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Friday, July 27, 2007

How You Could Play So?


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Every Carnival has it own bacchanal. For some, the bacchanal is simply a piece of music that warms the cockles of your heart, sets fire to the sole of your feet, flails your hands and signals a new direction that opens your eyes to endless possibilities. It’s all about Wicked Riddim by Gavin Christopher. The first time I heard it I was driving. It should be recorded by the police that not only is drinking while driving dangerous to health and safety, so too is driving while listening to Wicked Riddim by Gavin.

The first thing that happens to you, actually the second thing, after you have bounced to it for minutes, is that you realize there is something familiar about it but you cannot say what exactly. As you become more discerning, you realize that the music goes round and round as if it will never stop but at the same time it is not monotonous. It could have been monotonous if Gavin had not imbued it with truly wicked rhythms, a key chord progression, which we will look at, and a host of contrasting singers from the lupine King Obstinate, to the outlandish Crazy and the utterly delightful R&B section of the tract with that marvelous young singer who will totally rock you off the road if you are still driving. At the end of one line he caresses and bends a syllable, gently suspending it in the air as he literally pulls you up off the car seat, if you are still driving.

To understand the round and round effect of Wicked Riddim, we have to venture a little into the organization of music. Music comprises 12 notes which repeat themselves on a piano in the form of 7 white notes and 5 black ones. The musical alphabet comprises only 7 named notes, from A to G inclusive. The other 5 notes are called sharps and flats, which are written as the hash sign (#) for sharps and a sign resembling the common letter, b, for flats. These 12 notes can be arranged in the form of a circle or cycle of fifths or in clock formation as seen in the figure. In fact, you can buy a watch with musical notes instead of numbers.

Chords are vertical arrangement of musical notes sounded at the same time, in contrast to melody in which notes are sung or played one after the other. The two are interrelated but the progression of chords determines the character of the song. The same melody can be harmonized by different progressions of chords to give different characters, in a way like a person wearing different clothes for different effects.

As far as the road map of the progression of chords goes, the root notes of the chords are represented in the circle. This is the outline of the notes on the single tenor pan, the perfect representative instrument of Western Music. The idea is to start at any point, go wherever you want on a journey and then find your way back home. In a way, it’s like what we do every day. Using the figure, musical journeys tend to move clockwise naturally. So if you start at strong F, the shortest route is to go to C and C will take you naturally back to F. You might have gone from F to Bb (called B flat) and then go to C to get back home to F.

In Wicked Riddim, the chords use G, C, F and D as fundamentals. The wicked thing about Wicked Riddim is that it starts on a weak G, then it goes to C followed by strong F. Whilst you are thinking that you are home at F, Wicked Riddim throws in the D. This makes you want to go to G and when you do that you get back to F via C. At F however, D is thrown in again to get to G and the journey starts all over again and again. It's as if most of the streets are blocked off in St. John’s and you are forced to drive in circles. Imagine you want to drive to the ARG from the corner of Cross St. and St. Mary’s St. Obviously, you drive up St. Mary’s street and turn left onto Independence Drive. But when you get to the top of High Street, with the ARG a few yards away, a police officer directs you to turn left down High St. Since other exit roads are closed, you have to drive round and round with people singing while you wait for the police officer to leave.

Lacu, the maestro panist, told me that the same chord progression is used in Old Lady Walks a Mile and a Half. No wonder she walked so far or so much. I am reliably informed by Mamba that when Dorbrene O’Marde heard Wicked Riddim, he heard the Old Lady…. melody in it. Go Dorbrene. Go Dorbrene. Gavin admits that after years of playing Old Lady…. with Lacu, he felt compelled to see where she was going.

