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Monday, August 11, 2014

Cinderella's Dance

Cinderella And The Steel Band

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

Once upon a time there lived an unhappy, motherless girl with her stepmother and two stepsisters. The stepmother did not like her one little bit because she was prettier than her own two daughters. In fact, the poor girl was prettier than anyone else in the whole, wide world. She should have had a web site,

She was forced by her spiteful stepmother to do all the housework. Her only respite came at the end of the day. Even in her stepsisters’ hand-me-downs she had a calming effect on all around her, except her stepparents. As she ate and shared her scraps of food, the cat did not eat the mice and the mice did not eat the pumpkin. Together, they sat in the pumpkin patch near the fire, looking at the shapes of the dying embers of the coal. She gazed at these fallen cinders so much, they called her Cinderella.

One carnival day, two beautiful costumes arrived at the house for the stepsisters to go to the steel band panorama at Carnival City. Cinderella was very sad she could not go. But suddenly that evening a moko jumbie appeared and turned her raggy clothes into a beautiful carnival costume, the pumpkin into a coach and seven mice into six horses and a coachman. Before she went off to panorama, the moko jumbie warned her that she must leave carnival city at midnight, when the spell would end. And the cat said, “meow”.

As the steel bands played at panorama, Cinderella danced. She danced, she danced, she danced, until she and the steel band became one. The upper parts of her body danced to the front line steel pans, the single and double tenors and the double second pans. Her lower chest and abdomen danced with the mid-ranged pans, the guitar, cello and quadrophonic pans. All the basses from the four bass to the nine bass pans went to her lower back and behind, and the engine room was strung along her hands and feet. She danced.

All the while, her two stepsisters were gyrating rudely to the steel band, dancing out of time, out of rhyme and out of everyone’s mind. Cinderella danced so well she forgot the warning until she heard the first stroke of midnight. Quickly, trying not to miss the next beat of the clock and the next beat of the music, she ran from Carnival City, lost her glass slippers and vanished into the night.

The next day, the winning steel band, for which she had danced the best, went in search of her, using the glass slippers to find her. When they reached Cinderella’s house, her stepmother tried in vain to get the slippers to fit her daughters. But Cinderella was the perfect fit instead. As the steel band played again, Cinderella danced again. Legend has it that for every panorama since then, the band to win must make Cinderella dance the best.

The music for panorama must satisfy the criteria. The arrangement carries 40 per cent of the points. The judges and the audience must follow the intro, the outro, the development of melody, the development of motif and the re-harmonization. If you are not a very well trained and tested musician or an ardent follower of steel band, you should go to the pan yard to see how these elements of the criteria are developed, shared out, interchanged and exchanged from pans to pans.

You have to listen keenly to hear these musical elements, changes and interplay. Otherwise, it is all noise. Listening keenly simply means going to the pan yard often and just being there without trying too hard to listen. A quiet, passive, receptive mind is all you need. Witnessing the development of an orchestral performance is an invaluable tool that can assist you in all facets of life. It will really make your life dance, like Cinderella. The bounteous treasures in the steel band are yet to be fully unearthed for personal and community gains.

The general performance also carries 40 per cent of the points. This comprises interpretation, dynamics, creativity and balance. The remaining 20 per cent points are divided equally between tonal quality and rhythm.

As steel band arrangement becomes more sophisticated, the overall sound of the band becomes paramount. Cinderella must dance throughout the entire piece in such a way that the entire musical story unfolds from intro to outro, with all the nuances and surprises in between. There must be an overall harmony throughout the steel band so that crucial parts to be heard above others, at certain times, are indeed heard. Without this, remarks from a passionate pan lover, about her own steel band and mine, will include, “After the flat tune, the band played “ pure stupidniss”; “pure stupidniss”. Either the remark was correct or the inner beauty of the music was lost. It’s all about the design and architecture of sound, on the panorama stage, on the night and not just in the pan yard.

Frontline pans can become background pans and vice versa. Also, the mid-range pans can soar to the front or fall to the back. Cinderella’s dance will teach you when to listen and when to talk and how different parts can work together or work separately and still be part of one glorious, dancing whole.

Some arrangers here and in Trinidad and Tobago are calling for more sophistication in the arrangement of music for steel bands as they try to stay within the panorama criteria and yet get away from the historic, formulaic simplicity of most of the arrangements. However, regardless of the sophistication of the music, the physical setup on stage, the overall balance and the overall storytelling on the panorama stage are fundamental requirements for winning, lest all the hard work in the pan yard reap little.

During the next panorama performances, and indeed for any steel band performance, listen well. This means your mind must be open and at rest. Listen well and see if you can see Cinderella dancing from rags to riches. It will be easy to determine the winning steel band. The winner will be like the prince who puts the glass slippers on Cinderella’s feet and make her dance the panorama criteria so well, so logically and so clearly that she and the steel band will be married and will live happily after. And the cat that knows music will say, “Meow”.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Mr. Browne and Mr. Greene

All The Leaves Are Brown Again

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

In 2006 The Daily Observer carried an article, All The Leaves Are Brown. You can read it on my blog, It ended with the prediction that …… “the opposing forces will one day come to see and know that the ALP will only win again when all the leaves are brown.”

