Somewhere along one of Antigua’s 365 beaches, veteran entertainer King Short Shirt must be relaxing and monitoring the road march fortunes of Vincentian Skinny Fabulous.
The Antiguan must be quietly hoping that what he was denied back in 1976 would be achieved by his Caribbean colleague.
In that year, King Short Shirt was robbed of the coveted Trinidad and Tobago road march title after the then-Calypsonian Association hurriedly coughed up a regulation to block his runaway hit Tourist Leggo.
The organisation (precursor to TUCO) discovered a rule that contestants in the road march race must be T&T nationals.
Tourist Leggo was the runaway party song and odds-on favourite for the road title.
After being disqualified, Short Shirt saw the title go to Kitchener’s Flag Woman.
In the midst of Skinny Fabulous’ tremendous run with Famalay, I recall Short Shirt’s rotten luck of 1976; as a daily newspaper reporter, I wrote the series of stories.
As an aside, Short Shirt (McLean Emmanuel) has been knighted by his country for his extensive body of work.
The Short Shirt-Skinny Fabulous passage is relevant as a commentary on the insularity of Caribbean people, most evident in the ill-fated Federation and in West Indian cricket.
Much has changed since the injustice meted out to Short Shirt, to the point where the region’s top artiste Machel Montano could confidently state that “soca is the sound of the Caribbean.”
The people are once more ahead of their leaders, with soca unifying our people even as Caricom still can’t formalise a CSME and their Venezuelan initiative was a wasted exercise.
I cite Skinny Fabulous for another reason: his enthralling number with Montano and Bunji Garlin preaches brotherhood, so badly needed in our besieged land.
Famalay is my road march favourite, even against an insurgent Savannah Grass, whose performer Kees – by the way – hosted an outstanding concert on Tuesday night.
Carnival 2019 has been indicated by a number of melodic soca items that treat with affection and human warmth, the most obvious being Nadia Batson’s and Farmer Nappy’s remarkable renditions.
This is in sharp contrast to the unbearable chutney, which continues to romanticise alcoholism, absent family values and nonsensical lyrics.
Couple with its juvenile nursery rhyme technique and stolen international melodies, chutney generally has base literary appeal and is a betrayal of the expression pioneered by Sundar Popo.
It is both agonising and astounding that the land of Sparrow, Shadow and Kitchener also created the absurd soundtrack of drinking rum, horning ‘oman and wanton liming at Caura River.
It is tragic that Chaguanas, the town of V.S. Naipaul, heralded as the greatest writer in the English language, is also the spiritual base of the inane chutney expression.
This, of course, is not to suggest that all soca offerings are creative or provide positive messages.
And it does not ignore the dreadful reality that virtually all calypsonians – including Chalkdust, my ever sentimental favourite – have surrendered their manliness in shying from the hot button political issues of the day.
Calypso is evidently at death’s door.
Patronage at calypso tents is at an all-time low, a catastrophic fall from the glorious days when hundreds crammed each night for a full fare of memorable numbers.
It is a stretch to identify a single calypso that will survive the Carnival season.
But the quality soca and an invigorated steelband season – what musicianship this year! – provide refreshing hope for our native culture.
And while a Skinny Fabulous road march victory would not right a historic wrong, it would show maturity and confidence in one of the Caribbean’s dominant musical expressions.
After all, we are one big Caribbean famalay!