I am delighted that Gavin is looking at the crossing over of Kaiso into World Music and that he is aware of the pros and cons. Is he aware that there is an regular activity, other than Carnival, taking place in virtually all countries, that can be augmented by Kaiso, especially using tracts like Wicked Riddim? That activity is aerobics. It can be an entry point for Wicked Riddim and similar tracks into World Music even going as far as overlaying popular Indian and Japanese music. I have tried pumping iron (truly lifting weights) but I gave it up because the men seemed so serious and in so much agony. I crossed over to aerobics because the ladies seemed to be having so much more fun. Actually, aerobics is much harder and more demanding and it's the music that keeps the ladies going round and round, like Wicked Riddim.

Gavin noted on Observer AM that his mother initially resisted his foray into music until wise heads like Stachel Edwards (God bless his soul) et al suggested that he pursued his dream. With such a wonderful take-off from Old Lady Walk a Mile and a Half, I can only hope that Gavin and his music go much farther than the old lady, with much success. Maybe the mythical old lady will tell his mother just how well he is doing and how much joy he is giving us. To this end, please do not accept any complimentary CDs from Gavin. Compliment him by buying the original CD and bury the pirates. Go Gavin! Go Gavin!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Play Yourself


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Do you believe the games we play as children become the games we play as adults? If so, then we must understand well the games we play as children. Otherwise we will play the same game as adults without understanding the meaning of the game, and as adults, unlike children, we would have no excuse.

We all remember “The Farmer In The Dell”. The games that come in the form of a nursery rhyme must not only be read, they must actually be played because it is in the actual playing of the game that the meaning of the game is realized.

A simple, linear reading of “The Farmer In The Dell” might lead you to think that it is all about the traditional order of society in which the farmer is the one in charge and he takes a wife, whose only role is to take a child, who takes a nurse, who takes a cow, etc., leaving the cheese to stand alone. Can you remember the first time you played the game or when you were left standing alone as the cheese? What happened next?

In the next round of the game, the cheese actually becomes the farmer. I think this is the cardinal lesson to take away from the game. In the game, the farmer can be a man or a woman. The game is an exercise in democracy and in evolution, foretelling the rise of women in society. Unlike the actual game itself in which we can suddenly stop playing (for all sorts of reasons), in real life we have a choice: We can allow the game to last forever if we see life as circular and regenerating so we all get a chance at being the farmer. As we say, “What goes around, comes around”. Or, all of us can share in the duties that should be common to all the inhabitants of the dell. Even though some players are seemingly and are said to be biologically destined for some activities, biology cannot be an excuse for restricting persons from activities in which they should partake. All black people know this. The dell must become democratic and the farmer does not have to be a male. However, we cannot destroy the dell. A dell is a small valley.

There is a point of view that we must leave the restructuring of the dell to natural forces. Another view is that the restructuring should be engineered. The median position is probably what should and will obtain, meaning that some engineering will be required, especially when society is going or has gone awry.

Of course, the vexing question is what is considered as awry? Awry to some may be normal for others. In this regard, society must always have persons who can be considered as outliers ( a poor, mischievous word). Outliers can be positive or negative. They are outside the so-called spread of normality. Actually positive and negative outliers are important source of balance to attain normality and prevent skewing. Normality depends on abnormality. Good statistical data demand outliers. If outliers are not naturally available, some people may artificially adapt an outlier position and appear to have a shifting, conjunction of positions. In effect, they probably are like really good games because all great games must have a conjunction of meanings to be called great and life inspiring.

Once we understand the games we played as children and our positions (conjunction or are clear, we can, especially during the Carnival season, but throughout the year as well, do what the calypsonian says: “Play yourself”. I would only add a caveat so that we all understand that we are all in a relationship with each other and not just with ourselves: Play yourself…. with no prepositional part of speech.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Don't Ask Me Nothing


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Can it be that there are women who do not consider themselves equal to men but in fact superior to them? In reply to Ms. D Gisele Isaac’s position that the commitment to restructuring and re-engineering society will have to be made by men, I beg to differ. To quantify the losers by noting that at this point of our evolution men have more to lose is at best shortsighted. And even if men had more to lose, who are these men? Are they cohabitating on an isolated island devoid of women?

