Monday, April 15, 2024

Chalkdust: Right the wrongs


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Professor Hollis Chalkdust Liverpool wants some of the Caribbean’s leading institutions in education “to make up for the wrongs” done to calypsonians and calypso music.
He mentioned the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
He also said key resource people throughout the region should create a book of calypsos to be used as a study tool.
Chalkdust delivered the CXC 40th anniversary lecture, under the theme The Calypso As A Caribbean Art Form for Institutional Studies: Resistance, Acceptance And The Journey Ahead.
The event took place Tuesday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, where there was standing room only.
Chalkdust was one of the first examiners for CSEC Caribbean History when the exam was first introduced in 1979. He is also the first Professor of Calypso Art.
“What a journey calypso has had. It now presents CXC with the privilege and the challenging opportunity to unravel the journey from Africa to the Caribbean, from pre-emancipation times to the 21st century. . . . It is an art form fashioned in the womb of Africa and developed on Caribbean plantations.
“After 40 years of CXC, we need to make up for the wrongs done to calypsonians and calypso music by starting the reformation now,” he declared.
He envisioned that the specially produced book of calypsos should reflect “musical measurement, chord patterns, major and minor keys commentary, humour, philosophy, entertainment, and male-female relationships.
“It would also speak to themes such as migration, poverty, ethnicity, racism, injustice, corruption, prejudice, political development, colonialism, national independence and even election fraud. Moreover the students will not only see empirical data relevant to all of these themes but they will be led to understand that they can use the calypso as a form of citation for projects and written essays,” he said.
Chalkdust also reflected on the early years for calypso in the Caribbean, noting that it was a struggle for its acceptance as music.
“It is a truism that in the era before the British colonies gained their independence Caribbean people rejected the calypso as music worthy of any institutional study. It is true that from the pre-emancipation period calypsonians have used the calypso to resist colonials and overlords but our academics and elites have also in the pre-independence era, resisted attempts to use the art form for institutional study . . . they simply resisted attempts to bring it into the classroom,” he said.
Chalkdust said part of the issue was that calypso and calypsonians were not held in high regard and this only started to change after calypsonians like the Mighty Sparrow and others started to become successful through competitions and gradually growing acceptance.
He recalled personally that the “unkindest cut of all” was his case in 1968 when he was dragged before the Trinidad & Tobago Teaching Service Commission to say why he was “singing calypsos and gaining emoluments under the Crown, while employed as a teacher in the service.
He said after six years of Trinidad’s independence he was charged for singing calypso and found guilty. (RMB)


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