Throughout the campaign of the recent general elections, there was a very arresting and counterintuitive reaction to the promise that personal income tax will be abolished. The overwhelming, positive response came from those (the majority) who do not pay personal income tax. On the other hand, many of us who pay personal income tax wondered where on earth (or in heaven, or hell) will the replacement money come from; as if we felt obliged to pay and to issue a warning. Some even wondered what was wrong with the non-paying majority greeting the promise like the best thing since bread, sliced or not.

The study of economics, like the study of all things, has an inherent logic that appeals to the common person in less sophisticated ways than it does to the experts. Despite what was done to lessen the economic burden on the common person, taxing the middle class to the extent that there was less money in circulation for the common person was the reason for the seemingly counterintuitive response to abolish personal income tax.

Money, like blood, has to be in circulation for it to have common good. It cannot stay in one place, like the unaccompanied woman who sits or stands or, worse, lies down, and refuses to jiggle, wiggle, wriggle or waggle to the dancing music of the Mighty Shadow.

The search for what will replace personal income tax and the general question of the movement of money led me to the book on economics that is taking the world by storm. It is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist, Thomas Piketty. He has been hailed as the modern Karl Marx, writing the book of the season that is influencing thousands and forcing economists to think and re-think. Any book on economics that cites the novels of Jane Austen and Honore de Balzac and contains tons of carefully researched data must be good at best or provocative at least. It is both. Read it.

The central theme of the book is the evolution of economic inequality. It speaks more to advanced economies than to those of the Caribbean but it will be foolhardy not to read it to understand capital and inequality, even if the inequality we see in our emerging economies is arguably proportionally less.

When wealth accumulates in the hands of few and money does not trickle down, the economy will not grow despite the growth of private capital. In fact, the analysis of data from the past two centuries informed Piketty that capital does not naturally tend to trickle down but to remain in the hands of the wealthy. Circumstances have to force the unnatural trickle down effect. Or governments will have to tax hoarded wealth.

A direct quote from the Economist magazine will underscore the central dogma of the book. “ Other things being equal, faster economic growth will diminish the importance of wealth in a society, whereas slower growth will increase it (and demographic change that slows global growth will make capital more dominant). But there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth. Only a burst of rapid growth (from technological progress or rising population) or government intervention can be counted on to keep economies from returning to the “patrimonial capitalism” that worried Karl Marx.”

For Antigua and Barbuda, it means that the burst of rapid growth that the government is pursuing fits directly into the equation to balance or offset the hoarding of capital. Hoarding, here? Additionally, with the loss of money from personal income tax, it must mean that the government will collect all the other taxes with neither fear nor favour.

But can you sense there is something missing? Look again at what the Economist magazine says, “…..there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth”. The central question is, what forces can we muster to counteract the unbridled tendency to hoard capital and in so doing encourage spending? Over and over again we hear of the “enabling environment”. Is this simply and only an economic environment?

If the love of money is the root of all evil, surely the world of economics and our survival cannot be based solely on the movement of money, whether is moves slowly, as on a slow boat to China, or trickles down and circulates fast as prescribed by Mr. Browne. There must be something else that makes you want to live here and put your capital to work here; indeed not just live here but be human here, in Antigua and Barbuda.

The article in 2006 in the Daily Observer, addressed the question and idea of the soul of the nation. It made reference to the definition that ‘A nation is a community of mutual obligation that is based on a shared history’.

Money is undoubtedly a unifying, and dividing, force. As we seek to find ways to grow the economy of Antigua and Barbuda, the task of capturing and securing one vital underpinning of the community of mutual obligation may very well reside in how we regard, nurture and celebrate our culture. Maybe this is why we have one composite ministry of Trade, Industry, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Sports, Culture, National Festivals and Youth Empowerment.

Indeed, for all the leaves to be “Browne”, firstly all the leaves will have to be “Greene”.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Charge of the Light Blue Brigade

The Twelfth Night

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

I found her at 14 past 3 in the wee hours of the morning, after the massacre of the twelfth night, naked as before she was born, awash in tears. Tears flouting gravity, ascending beyond her forehead and, on exhaustion, descending to her toes onto the floor, draining and seeping under the door. Written on the wall behind her in bright, dripping red was the reason for her torrential tears: How can we have clean, general elections without water?

I took her up, put her down on the bed and covered her nakedness with the red sheet. That was all I could find. There was a single, small blue pillow but her head needed to be flat, and her feet up, to send more red blood to her brain. Without oxygen her parched lips will turn blue, a signal, lost colour.

When she recovers I will have to explain a lot to her. One pollster had told her she will be red and another pollster held that she will be blue, after the general elections. I will tell her that polls can be wrong for many reasons. The wording and even the order of the questions can lead to error. The size of the sample and the way the sample is chosen may be faulty. Even the tone of voice of the interviewer can affect the response. She will want more details.