There is nothing nebulous about the “we” in my article. It simply refers to men and women, or women and men if you prefer that order. I trust it is not difficult for Ms. Isaac to comprehend that the vast majority of men I know want a strong, powerful woman as a companion. In fact, some men who condescendingly put women in high places are probably only looking for the very lowly favours they have always taken for granted or they are playing up to the female gallery.

In 2004, the head of the Royal College of Medicine in England, a woman who earned the right to be there, lamented the fact that the preponderance of women in the profession was having a negative effect of the future prospects of medicine. This was largely because of the domestication of women and they being torn between the demands of the profession and the home. Similar remarks have been made all over the world in reference to teaching and other professions that were once dominated by men. It is a call to arms for all of us.

The biological fact that women carry a fetus for nine months and are intimately and biologically involved in breast feeding and caring for the child is undergoing reconstruction and re-engineering by men and women so that men can have paternity leave and play a greater and more meaningful role. It probably should not be surprising that in the rush to get what women rightly deserve, some women appear to want to repeat history by simply changing genders.

If Ms. Isaac would peruse the archives of the Daily Observer, she would find an article in which I noted that the power compartment of the human cell resides in an organelle called the mitochondria and that all humans inherit their DNA in the mitochondria from their mother. I suggested that this meant that men may be physically stronger but it was women who provided the power. Without a blasphemous bone in my body I suggested that extrapolation of the maternal inheritance of mitochondrial DNA would lead to the interesting possibility that God might very well be a woman.

If Ms. Isaac perused the archives of the Daily Observer a little more, she might also find an article written under POWA (a position of comfort for some) in which a nameless writer wrote that women do not need men. It was such a silly article it forced me to stop reading the POWA series and to call a few of the real women of POWA to find out that the position taken in the article did not represent the views of most POWA women. In the quest for equality, we may find that women and men are equally capable of the same stupidity.

The central paradox of male-female, or if you prefer, female-male, relationships is that most men are willing to put women in their place (ha, ha ha). Sorry, most men are encouraging women to find their deserving and rightful place but some women want to do this alone, irregardless (as we wrongly say here) of the consequences to society. Isn’t this what men did and what we, men and women, now have to correct? Some men understand the historical basis for this shortsighted approach by some women and they simply ignore them. Thankfully, some of us are more engaging……to a limit…and some to the fault of consuming vinegar.

Surely, Ms. Isaac cannot mean that men alone must do the restructuring and re-engineering. We would probably do it wrong again and women will have to start all over again. Surely, she can only mean that men must make the commitment now, at this point of our evolution, because women are committed already, although her words suggest otherwise. Thank heavens she recognizes that it is our evolution and not just the evolution of women. Asexual reproduction is a luxury of lower animals, not humans.

I assume Ms. Isaac has a very good sense of humour otherwise her position is thrown into sharp relief by her closing point that women, unlike cheese, do not melt. Unfortunately, all humans do. Take your pick. Or is it your shovel? You can be a woman and a human being too. Try it.

By the bye, the reference to Uranus has nothing to do with poor pronunciation. It truly refers to what happened to Uranus when he went to bed with his wife, Gaia. No doubt, Ms. Isaac is aware that she (Gaia, not Ms. Isaac herself) disposed of Uranus by having their youngest son cut off his genitals. It only goes to show that some things, and some people, unlike the cheese in the farmer’s dell, are not meant to stand alone.

Crucify Him


Dr. Lester CN Simon

This article is dedicated to The Serpent, that unique and indefatigable artist who has done more than most to keep the calypso spirit alive throughout the year. With the Mighty Swallow responding so masterfully to the attack from King Short Shirt and calling him by his old trade name, Barabbas, I could not resist the temptation to try to join the melee if only to show my appreciation to our artists for the joy they give us.

