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Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Good Is Better Than The Bad


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Tell me something good. Banish all the bad, wretched news. Pierce my eyes and pang my ears with gleams and dins of joyous excellence. Let us celebrate our unique gifts to the world.

I too was tired of Antigua and Barbuda being known as the land of corruption. I am tired of the soap opera: The Opposition accusing the Government of overpaying on a debt. The Government accusing the Opposition of not paying back when they were in government and of borrowing with no intention to pay. But then, putting aside the veracity of the claims, the principle of taking with no intention to pay, or actually paying back only a miserly sum, sounds so familiar, so colonial.

So it is a most remarkable thing when a fine, noble gentleman from the Commonwealth is invited here to tell us about corruption and the pursuit of integrity. Commonwealth refers to a group of countries in which the common bond between us is that our wealth was stolen or corruptly acquired by the mother country. It is truly our common wealth.

It seems that the tried and proven path to development is to steal from others and then, like a reformed drug addict or a born-again Christian, use the ill begotten gains to build civil society including libraries and other institutions and then proclaim to the developing world that we should pursue integrity. You call yourself first world because you did it first. We in the Commonwealth can parade the streets of Britain and point and sing how we helped build this and that city with rock and coal, cotton and cane, tamarind and tea.

This is how some politicians justify being corrupt and not paying our debts. They went to history class but they scudded the lessons on ethics and they missed the golden text at Sunday School. And yes, corruption it is always for the inheritance of the children: the children of the family or the children of the nations of Britain, Australia or America. Is it just that we have not yet come around to sharing the money as widely as they have? The washing machine is relatively new but money laundering is as ancient as the first drop of rain water.

So tell me something else. List some of the good news. Surely, we must have made some worthwhile contribution to the Arts over the past 20 years. Please do not annoy me with that old, green tee shirt advertising the fourth Antigua Jazz Festival in 1992. This leaves you with only three contributions that are uniquely Antiguan and Barbudan in style but which, like all fine gifts, are universal in meaning.

Tell them about the time you went to the test match between Australia and the West Indies in 1984 BC (Before Chickie). Tell them about the theatre-in-theatre with one competition on the field of play and the other between the Rude Boy (Double Decker) stand and the Old Pavilion. The competing sounds of the conch shell, bugle, trumpet and trombone and the clamour of the crowd torn between their support for either pavilion and their rapt attention to the other game on the field. The spectacle could have dragged a hungry crowd away from a Roman coliseum. Out of this came Chickie and Gravy and our gift of how to really enjoy cricket.

Tell them about Burning Flames, the only band that gets you so hot, you have to answer the call to quench your thirst in the dowsing waters of Country Pond. The band that brought back the tradition that says you have not enjoyed Carnival until you have walked home with your band. Never mind that the band house is not as near as were those of Brute Force or Hells Gate, but a sweet, Stiley Tight journey to Potters. Truly, the road is made to walk on Carnival day.

Someone should remind the panists that one Carnival Steel Band Night, some time in the late sixties, a steel band started the introduction to the test piece in a minor key. When it deftly modulated to the major key for the tune, the audience became primal. It is alleged that patrons who had scaled the thatched ARG wire fence were seen scampering to the gate offering to pay to go back outside and to pay again to come back in! Burning Flames had a tradition to live up to. This was the band that reminded the Caribbean that a combination of exciting rhythm and celebration of culture in songs is the key to musical success just as it was for the music of Africa, Europe and others.

Then tell them about the time in 1983 when you had just returned home after 13 years overseas. It was Carnival time. You watched the television in appalling amazement as King Obstinate sang Children Melee. The stage was chock full of people and props including donkey with cart to boot. At first you thought this was not a proper calypso show. This was a bizarre nonsense, a real melee. You were about to turn off the television when it hit you.

This was dramatic theatre, opera and ballet all in one. A harmonization of the Arts. This was fine classical stuff. It was Leonard Bernstein, the great conductor, who reminded us what the classical in classical music really means. He showed how the form of the Blues is in the classical form of the rhymed couplet and iambic pentameter. Bernstein adapted lines from Shakespeare to the Blues, in one example he called The Macbeth Blues: “I will not be afraid of death and bane. I said, I will not be afraid of death and bane. Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane”. Many of our calypsos are of this classical form as well. So on Carnival Sunday night when we sing, dance and play and root for our Monarch, we are in good, classical company. We are partaking in a universal orgy of the Arts that can spring long eye water and twitch the arthritic hips of a decent soul.

Tell them how we can combine these gifts. When the Commonwealth comes for cricket in 2007, we must fill the streets and theatres with dancers and actors and musicians. Dress them in cricketing whites and colours. Dance the history and portray the calypso songs of the game. Show them that our dancing is not just a jump and wave and a wink-up. And yes, there will be a cameo part for Courtney Browne as the actor dances and drops everything, even his fellow dancers, all in front of the selectors (in blindfolds).

Do not just nibble at our culture like an inexperienced lover preoccupied with rummaging her ear lobes while she lies supine in pregnant anticipation, waiting for you to come to know that all is truly yours. Show the world for 2007 World Cup Cricket that when in 1492, we said, “all is yours” and they took all, it was only an invitation to join us in celebrating life. With our indomitable spirit, today our African and Caribbean culture of showing the world how to celebrate life is still alive and well. Welcome to Antigua and Barbuda, the gem of the Caribbean.