ransom--at its height some months ago people were being snatched at the rate of almost one per day--which has boosted a sense of public insecurity & provoked much wailing about the Manning government's inability to deal with crime. It's been impossible not to notice that a majority of the kidnap victims have been Indian. Cro Cro seems to think that is as it should be.

He & his calypso have been condemned by a range of commentators; the general line is that his calypso encourages criminal activity. I hear that "Facing Reality" is well-received in the tent, but few people have publicly defended him. Selwyn Cudjoe is one of those few--in a letter to the editor published in last Friday's Express, he calls himself "one of Cro Cro's applauding constituents", & suggests that "Facing Reality" "deserves a thoughtful response". He goes on to argue that "Cro Cro's call is centred on the imperative demands for metanoia or conversion to God", & quotes the theologist Edward Schillebeeckx (what a name to drop!). I'd suspect Cudjoe of sarcasm if I weren't convinced he doesn't actually have a sense of humour.

"Facing Reality" is a despicable piece of work--probably racist, certainly homophobic, & otherwise in very poor taste (tastelessness is practically Cro Cro's trademark). But is it an "incitement to commit felony"? You can't be serious.

What's troubling about this song is not so much its possible consequences--no one will plan a kidnapping expressly because Cro Cro says so--but what it reveals about the state of mind of a not insignificant portion of the population. "Cro Cro's applauding constituents", whoever & however many they are, seem actually to believe that Trinidad & Tobago's problems are mostly the fault of a "Them" composed of Indians, Syrians, the relatively wealthy, & anyone who chooses not to vote PNM.

And it's not reassuring to read Clevon Raphael's interview with Michael Leggerton--the Mighty Protector, president of the Trinidad Unified Calypsonians Organisation & media relations officer at the Ministry of Culture--in today's Guardian. I won't link to it, because the Guardian's online archives are once again a disgraceful mess, but here's the gist of it: Leggerton refuses to make any kind of official statement on the Cro Cro controversy; suggests that the former UNC government intended to censor calypsonians ("We have no evidence but that was their intention. So who knows if they get back into government they may come back again after us"); & goes off on a semi-coherent rant about the evil "Them", personified by Basdeo Panday ("Have you been listening to some of the songs that they are singing on the predominantly East Indians [sic] radio stations? ... Because some of these songs we don’t understand what is being said.... I am not taking that from [Panday]. I am not taking that from him because they denigrate us in language that we don’t understand. So he coming and talking that crap").

Meanwhile, preaching at the PNM's 48th anniversary celebrations yesterday, Patrick Manning claimed that the press has a vendetta against him, that members of the party have a responsibility to defend the government, & that "it is the government's intention to ensure that you have the ammunition that you require to defend government policy". Substitute Panday for Manning, Rienzi Complex for Wrightson Road, & we might be back in 1998.

Manning also produced this little gem of political philosophy: "One of the reasons why a political party exists is to give support to the government that the party has put in office." It's rubbish like this--not the conspiracies of a mythical "Them"--that's responsible for the state we're in today.

Let the jackasses bray....

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