We do it constantly. Raise our friends and foes to their highest level of incompetence. Empowering them to continue a malaise that has chased us through the centuries. Always willing to pull down and silence those who show aptitude and gifts in areas we are limited or have none.
Saturday night’s judging of the Regional Female Calypso was such an event. But it is not a one-off. It is a recurring theme across a nation which continues to see itself in isolation to the rest of the world. It continues to live as a stranger’s paradise where once you get off the plane or the ferry, the rules of the outside world do not apply and you are at the mercy of the smiles or the knives of the inhabitants.
This is the part where I’m supposed to write don’t get me wrong I love Montserrat. But if loving Montserrat means I continue to perpetuate a lie then I guess I don’t.
The show was brilliant. Those seven women delivered. Some of them delivered better than others. The final decision to award local singer Silvina Kandi Malone the first runner up slot was a let down on a spectacular evening of music and it was something everyone felt palpably.
Judges decisions are final but when the audience in the park, those listening on radio can tell that a singer was out of her league and not on the level of her competitors and she gets a top slot then there is a problem. Kandi’s lyrical dexterity was limited by the song choices, which were simply repetitive and have been for some time. They did not take us on a journey, bringing us to a place that the other six women did every time they stood on the stage….hope. Rather she took us around and around back to a chorus which made you just want the song to end.
It didn’t matter that they were singing about domestic abuse, gun violence, political systems that fail us. I kept longing to hear more from these Caribbean women. Every song ended with the idea that there was hope and we were it.
When the judges choose to award a performer a EC$7000 prize they did not deserve, they not only disempower the singer who believes they won fairly but the audience, who now wonders if the hope we feel is worthwhile acting on.
Maybe the violence and weak politicians the Caribbean suffers from are a result of other judgments that have gone against what was right, what was blatantly a decision not to elevate those who have worked and delivered their rightful rewards.
The Montserrat Festival is struggling. It needs to position itself among a region of festivals which have more money and larger media footprints and this competition is one way it can be done. However, when we do not allow the competition to function with integrity, we miss the chance to elevate a “local” show to the real potential it has…which is an international standard calypso competition which gives women a platform that is unmatched.
We’ve got to stop pretending we have arrived and are the only stars worth shining. Clearly Saturday night’s performance showed we have a ways to go in our writing and in our stage performance. If we don’t allow our people to see how they truly match up against other nations we will continue to allow them to leave the insolation of Montserrat’s shores and enter regional and international competitions believing they have a real chance when they aren’t even up to the basic standards. (This would be a perfect opportunity to discuss our queen pageant history but I shall resist the temptation.)
Give our people a real chance to grow by judging them fairly. When we can see how we rank against other singers, dancers, athletes, we can know how much harder we need to work to get better. Giving our people false ideas of greatness only permits them to be happy with mediocrity and that will not do.
The world is waiting to gobble up our children. We owe it to them to prepare them fully and with the best the world has to offer, not just Montserrat.
BTW Congratulations to Crystal Cummings-Beckles for retaining her crown. She was in a word, brilliant. Her writing prowess was also seen through the performances by Shaunelle McKenzie of St. Vincent (I wanted her to either win or be runner-up. She was that good.) Menell from St. Lucia…the woman delivered. Kandi could benefit from doing what these women have done which is to try different writers; perform regularly throughout the year; and compete in different forums outside their comfort zones so they can grow.