Kaseba rejects PM’s claim that calypsos are too political

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Eugene “Kaseba” Silcott, the President of Qualadli Kaiso Collaborative – the governing body for calypso – has rejected criticisms by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who said local calypsos are too political to be an international brand. Silcott said calypso has always been aimed at speaking about social and political issues within society.

“Calypso and calypsonians have a role to play in society and any political issues calypsonians will sing on it,” he said.

“Politicians need to understand that [it’s] not just when you are out of power that you celebrate, but when you are in power you be- come irritated. We [calypsonians] are here to bring out the ills of society, whether it is through political commentary or social commentary.”

Prime Minister Browne’s comments were made in the face of public criticism over his decision to appoint the Britain based Kanneh Mason family as cultural ambassadors of Antigua and Barbuda. The designation allows the young family members, who play in an orchestra, to carry Antigua and Barbuda diplomatic passports. Many Antiguans and Barbudans have argued that the Kanneh Masons were a relatively unknown family to this country, which has many calypso artistes – such as Queen Thalia – who are more deserving of such recognition.

However, while speaking on his private radio station, Browne said being a cultural ambassador involves more than earning a regional title. “No disrespect, but our calypsonians have to step up. It cannot be about win- ning a crown.

[Queen] Ivena has won as many crowns [as Queen Thalia] but she is not ready as not one of Ivena’s songs can be played outside Antigua and Barbuda with appreciation,” he said.

Browne said calypso in the country remains under-developed as many artistes remain too focused on domestic affairs and politics.

“They need to produce music that can travel, not domesticated [songs]. Com- pared to the others who sing only about politics, Thalia is a class act, not going down that road. How are we going to grow and develop the art form?” he said.

Browne added that the standard set by artistes such as King Obstinate, Sir McLean Emanuel (King Short Shirt), Burning Flames and Claudette Peters, needs to be upheld. “When you look at Sir McLean Emanuel, King Obstinate, Swallow, Burning Flames and Claudette Peters, we must keep that particular standard. We cannot water down [cultural ambassadorships]. We want people who help us to market the art form external of Antigua and Barbuda; it cannot be exclusively about winning a crown,” he said.

However, Silcott countered the Prime Minister’s statements by arguing that artistes like King Short Shirt had earned their fame through their commentary on local issues.

“I agree that calypso needs to [improve] but that should not determine whether they make them a cultural ambassador. Guys like King Short Shirt and Swallow, they also sang local songs about the ills of soci- ety,” he said.

The calypso association president added that Browne cannot compare soca to calypso as they are two separate artforms.

“You cannot judge calypso with soca. It is two different art forms. Soca is a party artform where persons enjoy themselves. Calypso is different. It is more like in your house; you have to judge it on a different level. You cannot tell [a calypsonian] to sing a calypso pointed towards an international audience when there are issues in my country to speak about,” Silcott said.

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