Holding up the Bhattacharya mirror

In my early life, that stretch when Tradewinds began, a young man from Linden, living in Toronto, got very annoyed with me over a song. It was one of my early calypsoes, ‘It’s Traditional,’ and it disturbed him that I had not only compiled a fairly comprehensive list of the many foibles of Caribbean man but, worse yet, that I had put them in a song that was being played all over the place. The encounter happened in the Tradewinds We Place nightclub in the city, and the young man was genuinely upset with me.   He was one of our regular patrons, usually coming alone and leaving alone, and he stopped coming for a few weeks, but he returned one night, greeted me with a wry smile, and said, “I understand now what you doing in that song; you’re saying those are things we have to fix.” We had a long searching gaff about it afterwards; listening to the lyrics, the young man had been confronted by the song in a way that had caused him a rethink.

I was reminded of the incident just recently when attending a Moray House discussion with the writer Rahul Bhattacharya regarding his book on Guyana The Sly Company of People Who Care. The gentleman’s work based on living for almost a year here, while widely acclaimed has also ruffled some feathers and it is interesting that in both cases – my song and Rahul’s book – what we are seeing is an irritation, even anger, propelled by an artiste describing what he was seeing in a culture. In both cases, as well, the writer was not condemning or chastising – he was merely describing us to ourselves.

In whatever culture he/she lives the genuine artist is holding up a mirror to show us a condition. To quote CLR James: “I believe that an artist, a first-class artist, is an individual who cannot be abstracted from the social environment in which he works. And the greater the artist, the more of the social environment he embraces. So a number of …..To continue reading, login or subscribe now.

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