Sadly, we note the passing of another Antiguan icon this past Tuesday. We’re talking about Baldwin ‘Mighty Bambi’ Bell, he of John Bull and witty calypso fame. Yes, he was one of our best John Bulls – “our John Bull King,” according to Eutha Meade, the leader of the ever-popular Vitus Cultural Performers. He was also an enormously talented and funny calypsonian in the mould of Lord Canary (DR. BECKLES’ CLINIC), Lord Laro (HOLE), Trinidad Rio (NO DRAWS and LOOKING FOR CUPS), The Mighty Artist (VITAMINS AND IRON) and Lord Mayfield (YAH SO-SO). (See Bambi’s humorous, BANG DAWG WID TICK, PAINTER MAN, SOCIE AH-NYAM CRAB and VALLIE VAWL)
To say that he will be sorely missed is putting it mildly. He loved our culture and traditions dearly, and did his best to keep the same alive. Whenever he donned his John Bull costume, he became one with our ancestors – the original John Bulls, many of whom hailed from the Yoruba and Asante of West Africa, and he played the role to the hilt. Then there was his calypso singing – pure entertainment – hilarious, side-splitting songs that spoke to the light-hearted nature of the man. It was almost as if he was saying to us, that our lives can go by in a blur, if not for moments of laughter, conviviality and good cheer. Life would be mirthless and insufferable, were it not for Mighty Bambi moments. For example, his risible solution to our unemployment problem was for those seeking work to “Bag smoke, count dew, dry ice, go-ah dead house fuh count crab louse, and bang dawg wid tick!” (Chuckle) Yes, the Mighty Bambi was a perennial crowd favorite who never delivered less than maximum pleasure.
Interestingly, whenever Bambi performed with other calypsonians, never mind their pedigree and claim to fame, his performance, and his song, was always the talk of the town in the days following. Actually, we submit that over the years, perhaps no one enjoyed carnival more than Bambi. For example, during many of the carnival shows, he was an unofficial fixture, and his shtick involved changing his clothes backstage a la Bill Trotman of Trinidad, and appearing in a series of funny attire. And as soon as the stage band would strike up, Bambi would proceed to dance with foot-stomping joy and abandon to every single act. His gyrations and antics were a sight to behold and made for much levity. He was clearly the consummate entertainer and lived for seasons such as those.
Ironically, one of his 2019 songs, LIVING CARNIVAL BIG LIFE, spoke of his intention to jump up and dance up and enjoy this year’s carnival to the fullest. Unfortunately, it was not to be. He was called home to be with the Lord and our ancestors, and it is not difficult to imagine that he arrived at the Pearly Gates to much applause. Nothing new for Bambi. As an extremely talented player on the stage of life, he played his part with that joie de vivre. Take a bow, Sir! You enriched our lives by bringing much light and laughter, and you certainly heightened our appreciation of our culture and our ancestral masquerading traditions. We are now the poorer for your passing.
Having said all of that, we believe the Vitus Cultural Performers should turn out in full John Bull, Highlander, Mocko Jumbie, Skellihopper and Sensay regalia as a fitting tribute at the home-going celebration of Bambi’s remarkable life. If he were able, we believe that he would smile in approbation at that gesture. Similarly, we suggest that the Villa and Point Iron Band should strike up for the final walk or, rather, the final dance to the cemetery. This is not something new. In fact, increasingly, many funerals are seen more as celebrations rather than solemn and melancholy services, and there is much dancing and music. For example, in New Orleans, the famous jazz funerals through the streets of the French Quarter and other areas are renowned for the joyous and festive nature of the funeral processions. Knowing Bambi and his wonderful sense of humor and zest for revelry and masquerading, it would not surprise us if he had not already intimated to his friends and loved ones that this is the kind of funeral that he would want. It would be a most appropriate send-off.
We here at NEWSCO will certainly miss The Mighty Bambi. He is the last of a rare breed, and we hope that others will rise to carry on those traditions and aspects of our culture that Bambi loved so dearly and fought to keep alive. Of course, no one can quite do it like Bambi; he had his own inimitable style; he was one of a kind.
We wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends, the Vitus Cultural Performers, the Villa and Point Iron Band and the calypso fraternity, especially his dear friend and fellow-calypsonian, Calypso Lipstick. There is an aching void in our hearts that will be difficult to fill, but his spirit lives! And as he himself would say, “The show down here must go on!” He is depending on us. Much as we are looking to him to join with another of our recently departed cultural and calypso icons, Sir Prince Ramsey, to get something started up there in the Great Beyond. After all, any foot-stomping and rejoicing, the Mighty Bambi “haffu in dey!” And angels will fold their wings!