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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Strange Fruit


Dr. Lester CN Simon

A most remarkable phenomenon is happening right before our opened eyes and I almost missed it. Concurrent with the government’s seemingly inescapable march into the den of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a mushroom of local talent, expertise and finance is exploding into a cavalcade of carnival music. Almost all of this music will soon disappear, probably before the money from the IMF is released. And almost all of this music will hardly be heard again, unlike the IMF. Am I missing something?

Thousands of miles across the Atlantic, another remarkable phenomenon is awakening our ears. Jazz and classical musicians are joining forces. Jazz pianist, Herbie Hancock and classical pianist, Lang Lang are performing, together, with the Philharmonia Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Herbie Hancock reminds us that there was a time when classical musician would improvise, as in the cadenza portion of a concerto.

In the general discussion about the pairing of these two musical masters, something odd is being bandied about. Comments are made about the safety and security of classical music in contrast to the bubbling freedom of jazz. Herbie Hancock was exhilarated when Lang Lang abandoned that so-called safety and security and improvised a part of the music they were playing.

In making the contrast between security and freedom, we often ignore the fact that the freedom we take for granted is based on the security of years of strict, slavish attention to detail and study. Otherwise, freedom, with no apposite regard for its opposite (in the past and in the present), is rooted in raw, primal, wildness and becomes an oxymoron.

I wish to declare that the ease with which many of us are able to express ourselves so skillfully in music and the similar ease with which we abandon or destroy our musical creations at carnival, are all part and parcel of our inability to build a modern society and manage the affairs of this nation.

When we take our music for granted, we often do not spend the time and expend the energy to manage it like a business or to realize its true potential. Ask our four top calypsonians if their music sheets are kept in some local repository and they might ask you if you need a suppository. Musicians would scamper to find the music sheets to play at a concert to honour these same top four calypsonians, expecting these master singers to sing at such a concert. In fact, in deed and in honour, they should be invited to sit in the front row with their family whilst a national orchestra and singers regale them with the very songs through which these masters gave us so much pleasure and contemplation.

These days, it has become too easy to compose a song, if song it can be called. Some of these offerings will make “Sing a Song of Sixpence” sound like a platinum classic; others will force Dan the man to abandon the van, and yet others will force the grandchildren of Jean and Dinah, Roseta and Clementina to bet and lose their lives on something they are selling, round the corner posing.

Notwithstanding this criticism, the fact remains that time, effort and money are deployed and dispensed to produce what the artistes regard as works of art. If this process is not managed effectively by the artistes, by their managers and by other persons related in some way to the music, how can we expect them and their followers to suddenly become responsible, productive and efficient at work in the civil service?

It seems that we have to take a second, long look at our music industry and other art forms in this country. We must rescue music from the hotels in order to rescue our people. The way we organize an orchestra, a pan yard, schedule and manage a practice session, including ironing out all the kinks in the music and settling all the personality clashes, and still eat and drink and play and perform together, must carryover to the workplace.

Can it be that we have lost the wholesomeness of music in particular, and of the arts in general, that we see them simply as media of pleasures, and not also as tools to arm and fortify us with the discipline we need in the workplace? Can it be that music is so easy to us, and now even easier still, that we misunderstand what is meant when it is said that “music is the universal language” or when Beethoven said, “Music is the language of God”?

Music is not just the language that all people can understand and be moved by. Music, in all its requirements and facets, from idea to creativity, from production to marketing, from enjoyment to contemplation, is a gift from God. It is given to us to enable us to understand the world around us. Through its compulsory twinning of discipline and freedom, it provides us with the fundamental and universal tool required to run our lives, to run a business, to run a country and, yes, to run the IMF. Unfortunately, the IMF dances to calypso with a strange, discordant and irregular rhythm.

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