It is unlikely that persons will lie to one poll and tell the truth to another. The sample size may have been a critical factor to explain the consistent variance between the two polls. Let us examine these factors of sample size and response by first regarding situations that are actually opposite to how they initially appear.

In medical school we had a brilliant anatomy teacher who knew every single part of the body in fine detail. We were initially surprised to learn that he was a poor surgeon. It became obvious that his very fine, detailed knowledge prevented him from operating as quickly as the average surgeon. In effect, as perfect as he was in anatomy, very few patients attended his surgical clinic despite all the fine accolades he received from the very same patients who went elsewhere.

One of our brilliant, young, local pianists commented that he learnt so much from his piano teacher, he had immense difficulty deciding what not to play. Far too many choices came to mind during improvisation. Sometimes he had to pretend and play very simply and leave all the complicated music behind.

We all know some persons, including some politicians, who are very respectable. Yet they are so incapable of getting the job done quickly that we say yes to them and behind their backs we quietly ask or beg someone else to do the job.

When we regard the two polls, the CARUSO poll quotes a margin of error of 3% while the CADRES poll quotes a margin of error of 5%. The simple mathematics here is this. The ideal poll will access every single voter in the population. The population can be the entire constituency or the entire island. Such an ideal poll is really a census in which the margin of error will be zero per cent because you have polled every single voter. Since this is difficult or impossible for pollsters to do, they poll samples of constituencies and samples of the national population. In statistical terms, the margin of error acts as a bell curve, which means there is a point at which a large sample size becomes counterproductive to polling.

The larger the sample size, the smaller the margin of error. The smaller the sample size, the larger the margin of error. The tendency may be to get as many persons polled as possible to get a small margin of error. But hold on. What happens if there is an intrinsic or extrinsic bias in the polling population?

An intrinsic bias can mean that lots of persons like the government but are reluctant to say they will vote against the government. They are conflicted between their liking the government and thinking the opposition will be able to do things better. So they tell a little lie. They lie to both polls. However, the poll with the larger sample size will include more of these little liars, and get it wrong.

An extrinsic bias will have the same effect in that the bias is fuelled by money or gifts offered to the voters. Also, intrinsic and extrinsic biases can exist in a single voter. Look at Barbuda and the result from the CADRES poll. Landslide?

One theoretical alternative or addition to the above is if one poll had interviewers who misrepresented what persons said to them, either because the interviewers were incompetent or they were corrupted by extrinsic or intrinsic bias, or both.

The simple answer I have to give this “blue vex”, expectant, naked, dripping-wet woman, now covered in red, and “in labour”, is that bigger or more is not always better. But if I were to tell her this, she will start crying all over again. She will cry more torrential tears for five, long years with the reason for more tears emblazoned on the wall next to her bed, in dribbling ocean blue: How can you have a clean government without water?

Thursday, June 5, 2014


The Department of Explanation

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

Today they brew, tomorrow they bake. Next day the country’s reins they
take. No one knows their political game. Rumpelstiltskin is its name.

Early one morning, a woman walks into the department of explanation. What does she want? Explanation, of course. Explanation. Explanation. Explanation. The wretched, melancholy lady wants to know why, after ten years, she has to choose between staying with her current lover, and leaving him for a new suitor.

The apprenticed heckler at the door reminds her, in a not-too-gentle manner, that she came here five years ago, and indeed five years before that, asking the very same question. He wonders why she doesn’t use her phone and call and save the trip. Her phone is out of service? He suggests she goes to church more often.

The master heckler rebukes him. She, by her very name, is of the church. She was not always like this. You can still see some history in her. A conformation that beguiles the beginner; inlets and outlets to recess and rest in reverie; a level but shapely abdomen without extensive flabs; gentle, inviolate, undulations in the right places; and, if you are up for the hike, handfuls of rolling hills rising to an elevation that makes men peak and go boggy.

The apprentice whinges. The master continues. Her problem is that men have always been fighting over her, from ancient times to now. But do they really love her? There is very little evidence of this. Greed, power, narcissism and indifference, masquerade as love for her.

The intrigued apprentice wants to know how to love an island. Leave her and go on voyages to discover lands in her name. Plant her flag on captured territory. Bring back gold and silver and curry and pepper, like Christopher Columbus and Vasco Da Gama. The master heckler reminds him he has to first learn to swim and sail to do all that. Then he has to convert natives to Christianity and give orders to burn to death women and children as they plead for their lives.

The young heckler considers his options. He will have to invent chattel slavery and erect edifices and statues. Tourists will visit, including the descendants of the slaves who built the cities on cane and chain under the pain of death. They will admire and respect and take pictures, without flash, lest they have a flashback on history. Worse, he will have to refuse to come to the table for a civilizing discussion on reparations.

