“What’s your favourite Tradewinds song, and which one you feel has had the strongest reaction?” I’ve been asked that many times. On the first question, it depends on when you ask me; some days it’s Is We Own; some days it’s Angel Wings; some days it’s Copycats. On the second question, I suspect Not A Blade O’ Grass would be the answer.
It’s interesting though that only one interviewer – a very astute Guyanese lady – has ever asked me the parallel question: “Which song do you feel had the weakest response?” The answer to that one, hands down, is Hooper and Chanderpaul, and therewith, as they say, hangs a tale. It was about a decade ago, at the time of the ethnic street clashes here, and a concerned Guyanese government official called me out of the blue. “Guyanese pay attention to your music, man, so a song on this subject might help to calm things down,” was the way he put it.
My response was that my serious songs did not tackle subjects head on – Blade o’ Grass, for instance, did not mention Venezuela or border clash directly – and that I didn’t think the notion would work. But in the week or so afterwards, troubled myself by the violence, I came up with the idea of addressing the subject through an imaginary cricket match which Guyana could win only by using both Hooper and Chanderpaul – symbols of our two major ethnic groups.
I still see it as one of the cleverest double entendre calypsos I have written – a disc jockey in Antigua dubbed it “the best calypso of the decade” – and with the song launched Tradewinds came to Guyana for one of our frequent Pegasus poolside fetes. The fellow in Antigua may have loved it, but Hooper and Chanderpaul landed like a ripe breadfruit in Mahaica; it hit the ground and didn’t even bounce. I was stunned. I had been so sure of this song, and I couldn’t believe I was so wrong.
There are two aspects to this. The first is that it is proof of what I wrote in a column here recently: song-writers rarely mould popular opinion – we simply reflect it. Blade O’ Grass was a good song, but it became a hit because it expressed the national sentiment. Conversely, Hooper and Chanderpaul, also a good song, crashed and burned because the people were not of that mind. Tellingly, you can still hear the Venezuela song on radio, and everywhere I perform, like this week in Barbados, I have to play it. On the other hand, the cricket song is mute, and audiences don’t ask for it. That’s the first aspect.
The second aspect, the one that distresses me the most and is my main point here today, is that the incident reflects the depth of this rift that pervades our culture, holding us in a state of two major divided camps, hampering and frustrating us as a nation. Furthermore, the division remains. The attitudes behind the dismissal of the suggestion in my song, so many years ago, are still there. And before you raise it, please spare me the “politicians-created-the-division” nonsense. Certainly it was exploited by politicians, but they didn’t invent it; it was already there. No, it hadn’t reached the cussing up and beating up stage, but it was there, and many decades later it does not seem to be softening. Just last week, in a trenchant column in this publication, Allan Fenty relates an incident with a taxi driver reflecting the divide in stark simple terms – now. Check also Fenty’s column in SN May 25 where he points out “no pan-Africanist group at Arrival Day events; no Indo-organisation saying goodbye to Philip Moore.”
I vividly remember leaving Guyana on that tour a chastened man. The experience with Hooper and Chanderpaul had shown me the depth of the division between our two major groups. What I said in the final line, “this place ain’t you and me, this place is all o’ we,” was wrong; Guyana is more a case of “this place is you and me.” A sad conclusion; a bitter reality. It’s likely you don’t remember the song; here are the lyrics:
Hooper and Chanderpaul
Ramotar and Joseph Henry, drinking two rum in Unity
planning a cricket game next day, Ramotar turn to Joe and say
We can win it in Guyana, pick Chanderpaul and pick Hooper.
The first time that the West Indies win, it wasn’t just Sonny Ramadhin
when we give England licks that time, it was Ramadhin and Valentine
and now in this time in this country, we have to use the same strategy
We must play Carl and Shiv that’s how we have to live
for us to win this game, banna
Guyana must combine Hooper and Shivnarine
this match is make or break, banna
Curry team up with metagee, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Yellow plantain and dholl pouri, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Roast cassava and fry channa, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Evening gown and shalwar, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Joe say boy I agree with you, we have to play Shiv and Hooper too
Jacket and tie alone can’t win, you have to get dhoti to join in
and in the pavilion the menu must feature roti and dumpling too
It must be Carl and Shiv, that’s how we have to live
from Waini to Canje, banna
This place ain’t you and me, this place is all o’ we
from Kaieteur to the sea, banna
Curry team up with metagee, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Cook up rice and dholl pouri, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Paratha roti and black pudding, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Pumpkin curry and green plantain, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Cumfa and Diwali, Hooper and Chanderpaul
A-line dress and white sari, Hooper and Chanderpaul
From Rosignol to Wakenaam, Hooper and Chanderpaul
Leguan to New Amsterdam, Hooper and Chanderpaul
From Aishalton to Bartica , Hooper and Chanderpaul
Golden Grove to Parika, Hooper and Chanderpaul
This place aint you and me, Hooper and Chanderpaul
This place is all o’ we, Hooper and Chanderpaul