It's interesting that for some time now, musicians in Antigua and Barbuda and in Trinidad and Tobago have been brooding about the need for a project to outline in pure musical terms and with notated examples of music from the archives what is calypso and soca in terms of the different musical forms involving rhythm and chord progression.

In jazz for example, musicians speak of the 12 bar blues, the I Got Rhythm changes, the Coltrane changes, the modal form, made popular by Herbie Hancock in Maiden Voyage, the typical AABA form of standard songs, etc. We need to do that for our West Indian music. But from the literature point of view, the people will always know real kaiso when they hear it, such as the masterful rejoinder from the Mighty Swallow to King Short Shirt. Kaiso!

May we all have a happy and safe Carnival. And that is not an oxymoron.


And it came to pass in the season of Carnival, Antiguan and Barbudan neaga, residents and visitors alike were dutifully reminded of the meaning of Carnival. Verily, verily it was said unto them that Carnival is derived from the Latin, carn-(flesh) and levare (put away). Yet, there were many, more so the lupine ones like that craven wolf, King Obstinate, who willfully and wantonly misinterpreted the verb, “to put away”, in order to put away Little Red Riding Hood in the woods.

But the people were distracted by the verbal and vulgar war between Mighty Swallow and King Short Shirt. Peace had reigned between these two mortal combatants for years until the King struck the Swallow with an old wife’s tale about his conjoined Beauty and Beast. And it came to pass that Swallow became irate to rahtid and put a royal cussing under the King; so much so that the King lost his pants and his shirt became diminutive, personifying his name. And the people gathered around the wireless to enjoy and enjoin the banter and the cussing. Even the voluptuous one who writes the Diary of a Fat, Black Woman danced on Observer Radio all Saturday morning until she was reduced to a feather so she could really dance on air.

Behold, school children said that all that cussing from Swallow was too much cussing for one man, even for a King, and that it would last the King for another 50 years. And they said it served the King right because he should not have provoked the Swallow in the first place because the Swallow was a bird and nobody can cuss more than bird people and nobody has more words than bird people because they were well red. Wherefore the King turned blue vex, some say because of an overdose of the blue pill he was caught with in the pm by the PM. And they mocked him and danced around, spreading their hands about as the Swallow said he would spread the King out like a sheet. And lo, neither a blanket nor a tarpaulin from Sir Vivian Richard Stadium could cover the remains of the King as Swallow swallowed him whole.

Feeling sorry for him, the Swallow eased off a centimeter. The King peeped out and sent for the Beauty and Beast to try to meet her, to beg her to take the Swallow off his back. But the people shouted for more and more of Barabbas. And so it was that King Short Shirt was taken before the court of King Obstinate at Green Bay Hill to seek his assistance. But King Obstinate was too busy lay waiting Little Red Riding Hood in the woods so he washed his hands and sent a message to King Short Shirt, saying, “Wet you hand and wait for me”.

Thenceforth poor King Short Shirt was reduced to tears as he beseeched his disloyal subjects to tell him what he had done to deserve such ridicule and chastisement from a mere bird. Thus the people invoked the history, meaning and spirit of the Carnival season and with one hand akimbo and the other high in the air, they shouted in one harmonious voice, “Give us Barabbas! Give us Barabbas! Because! It’s Carnival Baby”.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Here We Are, Here We Are


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Once upon a time, a few years ago, at a university graduation ceremony, I became a fortune teller. No, I was not awarded a degree in astrology. Yes, I sat in disbelief as groups, nests, hordes and rows of female graduates jumped for joy on hearing that the gross number of female graduates had exceeded, by far, the number of the male graduates.

You do not have to be a real fortune teller to predict the future. If a woman’s place is in the house (Government House or the Houses of Parliament) because she is qualified, suitable, ready, willing and able to be there, what will happen to the domestic house, the home and the community from which she is being emancipated?