Some islands, like some women, are best left alone, before and after the meridian of life. They are not worth looking at or fighting for. But not this ardent, native one. This island-lady demands explanation but really needs no explanation at all. She comes here every five years because she has the power and the greed. What can simple hecklers tell her? Look back and see what her lover has done in 10 years and in that same fertile moment of imagination look forward to what her suitor can do. With her power and greed, she engages and enjoys this real and imaginary, uninhibited, quinquennial concoction.

But is she worse than politicians? Their divine power and rampant greed are everlasting because they pretend to give us the right to choose. And we love the collusion of pretence. They can turn straw into gold. They can move mountains, whether or not Mohammed wants to go to the mountain. We know the truth but the effervescent thought of the impossible becoming possible fills us with incandescent joy, like milligrams of viagra in a geriatric, desiccated, shrunken man.

Such nice people; some politicians. Granting favours, solicited and unsolicited, out of the sheer kindness of their heart. What can we do without them? Every five years we become desperate for real love or for play-play love. Our tender heart cannot pump alone.

And so this island-lady is garlanded with planks of aching signs, complaining symptoms and logs of political medications that can make you sick. With so many promises to fulfil and so many premises of wood, her natural beauty is lost from the full forest and the single trees.

Our island-lady knows what promises are real, unreal or surreal. She knows when politicians are lying through their teeth. She can even taste the potential misery in their five-year, greeting kiss. And yet, the department of explanation is called upon every five years to explain this consensual orgy of power and greed; this fusion of pretentious love and portentous lust. Yes, we vote with an X.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I Find No Case Against Her

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

And they brought her before Pontius Pilate, on wireless, on scrolls, and in bars and associations, wherever and whenever they gathered together. Pilate went out to them and asked, What accusations bring ye against her. They answered and said unto him, She talk, she talk, she talk, she chat, chat.

Voxus Populus, son of Vox Populi, embedded within the multitude, whispered, Is she not the speaker, hence she speaks? But Cursus Vulgus replied saying, She can’t talk as she like. She must stay on one side of the constitution. She is as a malefactor; to which Jokus Pokus retorted, She was a female factor, with plenty POWA.

Now, it was the feast of the silly season, a time when promises, plastics, words, yea all manner of favours and deeds, titles and even bread were released unto the people, whatever or whomever they would.

And they had then a notary prisoner, called Modus Operandus. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them. Whom will ye that I release unto you? Modus Operandus, or Speaka Talka Housa? For he knew that for envy they had delivered her since she only spoke what was galling and choking others to speak.

When Pilate was set down on the judgement seat, his wife, Forma Memba Powa, sent unto him, saying, have nothing to do with that just woman, Speaka Talka Housa: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of her.

Verily, verily Consciencus Voisus stood up and said, She spoke openly to the world and for the world. For what justice can we have when our court proceedings and the appearance of justice seem to defy arithmetic? Is it that the long arm of the law is so long it has wandered far away from the people it serves?

And Noisus Plentus jumped up and said, Speaka Talka Housa can talk as she like in her house but not in the house of the people. To which Observus Papus reminded that the appeal judge’s judgment in The Observer case spoke of The Observer group knocking and disturbing “the sanctity of the constitutional door”.

And Plentus Peoplus remembered and joined in and spoke to the crowd, saying, It was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that rebuked the appeal judge and proclaimed that, “With respect, the image of the Constitution as secluded behind closed doors is not one which their Lordships adopt. Nor would it be right to think of the Constitution as if it were aloof or, in the famous phrase of Holmes J., “a brooding omnipresence in the sky.”

And on hearing that, some members of the multitude wondered aloud in unison, saying, If our constitution, as sacred and supreme as it is, cannot be aloof or cannot be a brooding omnipresence in the sky, then justice cannot be blind to arithmetic.

And Pilate took her and scourged her and lo the brutality appeared on Facebook. When she cried not, some of the multitude mocked her and asked why she cried not. But when she cried, some of the multitude asked what was she crying for and said, She na get nutten fu cry fa yet! Kill she wid blow. And Reparatus Membus bawled out, History is beating, haunting, taunting and torturing us.

Pilate went out again and said unto them, I find no fault in her. Behold the woman. Then she went forth wearing a purple robe. And little Johnny, asked his father, why the colour purple? Discarding thoughts of some famous quote from the book and movie, The Colour Purple, the father said unto little Johnny, Red and blue make purple my son.

And Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? The notary Modus Operandus or the faultless, Speaka Talka Housa? For he knew that for envy they had delivered her. And those in the blue corner said, Give us Modus Operandus. Then Pilate said unto them, What shall I do with Speaka Talka Housa? And the red corner said, Crucify her!

When Pilate saw he could do nothing, he washed his hands before the multitude saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person. And Plentus Pleopus in blue and some in red said, How can responsibility be washed away after all this? And Verily, verily, Consciencus Voisus answered, Is this not what the entire matter is about?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Preacher and the Mosquito

Mosquito One Mosquito Two

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

It can never be a good or wise thing to stand before a congregation, including little children, offer praise and prayer to God, and preach fire and brimstone, when the air conditioner is not working, and mosquitoes are swarming about. Amen.

