Black History Month, Calypso and Talk Shows
February is almost gone and for many persons this month was just carnival and "de rum and de party". No one cared about reflections on black history, African liberation, Bob Marley or the Negre Maroons. In fact, there were no organized radio programmers, nothing happened at schools, politicians and everyone else kept quiet. However, the Public Library, Pan- Africanists Messrs Georges, Blanc, and the DBS Discoveries programme, hosted by Mayor Cecil Joseph, and a few other invited guests, lit a torch for the entire nation.
For a number of years now we have been hearing calls by Freddie Blanc in particular and the few Pan- Africanists on island about the relevance and importance of teaching Black history. "We need to know ourselves" the gentleman would say time and time again. We have an overload of programmes on politics 24/7 yet no one remembers Africa. Most would rather not identify with her, saying Africans don't even consider us to be their brothers and go on to deny our African identity. We are Dominicans by nationality and African by identity, the way any Chinese or European considers themselves in or away from their home. Some persons, as usual, get angry with the messenger and consider him to be arrogant and perhaps utter "who does he think he is; he thinks he alone is well read or has books?" Or the critic may even associate the messenger with whites, claiming that they have "sold out". Well, these character assassinations, real or unreal, do not negate the fact that we really don't know about ourselves because we were not taught. But we continue to ignore the message but find fault with the messenger.
Nevertheless, we have great admiration for blood thirsty pirates such as Columbus, Drakes, Hawkins all knighted 'Sir' for plundering and exploiting the Karifuna and the Black race for their mother countries- Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal.
Nonetheless, it was rather educationally fulfilling, to listen to DBSs Discoveries last week where the guest really went in depth to explain our origin, biblical and spiritual truth, of more than 5000 years Before Christ (BC) and all our achievements in medicine, architecture such as the Pyramids, education and universities in Timbuktu and the fact that black people were responsible for the major discoveries of the world as electricity, application of traffic lights, blood transfusion, agricultural technology and an amazing list that we all take for granted today.
Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Marcus Garvey and even our nation's father, Hon E.O. Leblanc, all contributed in various ways in shaping black pride and identity…but the month is almost through and we have remained silent. Not even the voice of the Rastafarian community, who claim to be so black conscious, was heard. Have we forgotten that it was just a few decades ago the black-skinned Dominican were allowed to work in certain banks here? Or that we just celebrated the appointment of our first Black Bishop in the Catholic Church? Or probably we think that the struggle has been fought and won and we are on an equal playing field.
If we are not yearning to be what we are not, then why do black women still perm and straighten their hair or remove their eyebrows or put liners on their lip so that they reflect a certain shape/image; or better still, we bleach our skin or guys Jerry curl their kinky hair. Why when the DFC advertises and chooses contestants for the carnival queen pageant, no full figured woman is chosen in keeping with the "white model" and perception of beauty, when Africans are known to be full figured and strong; these are our assets-not necessarily long legged and skinny women. Why do our men turn around for a better view from the rear when these voluptuous women pass by? It is because of natural attraction and what we deem, as a race, to be beautiful, in most cases. While I do not promote obesity or glorify "Big, Bold and Beautiful" shows, I dare say, that even our queen shows do not mirror ourselves. Indeed we have a lot to learn about ourselves.
From time to time, I listen with great interest to the interventions, contributions and intellectual discourse of Steinberg Henry and Dr. Dublin who offer philosophies and words of advice and direction to our young nation.
Henry's recent assessment on calypso was nothing short of brilliant as he embraced all and sundry while seeking to analyze the art and the efforts of the composers. Steinberg, for instance, saw merit in "Ca eat Concrete" and suggested that such compositions could be used in the classroom; but another pro-government critic mentioned that such trivialities in a calypso is not being politically correct and saying "no drugs at the hospital" is wrong; one should say instead that the PMH is short on some basics, while that same person, ironically, admires Karessa's skill in highlighting the same deficiencies at the PMH in Gentle Rest. Confusing! Well I see de "Partisan-ship" but certainly not the "Leader-ship," in this discourse.
On the other hand, since Calypso is the biggest cultural event on island and a tool of black people, I must commend the Q95 crew on their calypso talk programme hosted on Saturdays by Matt Peltier throughout the season. Duncan Stowe's analysis of calypso, I have great respect for. He was a Junior Monarch in the 70s, and is related to the original two- time monarch, the SAINT; he is also brother to one of Dominica's leading keyboardist, Phillip Elwin. Being a lawyer also suggests a certain level of competence in language, structure and development of an argument; hence, I put him at the deep end of the analysis pool. I also found the latest addition to the team, school teacher Ericson Degallerie, pretty competent with his thoughtful assessments, and Carlisle Jno Baptiste who, despite his wavering, gets it right most times. It's a welcome change from all the political talk and it will be missed. Probably this programme could be extended to include the writers, musicians, and other pertinent matters dealing with judging the art form and could be extended to a few weeks after the Calypso season...but again someone will say: "It's Lent".