In matters of gender politics, you have to be very careful that some females do not confuse statement of fact and statement of causation. A very brave friend of mine (Dorbrene O’Marde) was nailed to the cross and given a shot of vinegar one night on radio when two women thought he had crossed them after he made a statement of fact. Neither am I braver nor do I have a better palate for vinegar than he but let me say that the emancipation of women without due and proper attention to social re-engineering will lead to the utter destruction of society as we know it and, more importantly, to the absolute impossibility of achieving the society we so richly deserve.

We have to start with the immense, invaluable contribution of black women to slave, colonial and post colonial society in order to understand what the emancipation of the black women means. There was a time when we fought for our women to stay at home to mind our children instead of being forced into another kind of hard labour. That is precisely the eternal paradox of all women and the double paradox of black women. Very few black males accepted traditional house work and the caring of ones own children and the whole ton of pikiniega from all over the place as real hard labour. It was in fact the bedrock of our family and community, the primordial, constitutive element and matrix of our society.

Economics and the liberation movement moved women out of the home and away from the traditional, sacrificial role. Actually, many women are trying to grapple with a dual, even manifold role. The emancipation of women surrounds a fundamental fact. Women in general and black women in particular come face to face with the abject fact that even if they wished to sacrifice themselves in traditional roles, self development is a prerequisite for effective, knowing, true self sacrifice. Indeed, to fulfill the golden rule that tells us to love others as we love ourselves, women must develop and know and establish that self first.

We have unwittingly thrown out the baby, the bathwater, the bath and the entire bathroom. The preponderance of women in both the school and the civil service is coincidentally linked with the poor state of boys in school and the poor state of the civil service. The other incident to coincide with this is of course the exit of male teachers from school and men from the civil service. Before I get a second dose of vinegar, let me hasten to add that these statements of fact do not infer causation.

Every school boy I knew was in love with their best female teacher and wanted to marry her or someone like her. My primary school teacher was the pluperfect BOAC stewardess waiting to fly away with no one else but me. Every school boy I knew wanted to be a composite of his best male teachers. Many of us were taught by two of the best math teachers this country produced, Ms. James and Mr. Bennett. We revered them equally, but we saw ourselves as a Mr. Bennett simply because he was a man.

In third form, we thought poetry was feminine until one day the tall, strong and circumscribing, Mr. Tim Hector marched in with, “And God stepped out on space”, the opening line of the poem, Creation, by James Weldon Johnson. The entire class had to learn and recite every stanza in tandem. At the end of it all, he added that the poem was written by a black man. Poetry became overtly masculine.

When we replace men in school and men in the civil service with women, without attending to the comprehensive needs of society, we are expecting an orchestra devoid of some of its master players, key instruments and essential accessories to produce meaningful sounds of music. The deafening irony is that we are a people with a very strong tradition of kinship. We underwent involuntary separation during slavery and now female liberation and economics (economics again, dear Eric Williams!) have forced some women into voluntary separation which is misguided in some, albeit relatively few, cases.

We have to restructure and re-engineer society so that the traditional role of caring by women not only becomes everybody’s business but so that the accoutrements of care are brought close to and inside the very workplace. Places where children can go after school to do their home work and play must be close to or easily accessible from work places. The work sites need more green places for leisure, friends and family, social gathering and promenades during lunch and breaks if only because, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”.

And so, my dear good people, it is right, good and proper that we have a woman in government house for the first time. The daughters must stand and take their rightful places. But if we do not deliberately and wittingly reconstruct society to redefine our extended family and our extended home, the cheese will not be the only one that stands alone.

Sunday, July 15, 2007



Dr. Lester CN Simon

Sometimes you have to give people what they want. Otherwise they will kill you for it and you will not be around to hear them wish they had listened to you. So let all of us agree to ban dialect from the school compound and put the Chief Education Officer and all her supporters of the ban on dialect to the test.