It is not only that you are praying far too loudly Brother Fire, why you cannot hear them. Evolution has made modern mosquitoes smartly silent. The same good book you are waving at us reminds you that those who cannot hear, including you, Brother Fire, will feel.

We train our children as well as we can. We tell them to have manners to adults; to be kind but watchful of strangers; and to do onto others as they would have others do onto them. Especially in pubic places, like halls of worship, they must only speak when they are spoken to; and not pretend they are speaking to God, since God speaks to children only through their parents, grandparents or godparents.

Parents know bright children and we also know challenging children. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Take little Johnny for example. You know he will grow up to be a musician or a lawyer. He always has something to say. When you beseech him to stop, he continues with such interjecting syncopation, you have to quote Psalm 121, “I will lift up mine eyes onto the hills, from whence cometh my help”. But, to little Johnny, figures of speech and reality roll into one. So when you lift up your eyes onto the hills and chant the Psalm, he lifts up his eyes to an imaginary hill. And then he quickly reminds you that Jack and Jill went up the very same hill.

If some children need home schooling, some children need home churching. Because? Here are father and son in the front row of the congregation because they came late and the front pews were empty because everybody knows Brother Fire loves to point on people when he is preaching.

When Brother Fire heats up and is drenched in rivers of sweat, wetting up handkerchief, wash rag and bath towel, and getting ready to point, daddy knows it is time to gently touch little Johnny to warn him to keep his little behind quiet.

But little Johnny’s growing brain is full of countless networks. So daddy’s very gentle touch is the prime signal for little Johnny to play. Since he is in church and mosquitoes are teeming about, what better song to sing and play other than his favourite, and his father’s favourite, mosquito one mosquito two?

Some children see colours when they sing. Some see movements of clouds or people or words, even objects and places crossing through lines and boundaries. So now, having learnt the mosquito song at home and having practised it to ward off mosquitoes, what better help can innocent, caring, little Johnny offer sweltering, poor Brother Fire? Brother Fire struts about, as he is wont but now more so. In fact he is hopping and skipping and jumping in the stifling heat to avoid the devilish army of crucifying mosquitoes.

Johnny sings softly to his father; mosquito one mosquito two. But for the fist time in his young, singing career, little Johnny can see his entire song come to life. As more mosquitoes crowd around and entangle Brother Fire’s jumping shoes, little Johnny sings on. Mosquito one mosquito two, mosquito jump in the old man shoe.

Toilet training is a crucial and satisfying part of growing up. Any good toilet training must start and end with proper entry and exit via the door. For example, walk to the toilet; don’t run. But emergencies happen. A brisk walk to the toilet can accelerate to a run as you near the door and the call of nature hastens. Brother Fire knows that the door nearest the pulpit is his quick, saving exit from the punishing mob of mosquitoes so he makes an accelerating toilet move. As he is about to open the door, a squad of mosquitoes land on the doorknob, sandwiching his hand and the knob, biting him with devilish vengeance. To little Johnny, the mosquitoes are only playing a game with Brother Fire. Little Johnny sings aloud to inform the whole congregation. Mosquito three mosquito four, mosquito open the old man’s door.

Brother Fire espies another exit, drops the microphone, and the good Lord’s Bible, takes his feet into his hands, along with another gang of hungry mosquitoes, and attempts a “usainian” bolt for the other door with his feet passing his pointing hands. Little Johnny cannot believe how real his little song is coming to real life. Mosquito five mosquito six, mosquito pick up the old man sticks.

Good toilet training must make use of other activities children are used to. Opening and closing the zipper of the pants is like opening and closing a door. Lowering your pants and sitting properly and quietly on the toilet seat is like opening a gate properly and cautiously to allow easy, uninterrupted passage.

So by now, knowing what must be next, daddy jumps up, makes a quick sign of the cross and grabs little Johnny’s hand to lead him outside. But before they reach the middle pews, little Johnny looks back. Brother Fire is covered by a wild posse of mosquitoes and everyone is in embroidered stitches. The laughter rises to the high ceiling and is enjoined with a wicked, rolling, escaping, and deafening poop; from Brother Fire. Mosquito seven mosquito eight, mosquito open the old man gate.

It must be punishment for something Brother Fire did, to attract the horde of unrelenting mosquitoes. Sprays of Off! and Baygon try to rescue Brother Fire. As father and child reach the door, everyone thinks it is over. Too late. Little Johnny knows instinctively that, as a prophecy must be fulfilled, so too must a good song be concluded. Little Johnny triumphantly continues to sing at the top of his shrilling voice. At the door, he glances back and points predictably and conclusively at Brother Fire. Mosquito nine mosquito ten, mosquito biting the old man again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rosita and Clementina

500 Years of Solitude

Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon

To tell the truth officer, my sister and I were simply taking a message to Jean and Dinah. We, the two of us, were not round the corner posing, or exposing, or selling anything. This warrant you have been carrying for the arrest of Rosita and Clementina, for over 50 years, is totally unwarranted.

