GIVE US BARABBAS!
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”.