The declared basis for the ban on dialect on the school compound is that dialect interferes with what the students write and how they write. If the aim is to stop dialect from interfering with what the students write and how they write, banning dialect as a singular act will not do this. The first step is to declare English a second language (no marks for guessing which language is first) and teach it as such. The second step is to declare English the national language and the official language in school, at official ceremonies, etc.

One of the many ways to teach a second language, including English, is to accept the primary language that is spoken and declare that, for the purpose of learning English, no other language will be tolerated on the school premises. Similarly, for students learning Spanish or French, no other language, including English, will be spoken in Spanish or French class unless sanctioned by the teacher depending on the type of Spanish or French lesson undertaken. What we do in the classroom for teaching Spanish and French, we do throughout the entire school compound for teaching English, with no exceptions. So we can very easily justify the banning of dialect.

Enter the Rosetta Stone. What does Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia, say about Rosetta Stone? Rosetta is a port city on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, some 40 miles east of Alexandria, which itself extends along the coast of the Mediterranean sea in north-central Egypt. The Library of Alexandria was the largest library in the ancient world. With the decline of Alexandria following the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, Rosetta boomed. Rosetta is famous as the site where the Rosetta Stone was found by French soldiers in 1799. The Stone itself was created in 196 BC. It is about 45 inches high, 29 inches wide and 11 inches thick, weighing about 1,676 pounds.

The text of the Rosetta Stone, written in two Egyptian language scripts and in classical Greek, is a decree by the Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy V. Comparative translation of the text of the stone assisted in understanding many previously undecipherable examples of ancient writing systems. The Rosetta Stone has become idiomatic for something that is critical to the process of translating or solving a difficult problem. The Ministry Of Education needs a Rosetta Stone and we must give them one.

The name Rosetta Stone is used also for the title of a computer-based language learning program. The adverts for the program refer to the use of the award-winning Dynamic Immersion method in their interactive software. Immersion is a recognized method of teaching a foreign language by the exclusive use of that language. They reportedly combine thousands of real-life images and the voices of native speakers in a step-by-step immersion process. The central claim and the crux of their successful program is that they successfully replicate the experience of learning your first language.

Now you see where we are going and where the stone is heading. The Ministry of Education can ban dialect all they want. We cannot teach English to our school children properly unless and until we understand how we learn our first language in the first place. To successfully replicate the West Indian and Antiguan and Barbudan experience of leaning dialect and use that experience to teach English by the immersion method, we will require thousands of real-life local images, native speakers, etc., to speak and teach English. We will have to study at great depth and in precise, scientific detail the very language, dialect, that they want to ban. You have to know the “enemy” well to vanquish it and not just banish it. The simple, banal usage of other real-life images and native speakers from England or North America, will be unreal, counterproductive and alienating to our Antiguan and Barbudan and West Indian school children.

While we are banning dialect from the school compound in the penumbra of a national library, will someone please explain away my digital madness? There I was re-tuning and re-tuning my digital radio, trying desperately to find ABS and not the proximate Spanish radio station when I realized, with no power outage at ABS, we were no longer in the analog era when you can be a little crazy, half crazy or totally crazy. In these digital times, you are either totally crazy or not crazy at all, with no betweenity.

So why, my dear good people, after paying my taxes to help run my national radio station, ABS, do I have to listen to my radio station insulting me and driving me digitally mad? On ABS, standard English is as rare as rocking horse manure (apologies to all equines, real and unreal). Yet, they broadcast my local news about my people, my guests in my land, in a foreign language, which might very well include Spanish dialect for all I know. Is this a part of the miscellany of nonsense we call education in Antigua and Barbuda?

One good thing about learning English by immersion, which is the only sensible, Rosetta-Stone way out for the Ministry of Education, is that you have to know, respect and revere what is native, dry land. Bring on the ban! Thank heavens so-called ordinary people do not see this unnecessary botheration about banning dialect and the very condescending contents of this article as a miscellany of nonsense. They simply call it what it is: “A pile a …….”