We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrongful association. Since then, countless diseases have despoiled our bodies and taken up chronic residency in my sister and me, as if we were indigent wards of an infirmary.

First, it was syphilis, which they wrongly claimed we gave to Christopher Columbus and his men, to take back to Europe, after they landed in our country in 1492. Are they claiming that that is what they and Europe got in return for greeting us with sounding brass and tinkling cymbals? How uncharitable.

Do you know how syphilis works? It uses a ploy seen in old, war movies. All the supplies lines are blocked off one by one until there is no bite to eat, no drop to drink. The isolated body consumes itself into a cannibal corpse.

Everyone talks about Tuskegee. Black men with syphilis left untreated. To study the natural course of syphilis. But who remembers our people in Guatemala? Deliberately and barefacedly injected with syphilis. To study how penicillin worked. The doctor in the Tuskegee study was the same boldfaced doctor in our Guatemala experiment. He became assistant surgeon general in the USA Public Health Service. Countless years it took us, to learn to trust doctors again, even after an apology from Hilary Clinton.

So you know how we felt when this local doctor came and took blood from over 75 of us in a room in a place called Stables. He came on a Sunday morning. No day of rest for us. He took vials of blood for HIV study. When the sun set and his eyes grew tired, he foolishly wondered aloud why the light in our room was so dim? How bright? He mocked our Pavlovian response to the mere sight and touch of any invading jab, telling us the hypodermic needle was only a little prick.

I have one apology. The streetwalker near the Yankee base in Antigua. Lost her head. First post-mortem at home for doctor. That headless corpse. His dear cousin, Ethlyn. More than 30 years. Head still not found. In 108 square miles. A very bad joke we made at the time: If you can keep your head when all about you are paying you for it. We were wrong to say that. And worse, we wondered if she was too obstinate with her price? We are truly sorry.

The Mighty Sparrow mashed up my family name. No one in my family can be called Rosita or Clementina again. We put up a good fight against gonorrhea. But our forces could neither kill it by firing guns nor by engaging it in hand-to-hand combat. Gonorrhea is protected, warding off our natural ammunitions, becoming resistant, and turning our genitals into fibrous barricades where neither spermatozoa can travel nor fertilized eggs can leave.

Chlamydia came with gonorrhea, like clapping hands. It too avoided our native, killing forces. Worse, it cannot live alone, so it inhabited us, seized our nutrients for its sustenance, and proliferated and colonized us like cockroaches. Where were extra-large condoms when we needed them?

When we discovered, too late, that we had been doubly infected and realized, after late remedies, that we could not bear children, tears walked down our barren faces like streams of molasses. We had become transitive verbs, gerunds, genitive and dative cases, all at once. Men punctuated body and soul.

Some of our clients joked to their friends that they had never seen a larger galleria of pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus, and of the crucifixion, in any other square meter, as in our room. But on whom should we call? When kilometer men are driving long, meters of nails into our flesh and forcing us to drink sponges of bubbling vinegar and gall at the end of wooden staff, on whom should we call?

Night falls. Garments tumble around our beds. HIV engages a dance of death, starting with deadly handshakes. One hand of HIV engages one hand of the host and the other hand of HIV fuses with the other hand of the host, leading to a warmhearted, penetrating embrace. No condoms in these condominiums?

When Sparrow said there were no more Yankees in Trinidad and that they were going to close down the base for good and girls like Jean and Dinah had to make out how they could, where do you think we went? No one made a row when the Mighty Sparrow took over then and we were sent back home. To meet whom? Not parents. Not friends. Not the assassinating and assassinated Trujillo. The same Yankees who left Trinidad greeted us. As the Mighty Sparrow predicted, we had to eat hard bread by the sweat of our brow; and by the toil of our temple.

HPV is on everyone’s lips these days. Its tactic is old and vulgar. Once, our bodies had legions of sentries, with a molecular policeman; rather like you officer, I dare say. He was the sentinel of forces and signals, sensing danger and damage to property. HPV simply disarms the molecular policeman. And showing no mercy, it does not kill the host. That’s too easy. It spares us so we can flourish in our altered, cancerous state, in living hell, infecting others.

Now officer, after over 50 years, you can arrest my sister and me. Take me first. I am hoary and tired after more than 500 years of solitude and confinement. Death to me, like men, is no maiden voyage. But hold my younger sister, Clementina, tight, tight. Don’t let her go. She wanton.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Friend In Death

Death And The Maiden Voyage

A friend of mine

And dear friend of a member of my family

Died today

From the ravages of prostate cancer

And the rains came down on this parched earth

Quenching some desiccated seed

And thus a new plant will grow in his stead

Making and giving oxygen to another human life

So if you see me stop and talk to a tree

And tell the tree it looks familiar

I am not mad

I have not gone around the bend

I know my family

And I know my friend

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Ballad of Andy Narell

Pan Man War

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

Anyone who likes music and loves the steel pan should find time to go to and read the comments by, and responses to Andy Narell following the 2014 Panorama in Trinidad and Tobago. It is highly recommended reading with implications for steelbands in Antigua and Barbuda. The thesis, arguments and responses are almost as fierce as a real, old-time steelband clash, with the irons in front and the steel behind.

