Facing the music

One fine Sunday evening, three months ago, Sri Lankan carolling churchgoers were stunned into sudden silence when they eagerly picked up their Christmas music sheets at one of the country’s biggest Catholic services, in preparation for reciting a beloved prayer.

The “Hail Mary” printed inside the hymnals they had purchased, contained not the famous thousand-year-old verses beseeching the beautiful Biblical Madonna but rather the entire, explicit lyrics to the final notorious big hit single of the same title by American rapper, Tupac Shakur, released in “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory,” under his new stage name, Makaveli, following his 1996 death.

Instead of “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus, Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” the less risqué and more printable phrases proclaimed, “Makaveli in this Killuminati, all through your body, The blow’s like a twelve gauge shotty…” urging “Come with me, Hail Mary, Run quick see, what do we have here, Now, do you wanna ride or die?” and “Catch me Father, please cause I’m fallin in the liquor store, That’s the Hennessee I hear ya calling can I get some more? Hail til I reach hell, I ain’t scared…”

Shakur may not have been frightened as he sought divine intervention but the choice curses and thundering themes of death, violence and sex that feature in the X-rated, powerful, prescient piece are enough to send a cowed and superstitious believer scurrying into the corner like the proverbial poor church mouse. Written by the successful hip-hop artiste before he was gunned down by mystery drive-by assailants in Nevada, “Hail Mary” is described by ardent admirers as among the finest works of the 25 year-old poet, composer and singer. It reportedly took just an hour to complete.

Named for an executed Incan monarch, the defiant Tupac Amaru, he is ranked on the list of the 100 greatest artistes of all time with a rich empire today raking in eye-opening earnings from the use of his enduring image and militant music. Seven of his 11 platinum albums released posthumously have contributed to the over 75 million total albums sold, the bulk in the two decades since his demise. Performer Pac or 2Pac is set to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month.

The collaborative composition could have been a cause celebre for cross supplicants in their consternation, to consider crossing themselves countless times and cry out in contrition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” contemplating whether as sinners all, they had indeed catapulted into purgatory and “the hour of our death” had come.

Seasonally designated “Joy to the World 2016” and dubbed “A Festival of Music for Peace and Harmony” the fundraising concert was meant to support poverty alleviation projects organised by the Colombo Archdiocese and the charitable St. Joseph Vaz Trust. Instead organisers ended up none too happy that photographs of the 1 000 or so offensive printed English language sheets, nicely outlined in red, were instead uploaded by delighted trespassers thousands of time as the mix-up went viral online and made uncharitable international headlines.

The gala was staged at the Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) which is a modern grand theatre shaped as the stylised, sacred eight-petalled Eastern bloom inspired by the palace of a great national King and constructed recently by the generous and ubiquitous Chinese.

“A lot of people were in shock as whether it was a joke or someone would actually rap the song,” an amazed attendee told CNN. “A few of the older ladies in front of us could not stop looking at the printed booklet.”


So too about a week ago, perplexed invitees to a local function in Georgetown, must have pondered their programmes and sat up startled, momentarily light-headed, convinced their hearing was shot or they had finally achieved the otherwise elusive dream of time-travel.

Stabroek News (SN) reported on the apparent and embarrassing recycling of a 2016 message by Junior Education Minister, Nicolette Henry, who may be understandably, still penitent about the countless plastic cutlery and plates from last year’s 50th independence anniversary dinner, left in a landfill for at least a millennium. She has obviously taken to heart the Government’s serious green initiatives, reusing her October recitation a little too well, prompting copious chuckles, colourful chaos and cunning confusion.

Coming during the Department of Culture’s Phagwah observance packed with singing, dancing and tassa-drumming, when she referred to the holiday as “Diwali” and “the Festival of Lights” multiple times during her “mercifully brief” speech, we can be light-hearted about the gaffe and conclude the differences between the national holidays are as plain as night and day to most Guyanese, but apparently not to the native-born Ms. Henry, who is ironically responsible for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

With some prompting from the forgiving crowd and the Ministry’s public relations officer, she bravely tried once again. “This is one of the most joyful festivals in Guyana and one which helps to foster national harmony among our diverse ethnic groups,” she continued, composed and not once flinching to acknowledge her slip. But a minute later and the Machiavellian Time Machine popped up. “It is important that at this Diwali celebration -Phagwah, sorry – celebrations we all hold high to the vision of justice and betterment for all…”

In the ensuing hue and cry appropriate for the ancient messy spring revelry of profuse water and carnival colours, commentators wandered and wondered as well about the devilish debacle. Was it a printer error or personal failing?

“So, here we have a Minister of Culture who is promoting the appearance of either not knowing the difference between the two Hindu holidays, or who doesn’t think the difference is important. Furthermore, she demonstrates to the public that she cannot be bothered to write a short address for Phagwah, and doesn’t think it matters if she just recycles one delivered for a different occasion last year,” SN stated in a related editorial.

“The average person must be wondering why, if Minister Henry doesn’t have the time or the background to write something herself, she doesn’t request that someone in her Ministry do it for her. Ministers frequently do not write their own speeches, although on this occasion one might have thought that since this comes well within her portfolio, she could have managed a brief presentation on her own account. However that may be, it would certainly have been better had someone else written her speech so the extent of her incompetence and ignorance of the nation’s festivals would not have been on quite such public display,” the newspaper said.

SN concluded, “As it is, Ms Henry has left the public with an impression of a slapdash approach, lack of interest in, and respect for, the culture of others, ignorance of her portfolio and a couldn’t care less attitude about what distinguishes Diwali from Phagwah.”

Tupac Shakur pointed to penitentiaries “packed with promise” and his friend Young Noble rapped in “Hail Mary” – “Peep the whole scene and whatever’s going on around me, Brain kind of cloudy, smoked out, feelin’ rowdy, Ready to wet the party up,” which is where the lax Lankan laity and young printer could not have gone had their lives become sheer hell and were they cursed into damnation to be consumed for all eternity by hail fire and “bhanged” by brimstone. Father Da Silva, from the Colombo Archdiocese explained that once the coordinators realised the mistake they asked for the books back. “We are very sorry to say that this happened,” he admitted.

Spokesman Edmund Tilakaratne confessed to the AFP news agency, “It was a human error, a genuine printing mistake.”  “The offending version of Hail Mary was never sung. Those who bought the souvenir (with the hymn sheets) were refunded.” He noted the planners could have avoided the blunder had they gone through the proofs of the hymn sheets.

So too Minister Henry may be ruing the day too that she did not proofread her presentation. Hopefully she will use her Government scholarship for a Public Health doctorate to also brush up on her social studies, speech writing, elocution and event management, particularly on the catholic distinctions of the some 15 public holidays, so that there is no Happy “Eastmas,” Eid does not degenerate into “Yo-Man Nab-Me,” “Phagwalli” remains a mere funny Facebook popular post and we can all hail in relief a resounding “Amen.”

ID remembers enjoying all the holidays at St Rose’s High School, and is already paying penance for this hale column by reciting three “Hail Marys” while contemplating the kindergarten “Hail Mary, full of grapes, the Lord is a tree.”


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