When we remove the periphery of this very interesting discussion, the central points from Andy Narell are that "Winning Panorama and creating music have diverged"; the great, winning Panorama arrangers pushed the limits; year after year we hear the same chromatic runs and gimmicks; and "the discouragement of innovation has been going on for decades".

Andy Narell is saying what many musicians and pan lovers are afraid to say. He has made similar observations before. I share his central remarks on Panorama as I stay awake year after year, to the very end, straining my ears and my sleepy self to hear something more, something different; something I have not heard before.

We have to separate the core of Andy Narell's message from Andy Narell's response to his own criticism. I listened to a recording of the semifinal performance of his arrangement this year and I think it should not be in the finals, as the judges at the semifinal decided. I listened once because I did not want to listen a second and third time to be more analytical. Judges listen once. I understand the harmonic ideas he said he included in his arrangement. And I share his desire to want to hear this short of harmonic complexity in Panorama. I love the African 6/8 rhythm section in his arrangement this year. The arrangement reminded me of Coffee Street and I even rudely referred to it as Bush-Tea Street because of the similarity of concept.

Andy Narell is facing a very interesting problem to which there is an equally interesting solution. When an arranger sets out to arrange for steelband, the crucial, inescapable, musical fact is that despite the difference in pitch and range, the similarity of sound from all the different steel pan instruments is in stark and obvious contrast to the wide variety of the types of sounds from the instruments in a symphony orchestra. Hence" Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saens will probably not work as well in a steelband adaptation.

Arrangers for steelband will probably be better served, initially, by regarding the string quartet than the entire symphony orchestra simply because the string quartet has a similar handicap in variation in sound qualities. Harmonic and rhythmic interplay must take charge when variation in sonority and timbre is narrow.

The difference between Panorama arrangement as it is now and what Andy Narell is clamouring for, is inclusion of more harmonic and rhythmic complexities and less of the banal, formulaic, predictable, chromatic runs and other gimmicks. You can even predict when some of the gimmicks will be played, and go to the bathroom or refrigerator, or catch a quick nap and get back up, losing nothing much.

Andy Narell said it was just a few ticks faster than Clive Bradley's arrangement of High Mass, but I was not moved much by his arrangement this year. I must confess that this is probably because I think his Coffee Street arrangement is of such a high class that it was not surpassed by this year's arrangement of We Kinda Music…then again, to be fair, I have listened to Coffee Street more than 100 times.

What Andy Narell may be saying or wishing is for the top, winning Panorama arrangers to do what, to my mind, he does not do very well. Take out some of the simple musical gimmicks and add more harmonic complexities and variation in rhythm. What Andy Narell may be saying is that he knows the top, winning arrangers can do precisely that but they have locked themselves into this winning formula and refused to push the boundaries. How annoying it must be for him that others refused to do what they can do, to my mind, better than he. Panorama deserves it.

A local musician, George Jonas, suggested that if Boogsie Sharpe had done precisely what Andy Narell did this year, the judges and pundits would have hailed it as the best slice of bread and sleight of hand to have happened to steelband arrangements for Panorama. My feeling on this is that as Boogsie Sharpe continues to stretch the boundaries of rhythm, the boundaries of harmony will remain dissatisfied, frustrated and unfulfilled without similar stretches. Time, the heartbeat of music, will tell.

What Andy Narell is saying to us, in the final, reasoned analysis of this wonderful argument and subsequent melee, is to be ourselves, to be West Indian, to be like the pan instrument itself: different, and innovative.

Being creative and winning and pushing boundaries are the fundamental, unique and defining qualities in our cricket, music, language and style and fashion, and even our badness. Those Trinidadians and Tobagonians who are annoyed and are heaping buckets and gallons of scorn on Andy Narell are probably unknowingly upset that a white, foreign, pan player (who was introduced to pan by an Antiguan and Barbudan, my recently deceased cousin, Rupert Sterling) is reminding us, just reminding us, how to be West Indian.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Death in the Family

For Cousin Rupert Sterling, a.k.a Spanky

He lies there all by himself
On some cold gurney
The big, foreign cities prepared him for the cold
Didn’t even know he was sick
Didn’t even know he was above me
On a ward in the same hospital where I work
And he was family

The first time I came across his exercise book
All those trigonometric signs and symbols
He must be bright, the brightest, I concluded
With handwriting so clear, the pages looked unworthy
I must go to school to become as good or better
Because he was family

How did we find place and pride at the top of a new village?
And fall from grace and place in one generation?
Some thing, some sin, some contract
Must have come our way
Or maybe some of us are just too smart
Too smart for our own good
And too dangerous
For family

And yet he taught the world's best steel pan player, arguably
Arguably the best but not arguably the teacher
And to think my father was responsible for him in his first steel band
When my father reportedly drank a drum full of "brebritch"
To win a bet I presume
And how many other bets were wagered
One for my maiden mother?
And so for my immediate
Family too?

He gave me my first saxophone
So I should go and play at his funeral, if asked
To say thanks and ease his tortured soul
Because with his earthly passing
The grief, hurt and destruction heaped on members of this family
Will not be buried with him
But we have to move on
And live on
And learn that good and evil comprise us
Because whatever he was, he was one of us, inside us

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You Must Remember This

Driving Miss Hazy

Dr. Lester CN Simon-Hazlewood

I am at the Transport Board. My vehicle, not me, is undergoing inspection. The inspector tells me to do this; I do this. The inspector tells me to do that; I do that. So far; so good.

The inspector tells me to put on the high beam. I put on the high beam. The inspector tells me again and again to put on the high beam because, apparently, I am not putting on the high beam at all. I am simply turning the headlights on and off. It suddenly hits me, unlike a high-beam of light, that I do not remember where to find the switch for the high beam; in my vehicle. The first thought that comes to my logical, scientific mind, I kid you not, is that they should do this part of the inspection, about lights and high beam, at night. Don’t you think so?

Memory loss can be an awful thing, especially since you may not remember that you cannot remember. And so here I am asking myself if I am one of the 35 million people in the world suffering from Alzheimer disease. Have I lost my memory, my cotton-picking, cane-cutting mind?

I remember that the disease got its name from the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer, who first described the disease in1906. So my memory is good; great. But I had read about Alois Alzheimer over 30 years ago in medical school and in the early stages of Alzheimer the most common symptom is difficulty in remembering recent events. Ah! Surely I don’t have Alzheimer because I hardly use my high beam and most likely I have not used it in recent times. Or have I? Lord, let me see the light; the high beam.

Maybe I should call my mechanic. Or maybe I should just stay here and wait until nightfall. But changes in behavior and eccentric thinking do occur in Alzheimer.

At least it may be in the early stages. But what about the later stages when memory loss for long term events creeps in? Will I remember anything about the fight for reparations for slavery? And how will my family and friends cope with my confusion, irritability, aggression, difficulties with language and mood swings?

By that time I will not be legally allowed to drive and the instructor will not bother me, as I sit in my stationary vehicle, coming from my imaginary service station, driving all over the island, without high beam, music blasting, sailing away from family, friends and society. At least I will still have music, if I remember to turn on the real radio, instead of the blasting radio in my head.

Can it be that it is the instructor who has Alzheimer? Maybe I turned on the high beam and he forgot. After all, it may take a long time for Alzheimer to develop before it is recognized. And after diagnosis, the average life expectancy is about 7 years. Quick. I should exit the vehicle to warn the poor fellow.

How will I explain to him that the cause of this disease is not clear? He might think I just do not remember. Maybe he reads a lot and he knows that the main risk factor for Alzheimer is age and that the incidence of the disease doubles every 5 years after 65 years of age, even though Alzheimer is not necessarily the outcome of aging. He is probably in his late forties so I should advise him (if he will remember) that some cases of Alzheimer run in families and can occur earlier in life than the more common, non-familiar, sporadic type.

The mere mention of plaques and tangles in the brain in Alzheimer might sound odd to him. More confusing might be that the plaques are due to a normal protein in the brain that has folded into an abnormal shape. Worse, I will have to tell him that the enigma of Alzheimer is that the biological function of this normal protein is unknown. Almost like me not knowing about my high beam; in my vehicle.

I will also have to say that there are tangles in the brain because another protein is altered and it reacts with more protein to form tangles that can affect the brain’s function. Similar to the tangle in which I find myself over the high beam.

When I tell him that evidence suggests that Alzheimer may be delayed by a balanced diet, mental stimulation and exercise, he may recommend that I leave the vehicle, go for a walk, and call someone to show him the high beam.

So here I am walking on what I suspect is Factory Road, wondering as I wander why I am walking seemingly aimlessly on the road. And where is my vehicle?

I may not remember where my vehicle is located. I may not recall names, faces, or which political party to vote for, even if they take me to the polls. But there is one, single, solitary thing in my ambling, rambling solitude of which I am certain; as certain as night follows day; or is it the other way round? I am absolutely, dead certain, as cars pass cars and swerve to avoid me (or is it each other?), that wherever my vehicle is located, the high beam is unquestionably not on.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jah Know Jabow

For Lowell Jarvis

I know the man
I know his name
I know his warming smile
I asked myself just bout 6 hours ago
What has become of him, and is he in pain
I know the man
I know his name
I know his steely grin
I asked myself months ago “what the ‘badwud’ is this”
When I saw the name
On the request form with the surgical specimen
To the pathology lab it came
I know the man
I know his name
I know his Grammar School
And so I don’t think he will mind
If I quote a line
Or two
Do you?
From A Grammarian’s Funeral
By Robert Browning
“Our low life was the level’s and the night’s;
He’s for the morning”
I know the man
I know his name

(Dr. Lester Simon)